In Canada, Nova Scotia ranks amongst the highest for household food insecurity, second to the Territories. Households are increasingly having more difficulty obtaining food that contribute to a healthy diet due to cost, quality, and access. Furthermore, municipalities are at the forefront of these concerns, whether it is due to loss of agricultural land, sprawling neighbourhood designs, or lack of public transportation. The Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM) consistently ranks among the worst of Nova Scotian counties for household food insecurity, where it is estimated that one in five households are challenged due to inadequate means of food accessibility (Halifax Regional Municipality, n.d).

Food Access in the Halifax Regional Municipality

While much published research has focused solely on route planning to the location of food resources in the HRM, little research has gone into addressing multiple factors that affect food accessibility. As identified by the HRM, adequacy, availability, and accessibility of food resources are just few of the factors that can reduce the severity of food insecurity. The purpose of this project is to attempt to address those factors by incorporating criteria such as distance, quality, and availability of food in the geographic scope of the HRM. The criteria will be combined into one measure of analysis that depicts food resource accessibility within the HRM as well as to better understand food access in food insecure communities. This blog post follows the content from the following interactive Story Map:

Grocery Gap: Food Resource Accessibility in the HRM Story Map.

Influential studies

The Massachusetts Food Access Index Model influenced this study in determining how to assign weights based on quality of food resource and connect it to the distance from the food resource. Additionally, this analysis paid particular attention to the model in representing the results. However, the methodology to achieve the end result was adapted to reflect current software geo-processing tools.

Furthermore, the weighted food retailer categories were changed slightly to accommodate food resources that were not included in the analysis, such as convenience stores, bakeries, pharmacies that sell food, and warehouse clubs that require memberships.

Weighted Food Resources

The first part of this research was to produce a dataset of food resources within the Halifax Regional Municipality. Acquiring locations of food resources was obtained by searching addresses in Google Earth Pro and downloading the KML files. The KML files would then be converted to a feature class in ArcPro. Once the dataset was created, the next step in the research was assigning weights to the food resource type based on the ability to provide various options that contribute to a healthy diet. The weight categorization is defined below:

5. Large-Scale Grocers
4. Independent Grocers, Small-Scale Grocers
3. Meat Markets, Fresh Produce Markets, Farmers Markets
2. Specialty Food Markets, Bulk Food Stores
1. Food Banks

Using network analyst to determine the walking and driving service areas and joining the facilities ID’s to the FID’s of the food resources, I was able to determine areas that were serviced by low to high quality food resources.

Walking Distances

The Guidelines for Providing Journeys by Foot (2000) suggests that a 400m walking distance within town centres is most acceptable, while the preferred maximum distance is 800m. Additionally, locations outside the town centre consider 800m walking distance acceptable, and 1200m as a most preferred maximum. These guidelines have since been challenged by more recent publications to increase the distances. However, they have not been implemented into policy (Wakenshaw & Bunn, 2015). Since this analysis will be applied across the urban to rural transect, a 500m and 1km walking distance service area from food resources was chosen to reflect a reasonable distance that any person may travel on foot to reach a food resource. While a person with no physical impairment may be able to travel longer distances on foot, the chosen distances cater to represent a wide range of abilities, such as people who have physical impairments, visual impairments, or cognitive impairments. A map representing the weighted food resource walking distance service areas can found in the Story Map.

Driving Distances

Guidelines for accessing healthy food resources by vehicle could not be determined, therefore, a 5km and 10km driving distance service area from food resources was chosen to reflect distances that a person may drive within the Halifax Regional Municipality. Due to the notion of sprawling communities as well as rural areas, a 5km and 10km driving accommodates for people living in these types of built environments and their accessibility to food resources. A map representing the weighted food resource driving distance service areas can found on the Story Map.

Interpreting the results

With the data produced from the combination of weighted food resources and distances from food resources, the result created an index that represents the accessibility of high quality food resources. The range of the scores vary from 0 (low access) to 15 (high access). While there are multiple combinations of food access scores, a score of 15 will indicate that a person will have access to at least one food resources from each category.

  • Scores between 12-15: Represent areas that guarantee access to food resources and at least one large-scale grocer.
  • Scores between 9-12: Represent areas that have a high likelihood of being in proximity to at least one large-scale grocer.
  • Scores between 6-9: Represent areas that have a moderate probability of being in proximity to at least one large-scale grocer.
  • Scores between 3-6: Represent areas that have low access to food resources with the likelihood of being in proximity to a small-scale grocer, market, specialty grocer, or food bank.
  • Scores between 0-3: Represent areas that have very low access to food resources with no guaranteed access to a food resource of any kind.

