When I lived in the Uptown neighborhood, near the corner of Clark Street and Wilson Avenue, I was shocked when a local supermarket was shut down and replaced by, of all things, a major office supplies retailer.
"I need groceries, not office supplies," I thought. The nearest major grocery store was now over a mile away.
According to a recent study, many Chicagoans on the South Side have to travel even farther than that to find a grocery store.
As Mari Gallagher of the Mari Gallagher Research and Consulting Group notes, "You can't choose healthy foods if you don't have access to them." In the group's 2006 study, half a million Chicagoans were found to live in "food deserts," geographic areas with limited grocery store options and heavy concentrations of fast food restaurants.
"These residents are more likely to die and suffer prematurely from diet-related diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer," said Gallagher in the Huffington Post. "If an apple is further away than a burger, than the chances of choosing fresh food more often than fast food is a mirage."
South Side neighborhoods like Grand Boulevard, Washington Park, West Englewood, and Roseland have the most limited access to grocery stores.
However, the city has been doing its best to improve the situation, offering grocers tax incentives and job training.
Last month, the Department of Planning and Development, the Polk Street Group, and the National Center for Public Research hosted the 2008 Grocer Expo, highlighting the many available development sites and attracting new food retail investments.
"The presence of retail grocers throughout Chicago is vital. It enhances access to nutritious foods and spurs economic growth," said Mayor Daley in a press release.
"We think that a grocery store at one of these sites would be most effective to address some of the food desert issues, " Pete Scales, spokesman for the planning department, told Chicago Tribune's Red Eye. "They're really ripe and ready for redevelopment."