January 29 2013

Place and Space Determine Neighborhood Health In Oakland, California

“Where you live is probably a bigger determinant of your health than whether you have health insurance,” as quoted in a Bay Area Regional Health Inequities Initiative (BARHII) report from 2008. In West Oakland, where 45% of the residents make under $25,000 a year, according to statistics from Mandela Market Place, liquor stores outnumber food outlets 2 to 1.

Corner Liquor Store in Oakland

Here, low-income residents have two options for their grocery shopping: the local corner store with cheap, processed food and alcohol or the distant grocery store with actual produce. The lack of access to healthy food stems from problems in education, health, social, and economic policies.

These components all clash in the neighborhood. Areas with greater poverty and a higher percentage of minorities have far more outlets that provide fast food, alcohol and tobacco than those that provide healthy foods, as revealed in a 2008 report from BARHII.

West Oakland is a victim of deeply rooted historical implications, stemmed from socially biased urban planning. In order to improve the social and physical environments, changes must be made in the policies that govern land use, transportation and economic development.

Grocery store in downtown Oakland

In order to achieve health equity in West Oakland there needs to be a comprehensive effort towards revitalization and sustainability. This must come from changes in policy that affect land use, transportation and economics as well as innovative action from urban planners.

Efforts from within the community are beginning to make a difference and set an example for future initiatives. The Healthy Neighborhood Stores Alliance, a program by the Mandela Market Place, delivers produce to local liquor stores in West Oakland. Mariel Cedeño of Mandela Market Place is quoted saying, “We wanted to make it accessible in the community to buy where they already go. We want a person to go into a liquor store and the first thing they see to be produce, and not chips or cigarettes or alcohol.”

This is far more complex issue than meets the eye. If you were to revive West Oakland, what policies would you implement?

Credits: Photos copyright of Robert Poole. Data linked to sources.

Rob Poole

Rob Poole graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in Anthropology and a minor in City and Regional Planning. He grew up in San Diego, but now resides in San Francisco. He currently works at a non-profit organization in San Francisco that advocates for new housing development for all income levels in the City. He also interns with Streetsblog San Francisco. Rob plans to pursue a career that promotes civic engagement in cities and improves the public process for local governments.

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 29th, 2013 at 9:41 am and is filed under Community/Economic Development, Environmental Non-Profit, Government/Politics, Land Use, Robert Poole, Social/Demographics, Transportation, Urban Development/Real Estate, Urban Planning and Design. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


4 Responses to “Place and Space Determine Neighborhood Health In Oakland, California”

  1. Doug Poole Says:

    We were in West Oakland a couple of months ago and had to go to a Rite Aid pharmacy. The prices for virtually everything in that Rite Aid were substantially higher than we see in Rite Aids in better neighborhoods. That strikes me as a franchisee taking advantage of the residents in the neighborhood who may not have the transportation or time to go to the lower price stores, or simply don’t know they are being charged more.

    The food issue is also an education issue and, as you point out, is tough to address. The local community efforts are critical and extremely helpful, but early education on healthy foods is also important. I agree it’s a holistic urban planning issue.

  2. Michael Jenkins Says:

    This is a huge issue all over Oakland. I know off of E.14 there is an over saturation of liquor stores. Block after block you can count more liquor stores than blocks you’re passing.

    In terms of solution, Oakland can easily model what New York did by granting those wanting to start these store fronts with the opportunity to do so with fresh food to balance out the negative and create a culture of healthy behavior.

    However I am unsure this is a true priority for the city and its officials.

  3. Robert Poole Says:

    Dad – It really is a holistic issue, resulting from years and years of development that has promoted white flight and extremely inequitable planning. Regarding transportation, these neighborhoods often don’t have the same level of access to public transit that more affluent areas do. This makes the trip to the healthy grocery stores substantially longer. There are solutions out there for this problem, but I think the real question is where do you start?

  4. Robert Poole Says:

    Thanks for the comment Michael. Oakland is an interesting place in that it changes so fast, often from block to block. For example, 4 blocks from where I took that picture of the liquor store are new developments, one being a affordable grocery store. However, that is in North Oakland bordering with Emeryville. West Oakland and East Oakland are still different stories. West Oakland is definitely one of the larger food desserts in the Bay Area. And it is so hard to attract businesses to go there because of the high levels of poverty and crime. That is why this more than an issue of healthy policy.

    I am not familiar with New York’s initiative. I’ll have to look into that. Frankly, there is a lot of work to be done in Oakland. But it looks like steps are being taken in the right direction. It is a place I want to explore more and hopefully can work in in the near future.

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