The following maps included in the story map help visualize the mean food accessibility scores per dissemination area within the Halifax Regional Municipality:

Walking Distances

Mean Food Accessibility Scores for a 500m walking distance in the Halifax Regional Municipality.
Mean Food Accessibility Scores for a 1km walking distance in the Halifax Regional Municipality.

Driving Distances

Mean Food Accessibility Scores for a 5km driving distance in the Halifax Regional Municipality.
Mean Food Accessibility Scores for a 10km driving distance in the Halifax Regional Municipality.

Findings

On a municipal level, the food access scores are widely distributed across the municipality, with greater accessibility on the peninsula, and lower scores of food access farther away from the urban centre. The results of this analysis will be analyzed through the sub-geographies of the Halifax Regional Municipality; Regional Centre, Suburban, and Rural.

Regional Centre

The results of the mean food accessibility scores surrounding the Halifax Peninsula illustrate that the south-end community of Halifax and central Halifax indicate that various high-quality food resources are accessible within a 500m walking distance. However, communities in the north end of the Peninsula, such as Mulgrave Park and Convoy Place, as well as communities in the West-End experience the most challenges in accessing high-quality food resources. While Downtown Dartmouth also services a high residential area, there are not as many food resource opportunities. In comparison to a 1km walking distance service area, communities within the North-End of the Halifax Peninsula continue to experience injustice in food resource accessibility by foot. In Dartmouth, residents in the north-end also experience food inaccessibility. For residents just beyond the Halifax Peninsula, the maps illustrate that residents of Clayton Park have limited access to high-quality food resources by foot within a 500m and 1km catchment.

Suburban

By analyzing walking and driving service areas, it was determined that those with access to a vehicle have greater access to a variety of food resources. This statement is especially true for those living in suburban neighbourhoods in the Halifax Regional Municipality. Unlike the Halifax Peninsula, suburban communities are limited for accessing high-quality food on foot. It is noted that the design of suburban built environments is tends to promote car usage, thus creating restrictions for simple pedestrian access to food resources. Suburban communities such as Cole Harbour, Bedford, and Sackville represent areas that may be accessible by foot beyond a 1km walking distance; however, primarily designed for vehicular movement.

Rural

It is clear that from this analysis that residents within rural communities experience the lowest accessibility to high-quality food resources with consideration to the walking and driving distances applied. As a result, the food access scores conclude that rural communities within the Halifax Regional Municipality are largely car-dependent to access any food resource no matter the distance. As depicted on the maps, rural communities east of Cole Harbour and West of Prospect represent inaccessible locations to high-quality food resources beyond 10km.

Future Research

This analysis provided an abundance of information regarding the affected communities due to lack of high quality and accessible food resources, this research plants a seed into further research to provide solutions for food accessibility in the HRM. Other components that may benefit this research topic include creating a transit network to map food resources in proximity to bus stops/routes. Additionally, updating the food resource database to include different lived experiences such as including methods of cooking (pizza ovens) and community gardens. Since this research did not include convenience stores as a food resource, future research could examine the impact of the scores when convenience stores are included. Furthermore, a verified food resource dataset that is current with available food resources in the Halifax Regional Municipality would be essential in continuing this research.

Limitations

Limitations for this project are little but significant. Since the locations of food were extracted from Google Earth, the food resource locations are approximate; however, some food resources could have been missed in the compilation of data. Additionally, lack of research defining the categorization of food resources resulted in a biased weighting of the quality and quantity of food resources. Furthermore, strict guidelines set by Canadian development standards for access to food resources by foot or by vehicle would provide ample benefit in strengthening this research. While there are some influences regarding the limitations to this project, investing more time into this research concerning the food resource database and into other forms of transportation to food resources would provide a more accurate depiction of food inaccessibility in the Halifax Regional Municipality.

