IBM takes on Birmingham food deserts

This information provided by Smart Cities Council Compassionate Cities.
Wed, 2014-07-30 06:00 -- Liz Enbysk

As industries have left derelict buildings behind in areas of Birmingham, Alabama, grocery stores have also left. That creates what are referred to as "food deserts" – areas where residents have no nearby access to healthy food choices. Supermarkets are often reluctant to locate in areas where poverty is high. Small corner mini-marts don't typically stock fresh fruits and vegetables.

What to do?

The city of Birmingham and the University of Alabama (UAB) Sustainable Smart Cities Research Center (SSCRC) collaborated to apply for and received one of this year's IBM Smarter Cities Challenge grants. As a result, a team of IBM experts is working with them to address the problem of food deserts.

"Eighty percent of our city's population doesn't have access to healthy affordable food, but 100 percent deserves it," Henry Rohrer with IBM told WRBC.

The team's recommendations on how to fix the food desert problem, according to include:

    • Creating a community food insecurity task force
    • Providing community nutrition education
    • Having mobile food markets
    • Optimizing transit to improve food access

The derelict buildings also pose livability problems, notes Fouad Fouad director of the SSCRC. “By focusing on those two areas, we can lay the groundwork for change that will help stabilize neighborhoods and lead to sustainable, healthy growth for decades to come.”

Birmingham not alone

In 2011, the city of Milwaukie, Wisconsin also won an IBM grant to improve access to healthy foods, improve neighborhoods and create jobs. In the case of Milwaukie, IBM recommendations centered on cultivating an urban farming and aquaponics – described in local press reports as "a water-efficient way to produce large quantities of fish and vegetables in tight spaces."

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This article is from the Council's Compassionate Cities initiative which highlights how city leaders and other stakeholders can leverage smart technologies to end suffering in their communities and give all citizens a route out of poverty. Click the Compassionate Cities box on our registration page to receive our weekly newsletter.

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