Food Deserts in Detroit

A while back I had a GIS project surrounding food deserts in southeastern Michigan.  Using locations of significantly sized grocery stores (had to be a chain, such as Meijer, Kroger, Aldi, Save-A-Lot, etc.), I created the above layout.  Hopefully the layout does a good job at showing the locations of food deserts in the region, because I received an “A” for a grade.

There was a tweet this morning that set this blog post into motion: “A Michigan couple helps to fill #Detroit‘s fresh food void with their produce store. via @urbanbydesign.”  Oddly enough, the store mentioned in this post does not get business nor demand that it could being in Detroit’s midtown neighborhood.  Furthermore, it’s in a location of high density, traffic, and one of the city’s most significant food deserts.

Detroit, not only being one of the nation’s murder capitals, is also considered to be one of the heaviest cities in the nation, usually competing with St. Louis.  Furthermore, the latest escapade of previous Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who was just indicted on 19 counts of federal fraud, alongside the challenges of Detroit Public Schools, might suggest that the problems of education are deeply rooted in a city and that healthy eating is not on the top of the list to fix.

Combined with the severe spatial disparity of metropolitan detroit, perhaps people’s idea of “eating local” is the McDonald’s down the block rather than bussing it to the grocery store.  We know not everybody has the means to own a car, and crossing the city via bus can be a pain.  Food deserts for those who own cars are not as an immediate threat than to those who don’t have the economic resources to drive daily.  If it were me, I’d be more likely to feed my family off of what’s closer, even if it were a good amount of fast food.  It’s fortunate to hear about the growing number of urban farms, resources for local food pantries, and gardens.  However, the education doesn’t seem to have reached a tipping point yet to the larger community to solve the problems caused by a food desert.



7 thoughts on “Food Deserts in Detroit

  1. Nice map! A couple of additional analyses would be interesting to see:

    1. Rather than a radius, use a buffer using the road network distance. Does this reveal additional deserts?

    2. As you’ve indicated, if you want an even bleaker picture, use the public transit network in place of the road network to calculate network distances. This, of course, doesn’t show you how many busses would need to be taken, or even realistic routes. But, my guess is that you’ll see a few more food deserts crop up.

    3. Does the city have locations of urban gardens and farmers markets? It might be interesting to see what kind of coverage those things actually have in Detroit.

    1. Hi Peter,

      1. Yeah, however at the time I was just learning how to use GIS. It was much easier to establish a buffer, but I’m sure you’re correct in estimating different deserts based on roadways.

      3. Yes, and there are numerous smaller grocery stores, but the challenge is certainly to the national chains where many desire to shop instead.

  2. You know Detroit is bad when Wal Mart wont go there…….Wal Mart goes everywhere (although to me this is a blessing in disguise…..not a fan).

    Unfortunately, I am sure most low income families do resort to eating fast food, and whatever else they can pick up off the shelves at the local liquor store.

    Nice work!

  3. Hi Tom,
    My name is Shoshana Bochner, I work for a small non profit organization in San Francisco, CA called Roots of Change, we work on food sustainability issues for the state of California. We are currently working creating a video which will illustrate the history of the sustainable food movement in the United States and I think your Detroit food desert map would be great in the video. I’m wondering if you would allow us to use your work. We are happy to pay or credit your work in credits at the end of the video. If you are willing to let us use your map please email me at

    Thank you,
    Shoshana Bochner

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