Discussion

According to the results from this analysis, it is clear that communities within the Halifax Regional Municipality are subjected to challenges regarding food security due to lack of quality or inaccessible food resources. Although local initiatives may seem insignificant, progress towards a food secure municipality contributes to larger development goals. The Zero Hunger target, identified by the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, aims to ensure that food that is nutritious and accessible by all people year-round by 2030 (United Nations, n.d.). This includes adopting measures to ensure that food resources are accessible in a timely manner, and unrestricted to rural areas. While this model was able to identify locations within the urban and suburban HRM, this model requires further research to properly address food resource accessibility in rural areas.

Urban planning plays an important role in the allocation of food resources which include relaying these issues in planning policy. The Halifax Regional Municipality Economic Growth Plan identifies its population growth targets to 470,000 by 2021 (Halifax Regional Municipality, n.d.). With such large population growth comes challenges in locating people within the built environment. Additionally, when populations are sprawled out, they often require additional resources in order to properly cater to residents. When decision-makers support sprawling development patterns, residents of those communities are the ones that suffer most due to lack of resources. As identified in the research, while most urban communities in Halifax are the most accessible to a diverse quality of food resources, suburban communities continue to depend on vehicular access to reach their food resources. With that in mind, a shift in development patterns such as urban infill, providing accessible pedestrian pathways, and change in transportation modes can provide combined or individual benefit when attempting to relieve food insecure homes. For those living in lower-income situations with no access to a vehicle or poor public transportation services, these people become reliant on food resources within walking distances. If few healthy food options are available, symptoms of food insecurity can arise. Adopting measures that are embedded in planning policy through zoning or development incentives can promote food security and contribute in the municipal-wide food accessibility goal. While this research did not observe the relationship between income, access to vehicles or public transportation, and the food accessibility scores, further research could determine social or economic disadvantages in accessing healthy and affordable food resources.

Acknowledgements

As mentioned, this story map is a part of Leah Fulton’s GIS Research Project to complete the GIS Certificate at Dalhousie University. Leah Fulton is a fourth year Bachelor of Community Design Student, Honours in Urban Design and Planning, Minor in Geography at Dalhousie University. All comments, questions, and feedback can be provided by responding to this survey or by emailing lh432061@dal.ca.

I would like to thank the following people for their contributions and assistance towards the completion of this project:

  • James Boxall, Dalhousie University GIS Centre, and Research Project Supervisor.
  • Jennifer Strang, Dalhousie University GIS Centre.
  • Ahsan Habib, Director, School of Planning.

References

Fanous, J., Habeeb, N., Matthews, C., & Raczka, L. (2016). Massachusetts Food Access Index: A Pilot Method for Assessing Food Access in the Commonwealth. Tufts University, Department of Urban & Environmental Policy & Planning.

Government of Canada. (2012, July 25). Determining Food Security Status. Retrieved November 2019, from Government of Canada: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/food-nutrition/food-nutrition-surveillance/health-nutrition-surveys/canadian-community-health-survey-cchs/household-food-insecurity-canada-overview/determining-food-security-status-food-nutrition-surveillanc

Halifax Regional Municipality. (2019). Step 1- Learning about Community Food Security. Retrieved November 2019, from Halifax Regional Municipality: https://www.halifax.ca/about-halifax/regional-community-planning/chapter-1-learning-about-community-food-security

Halifax Regional Municipality. (n.d.). Halifax Smart Cities Challenge. Retrieved November 2019, from Halifax Smart Cities Challenge: https://www.smartcitieshfx.ca

Halifax Regional Municipality. (n.d.). Halifax’s Economic Growth Plan 2016–2021. Retrieved November 2019, from Halifax Regional Municipality: https://www.halifax.ca/business/economic-development/economic-strategy

Infrastructure Canada. (2019, May 14). Smart Cities Challenge. Retrieved November 2019, from Infrastructure Canada: https://www.infrastructure.gc.ca/cities-villes/index-eng.html

Institution of Highways and Transportation. (2000). Guidelines for Providing Journeys on Foot. Institution of Highways and Transportation.

Larsen, K., & Gilliland, J. (2008). Mapping the evolution of ‘food deserts’ in a Canadian city: Supermarket accessibility in London, Ontario, 1961–2005. International Journal of Health Geographies, 7(6).

United Nations. (n.d.). Zero Hunger. Retrieved November 2019, from United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/hunger/

Wakenshaw, G., & Bunn, N. (2015). How far do people walk? WYG Group, WYG Environment Planning Transport Limited, London. Retrieved from https://www.wyg.com/uploads/files/news/WYG_how-far-do-people-walk.pdf