This spring, The Final Mile—Open House New York’s year long series exploring how our city’s food system shapes the built environment—kicked off with a series of tours at the Hunts Point Food Distribution Center. Together, tours of two of the city’s three major public wholesale markets, a regional specialty foods distributor, and the distribution hub for many of the city’s food pantries provided a sense of the immense scale of New York City’s food system: a 24-hour-a-day, multi-billion-dollar enterprise that employs thousands of New Yorkers, from wholesalers and manufacturers to grocery store clerks and waiters.
Hunts Point was built to centralize food distribution in New York, and to isolate the mess and traffic of this activity away from the city’s densely packed core. This effort was notably successful: today, fully half of the food consumed in the five boroughs comes through the Hunts Point peninsula. But what about that other half of the food that we eat? Some of it is routed to the city through suburban hubs, but there are also a host of secondary and alternative food distribution nodes embedded directly within dense, mixed-use neighborhoods across the five boroughs. Some of these nodes bypass Hunts Point altogether; some redistribute food that enters the city through Hunts Point for further processing; still others combine retail, manufacturing, and wholesaling, mixed in amongst the many diverse elements of daily city life.
This summer, The Final Mile will continue its exploration of how food shapes the urban environment through visits to three typologically diverse sites throughout the city that serve as secondary or alternative nodes within the food distribution system. In the latest episode of How Great Cities Are Fed, food systems expert Karen Karp and her team look at how the evolution of modern transportation systems has impacted urban food distribution. The episode speaks directly to why flexible, multi-nodal food distribution systems are so important to the interrelated issues of resiliency and access to local/regional food. Says Karp:
“We need [urban food] systems to work no matter what…even when there’s a disaster, whether it be a security breach like 9/11, or a more climate-related natural disaster like Hurricane Sandy. In both of these cases, we found that the good idea that was to designate the Hunts Point peninsula as New York City’s food distribution zone is still a really good idea—but it is not the only idea. The city has become so big that small distributors [struggle to] get there on a daily basis, but when there is a disruption…they can’t get there at all. And what happens to the neighborhoods that are furthest away from these central distribution hubs? There need to be smaller distribution outlets in these places, not as back ups, but as part of a rebuilt network of [food distribution].”
If New Yorkers are serious about building a more resilient city, food security is one of the most important issues to be addressed. Join us this summer to see how existing secondary and alternative nodes within the city’s food distribution network operate, and to consider how these models might influence urban development in the future.