Tuesday, October 06, 2020

Food deserts aren't real, energy transition, tourism surprise, NYC's anemic recovery, and HTX pandemic response failure

 Just a few items this week:

  • Bloomberg Businessweek: Houston Had an All-American Pandemic Response: Ignore Until It’s Too Late - The city knows about disasters. It’s got a world-renowned medical center. It saw what happened in New York. And it still couldn’t stop Covid-19. I know I still shake my head every time I see a full pedal party in Midtown (close proximity + heavy breathing!). Hat tip George. Sad conclusion:

Crisis is brewing from every direction, and we’re as ready as we ever were. It’s as Hidalgo says: “We’re right on the edge of disaster. It’s almost become our way of business.”

“But a number of civic and business leaders say New York’s reliance on mass transit—and concerns that the new coronavirus could spread through subways, buses or regional trains—has kept many people working from home. Cities that have more driving commuters have seen a higher percentage of workers return.” 
“New Yorkers’ slow return to the workplace is the latest blow to the nation’s biggest city, which has also suffered from homeowners fleeing Manhattan for larger spaces, rises in murders and homelessness, and the shutting or partial closings of Broadway theaters, museums and other popular attractions.” 
“But for some New Yorkers who recall the early weeks of the pandemic, when the rates of sickness and death were among the highest in the world, complimentary parking might not be enough to bring them back to midtown and the prospect of mixing with crowds. Many were traumatized, said Chris Jones, senior vice president of the Regional Plan Association, an urban policy organization.” 
And here’s the top rated comment: 
“Let's be real.  There is no social distancing in NYC whatsoever when the buildings and streets are full.   Zero.  None whatsoever.  Source: a person who's worked in NYC every day for 25 years. “
"We study the causes of “nutritional inequality”: why the wealthy tend to eat more healthfully than the poor in the U.S. Using event study designs exploiting supermarket entry and households’ moves to healthier neighborhoods, we reject that neighborhood environments have meaningful effects on healthy eating. Using a structural demand model, we find that exposing low-income households to the same availability and prices experienced by high-income households reduces nutritional inequality by only 9%, while the remaining 91% is driven by differences in demand. These findings contrast with discussions of nutritional inequality that emphasize supply-side factors such as food deserts."

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At 2:20 PM, October 07, 2020, Blogger Neil Strickland said...

So if a fresh and convenient Rice Epicurean Market opens in Fifth Ward, their model predicts that the neighborhood STILL will fail to purchase nearly as much healthy food per household at the identical prices that the West U households do.

This does not mean food deserts are imaginary, Tory, it means that lack of disposable income is already baked into American urban location choice. Proving that a price phenomenon isn't caused by one thing is fine, but it still has to prove that differences aren't caused by another thing. Variation in purchasing habits cannot change with a change in access to supermarkets when my access to a grocery budget is unchanged. It seems like this 2018 paper didn't explain away the food desert.

At 2:33 PM, October 07, 2020, Blogger Neil Strickland said...

Pyburn's is an area store (chain) worth knowing about and, under former editor Raj Mankad, Rice Design Alliance has done some journalistic coverage of it:


At 4:09 PM, October 07, 2020, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

The concept of a "food desert" is that geographical access is what's holding people back from making better nutritional choices, and this paper disproves that. Prices and budgets are a completely separate problem.

At 6:14 AM, October 10, 2020, Blogger VeracityID said...

I have an experience that contradicts your logic. Near downtown St. Louis is the historic central market: Soulard Market. It's been a retail food market for well over 200 years. It's near very poor parts of town. And the fresh food there is very cheap. I used to take cabs from the airport that were driven by Ethiopian immigrants. Who marveled to me more than once that you could go to Soulard and feed their (typically large) families fresh food for 5 dollars. I used to live in Southard lived and concur that it was cheap and while perhaps not Rice Epicurean quality it was good and fresh enough for a yuppie like I was. Bill Reeves

At 6:18 AM, October 10, 2020, Blogger VeracityID said...

So my point is that it does not neccssarily take great expense to distribute fresh food in poor neighborhoods. What is required is demand. At certain times of the year there are massive surpluses of all sorts of produce. If the poor really were demanding it then there would be all sorts of stands distributing it at least in those periods of surplus. Particularly in light regulation Houston. But I don't see them. Do you?

At 6:28 AM, October 10, 2020, Blogger VeracityID said...

Tory: I would not take the Bloomberg piece about Houston pandemic response at face value for it uses the extreme lockdown strategy as the gold standard. However as the Great Barrington Declaration argues and Sweden's experience demonstrates, the extreme lockdown strategy was an untested and extremely costly (in both lives and economic terms) approach. With each passing day it looks more and more like the Swedish low intervention approach was the better choice. Houston trusts its people to make good decisions for themselves in so many things. Let's not take the most authoritarian, heavily regulated cities' word for something unless we're certain it's a proven best practice. Because our experience historically has been that the highly centralized control model rarely ever is.

At 7:18 AM, October 10, 2020, Blogger George Rogers said...

Amen to that on the bloomberg piece

At 12:31 PM, October 10, 2020, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Agree on all points, including the fact that if the demand was there, markets would provide the fresh veggies/fruits (and Fiesta does in those neighborhoods, by the way).


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