Counteracting Food Deserts. the Potential for Mobile Food Vending in Regenerating Contemporary Cities

Counteracting Food Deserts. the Potential for Mobile Food Vending in Regenerating Contemporary Cities

S. Caramaschi

Department of Architecture, University of Rome Tre, Italy

1 May 2017
| Citation



Even if healthy food is back on the agenda of a growing number of cities, for far too many people, and especially for those living in low-income neighbourhoods, the access to healthy options is simply out of reach. Many of these communities are oversaturated with fast-food chains and other sources of inexpensive and processed food, facing the highest risks of obesity, diabetes, and other preventable health challenges. Unsustainable urban development, market failures and urban planning have mainly led to food deserts, areas without proper access to fresh, healthy and affordable food. These underserved urban spaces have recently received a great deal of attention, seen as the product of poor proximity, means of transportation and shopping options in low-income neighbourhoods.

As cities seek to grow a more sustainable, equitable and liveable environment, ensuring that healthy food is accessible to all is crucial. Alternative projects, initiatives and policies have been developed, bringing mobile food options to these unsuccessful parts of cities. Street vending, as an interim use, is a mean to promote a livelier and healthier city, a potential tool that may generate positive community changes, if the agenda used to promote it specifically address existing inequalities.

This paper argues for the use of mobile food vending as an innovative tool to counteract food deserts and to activate the public space of previously dramatic urban areas, improving health and urban out- comes in places that need them most. It focuses on specific north-America street food strategies: New York City, Philadelphia, Seattle and Toronto have devised similar street food strategies with the aim to increase access to healthy food for the most vulnerable people.


activation, food deserts, mobile food vending, public space, revitalization, street food

1. Why Healthy Food Matters
2. Food Establishments and the Role of Public Space
3. The Goal of Food Desert Transformation
4. The Role of Mobile Food Vending in Urban Food-policy, Food Security and Revitalization
5. Conclusions

[1] Dannenberg, A.L., Frumkin, H. & Jackson, R.J., Making Healthy Places: Designing and Building for Health, Well-being, and Sustainability, Island Press: Washington, DC, 2011.

[2] Jacobs, J., The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Vintage Books: New York, 1961.

[3] Appleyard, D., Livable Streets, University of California Press: Berkeley, 1981.

[4] Gehl, J., Life Between Buildings, Van Nostrand-Reinhold: New York, 1987.

[5] Carr, S., Francis, M., Rivlin, L.G. & Stone, A.M., Public Space, Cambridge University Press: New York, 1992.

[6] Jacobs, A., Great Streets, The MIT Press Cambridge: Cambridge, MA, 1993.

[7] Southworth, M. & Ben-Joseph, E., Streets and the Shaping of Towns and Cities, McGraw-Hill: New York, 1996.

[8] Carmona, M., Heath, T. Oc, & Tiesdell, S., Public Places - Urban Spaces: The Dimensions of Urban Design, Architectural Press: Oxford, UK, 2003.

[9] Oldenburg, R., The Great Good Place, Univ. Of California Press: Berkeley, 1981.

[10] Lynch, K., Good City Form, MIT Press: Cambridge, MA, 1984.

[11] Sorkin, M., (ed.), Variations on a Theme Park, Noonday: New York, 1992.

[12] Cooper-Marcus, C. & Francis, M., People Places: Design Guidelines for Urban Open Space, 2nd edn., Wiley: New York, 1998.

[13] Sternberg, E., An integrative theory of urban design. Urban Design Reader, ed. M. Carmona & S. Tiesdell, Architectural Press Elsevier Ltd: Oxford, pp. 33–42, 2007.

[14] Chase, J., Crawford, M. & Kalisk, J., Everyday Urbanism, Monacelli Press: New York, 2008.

[15] Lydon, M., Garcia, A. & Duany, A., Tactical Urbanism: Short-term Action for Long-term Change, Island Press: Washington, 2015.

[16] Mehta, V. & Bosson, J. K., Third places and the social life of streets. Environment and Behavior, 42(6), pp. 779–805, 2009.

[17] Franck, K.A., The city as dining room, market and farm. Architectural Design, 75(3), pp. 5–10, 2005.

[18] Whyte, W.H., The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, Conservation Foundation: Washington, DC, 1980.

[19] Gehl, J., Cities for People, Island Press: Washington DC, 2010.

[20] Franck, K.A., Food for the City, Food in the City. Architectural Design, 75(3), pp. 35–42, 2005.

[21] Treuhaft, S. & Karpyn, A., The Grocery Gap, PolicyLink: Oakland, CA, 2010.

[22] Larsen, K. & Gilliland, J., Mapping the evolution of ‘food deserts’ in a Canadian city: Supermarket accessibility in London, Ontario, 1961-2005. International Journal of Health Geographics, 7, pp. 1–16, 2008.

[23] Whitley, S., Changing times in rural America: food assistance and food insecurity in food deserts. Journal of Family Social Work, 16, pp. 36–52, 2013.

[24] Freudenberg, N., McDonough, J. & Tsui, E., Can a food justice movement improve nutrition and health? A case study of the emerging food movement in New York City. The New York Academy of Medicine. Journal of Urban Health: Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, 88(4), 2011.

[25] Larsen, K. & Gilliland, J., A farmers’ market in a food desert: Evaluating impacts on the price and availability of healthy food. Health Place, 15(4), pp. 1158–1162, 2009.

[26] Evans, A.E., Jennings, R., Smiley, A.W., Medina, J.L., Sharma, S.V., Rutledge, R., Stigler, M.H. & Hoelscher, D.M., Introduction of farm stands in low-income communities increases fruit and vegetable among community residents. Health Place, 18(5), pp. 1137–1143, 2012.

[27] Juarez, G., Glenn, E. & Grant, M., The food truck phenomenon continued. American Planning Association Conference, Los Angeles Convention Centre, Los Angeles, April 16, 2012.

[28] Milan, E., Wolf, K. & Fagan, J.M., Food Deserts: Produce Trucks to the Rescue, Spring 2015.

[29] Morales, A. & Kettles, G., Healthy food outside: farmers’ markets, taco trucks, and sidewalk fruit vendors. The Journal of Contemporary Health Law and Policy, 26(1), pp. 20–48, 2009.

[30] Freedman Consulting, LCC, The Collaborative City. How Partnerships Between Public and Private Sectors Can Achieve Common Goals, Mayor’s Fund to Advance: New York City, 2014.

[31] Black, J., Green carts put fresh produce where the people are, Washington Post, April 17, 2012.