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UBC Theses and Dissertations

An exploration of the role of planners in supporting local access to grocery stores Wittgens, Margaret Suzanne

Abstract

This thesis explores the role of planners in supporting local access to grocery stores in Canadian cities. Grocery stores are an important neighbourhood feature- they not only provide access to nutritional food, they also contribute to neighbourhood vitality, acting as a hub for local economic activity and community life. In recent years, evidence has emerged that, as a result of grocery industry trends towards larger formats, access to grocery stores has diminished in areas of cities in North America and the United Kingdom. Planners have a role in ensuring that basic services—such as housing and water— are adequately provided. This thesis argues that grocery stores, as a basic service that contributes to individual and community health, warrant planning attention. However, grocery store access has not received systematic attention by the planning profession. There is little literature on the role that planners play in supporting grocery access. This thesis explores the opportunities and constraints facing planners in supporting local access to grocery stores. It is based on a review of relevant literature and on case studies of planning attention to grocery stores in Edmonton, Alberta and Vancouver, British Columbia. The research reveals that planners in these two cities recognize the importance of grocery stores and in some cases have undertaken efforts to improve grocery access. Typically, these efforts aim to address neighbourhood vitality rather than food access. The Vancouver and Edmonton experiences reveal the influence of political context on planner involvement in grocery access. They also indicate that planners play a key role in promoting an accessible built environment and illustrate that planners are wellpositioned to engage in community dialogue on grocery access needs; there is an opportunity to raise the profile of food access in discussions focused on neighbourhood vitality. This thesis concludes that there is a need to increase the connections between social planning and land use planning. Planners can play an important role in drawing attention to grocery access within various planning processes.

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