Flowers bloom in a food desert, but it's still a desert; NE OKC Food Security Symposium is set
Food security has to do with more than grocery stores — if not, the food desert in northeast Oklahoma City would appear to be greening up.
Uptown Grocery is moving right along in leased space at NE 36 and N Kelley Avenue with sign work and hiring. This is by the same folks who closed their Super Saver at NE 23 and Martin Luther King Avenue in August, surprising everyone, angering many, and removing any doubt that access to wholesome food was drying up in the mostly poor and mostly African-American 73111 Zip Code.
The Homeland in the works at NE 36 and N Lincoln Boulevard will take much more time, coming from the ground up and involving the relocation of Homeland corporate headquarters, as well. It had been in the works for quite some time before the wake-up call of the Super Saver closing.
Also in the works before the Super Saver closed, since at least May, was a new zoning ordinance creating a Healthy Neighborhoods Overlay District for 73111, which is bounded roughly from NE 16 north to East Wilshire Boulevard between N Kelley Avenue and N Bryant Avenue.
The ordinance is on the consent agenda at Tuesday's Oklahoma City Council meeting for a final hearing and consideration at the Jan. 7 meeting. It would seek to keep junk food stores from taking over with "requirements for the dispersal of locations of Small-Box Discount Stores unless they have a pharmacy or provide at least 500 square feet of retail space dedicated to the sale of fresh meats, fruits and vegetables."
And on the ground, people used to buying food at the Super Saver have gotten help with transportation, churches have pitched in, and the market for groceries, wheezing as it is from the unexpected gut punch of losing Super Saver. is responding.
Sunshine Grocery at NE 11 and N Martin Luther King has let it be known by a small sign at NE 23 and Martin Luther King that it has groceries for sale a mile south. And I'm sure the CVS at NE 23 and Martin Luther King has added some groceries to take advantage of the situation.
So what's left to talk about? Plenty, and Ward 7 City Councilwoman Nikki Nice and Urban Land Institute Oklahoma will present an event to air the issues at the NE OKC Food Security Symposium. The event will be from 1 to 4 p.m. Dec. 11 at Metro Tech Auditorium, 1900 Springlake Drive. Attendance is free, but they would like a head count, so register online at www.tinyurl.com/ULIOKFoodSecurity.
What's it about?
"The NE OKC Food Security Symposium is an informational and educational event intended to foster collaboration and build community engagement around the issue of food security in NE OKC. ULI Oklahoma will host top researchers and experts who have studied food insecurity specifically within the context of black communities. We hope to provide a micro and macro view of the issue, provide background on how we got here, and discuss possible community engagement opportunities and solutions."
Speakers will include:
• Lavonna Blair Lewis, Ph.D, with a master's in public health, a teaching professor of public policy and the associate dean of diversity, equity, and inclusion at the University of Southern California Sol Price School of Public Policy. Her work focuses on cultural competency and health equity, "both targeting the health status and health care needs of underrepresented groups."
• Bryce Lowery, Ph.D., an assistant professor of regional and city planning at the University of Oklahoma Gibbs College of Architecture. Lowery's research focuses on "environmental and social influences of neighborhood well-being as well as land use policies that aim to improve community health." His most recent work "investigates the relationship between grocery store location, socioeconomic status, and diet-related health outcomes in Oklahoma where elevated rates of diet-related disease suggest an urgent need for action.
• Ashante Reese, Ph.D, an assistant professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Sciences at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Reese earned a Masters in Public Anthropology at American University in 2013 and a Ph.D. in anthropology, specializing in race, gender, and social justice. "Broadly speaking," the organizers said, "Reese focuses her work in Black geographies — the ways Black people produce and navigate spaces and places in the context of anti-Blackness."
All of them will have important things to say. In the meantime, drive around 73111. Imagine not having a car. Even a mile is a long walk with a sack of groceries, if they are there to buy, and you can afford them.
The folks at the church I am privileged to pastor, Trinity Presbyterian Church (PCUSA), on NE 23 just up the hill east of the closed Super Saver, are used to hearing me say this about matters of Christian faith: "We are all in this thing together."
Dear Oklahoma City, when it comes to matters of food security and public health, we are all in this thing together. I plan to be at this event to listen and learn.
You can email Real Estate Editor Richard Mize at firstname.lastname@example.org.