Thursday, November 18, 2010

Making Groceries (Continued)

Oh, the places you'll go and the people you'll meet. I've lived in both Athens and New Orleans for a number of years, and it always amazes me how differently they'll deal with the same issues.

Like grocery stores.

New Orleans has a grocery store problem. First and foremost, there are large swaths of this city without any grocery stores whatsoever. You have to travel to get food. For many of our residents, that means taking the bus or calling up a friend or family member who has a car.

If you are lucky enough to live in neighborhoods that have access to groceries, you still have limited options. Some neighborhoods have small, neighborhood scale shops that do a lot of things. You can walk or bike to them if you live nearby, and while your selection may be smaller and your prices may be a little higher, you can still make groceries without going too far from home. Some neighborhoods have access to large, supermarket-style grocery stores - and most of these are planted firmly within walking distance of large populations.

Living in Mid-City, I have a choice of where to spend money on groceries. On the commute home? On my bike? Do I walk? Which store do I choose? I have options, and this makes my neighborhood a very desirable place to live.

Athens has a different problem in that they have plenty of large, full service grocery stores (about the same number NOLA has, at half the population) but few groceries that are both full service and neighborhood scale. When I lived in Athens, having multiple 24-hour supermarkets was a luxury I absolutely took for granted. But I had to drive to every one. Even when I lived on the East Side, and there were four major supermarkets to choose from, driving to the store was the primary means of getting it done. At the time I lived on campus, walking to the grocery store, or even taking the bus, required long trips through neighborhoods that were less safe for college students. When I lived off the Atlanta Highway, there was simply no effective way to walk or bike to get groceries. Because I spent so much time driving from place to place, I eventually just moved to the country in Oconee County, where at least I could walk around on the acerage.

In comparison, I prefer the New Orleans model despite the disadvantages. Things are set up here, we just need to add more stores. But walkability is one of those things that makes New Orleans special.

Checking out the comments thread to this post on how groceries are important to walkable neighborhoods, it becomes apparent that some folks aren't aware of what "walkability" means. The Boulevard neighborhood is "walkable" if you mean getting home from downtown, going out to eat, or walking your dog (all important things). Hell, if I ever move back to Athens, that's likely the neighborhood I move into for precisely those reasons. But if I'm driving to Epps Bridge or Alps every week to make groceries, it ain't a fully walkable neighborhood.

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2 comments:

Dante said...

I count 9 grocery stores directly on the Athens Bus line (http://www.athenstransit.com/assets/docs/SysMap.pdf):

Publix on Atl Hwy
Ingles on Atl Hwy
Kroger at Alps
Earth Fare at 5 Points
East Side Kroger
East Side Piggly Wiggly
Ingles on Hwy 29
East Side Wal-Mart Supercenter
Bell's on Hawthorne

You might've driven to them (I know I did), but there was public transportation available. And unless you're trying to get from the downtown area out to one or you're headed to Bell's, you don't even have to go through "less safe" neighborhoods to get there.

If Bi-Lo and Phoenix Market were still around, that number would be at least 3 higher.

Cousin Pat from Georgia said...

Truth.

But if I recall the bus lines in Athens, they weren't exactly reliable. Hope I'm not bringing home ice cream.

Also, we're talking about walkable neighborhoods, not public transit (though that does factor into it). That consideration should be much more focused on getting to and from work, at which point, groceries on the transit line become important.

I can understand that there are folks who have trouble envisioning what walkability is, simply because they've never actually experienced it. In my neighborhood in New Orleans, I can walk to 2 grocery stores, 3 transit lines, one major pharmacy, a major park, several schools, church, and a host of restaurants, coffee shops and bars. I don't have to get on a bus for any of these, and getting on my bike only makes the trip quicker.

I have literally gone days at a time without using my car, and not been inconvenienced. That's what "walkability" is all about.