Multi-use and grocery stores

life and death

I have begun reading The Life and Death of Great American Cities by the great Jane Jacobs. So far one idea that jumps out to me is that of multi-use. As she discusses the evolution of ideas that have killed and discouraged multi-use planning I think about the three cities I have lived in, usage zoning and grocery stores.

In Calgary our grocery stores are exemplary of the idea that you live on place and then shop another. I cannot walk to the grocery and the same is true of most Calgarians. We have a small number of very large grocery stores rather than a large number of smaller groceries stores. As a result going out to buy some milk is a burden and impractical. Most people drive to the grocery store and make large trips stocking up for the week.

CVS stores were a nice discovery when I lived in DC. They are a cross between grocery stores and convenience stores. They also sell really good frozen chicken wings. The district was filled with them so that the most basic needs like a carton of milk or a snack were easy to fill. There were also larger grocery stores that you could walk to, though it was often farther. Luckily I lived near a Target and Safeway as well as a CVS so all of my bases were covered. I made small trips to pick up supplies never buying more than I could fit into a backpack. These stores were tucked in alongside residential and commercial areas.

In Copenhagen you are pretty much always within a five minute walk of a grocery store. There was a large grocery store across the street from me, a small one in the building next door (a daunting one minute journey) and one four minutes away if I felt like a jaunt. The smaller stores were the size of CVS but stocked everything you could need. They go with the model of fewer choices but more stores. Copenhagen is a prime example of good planning. It’s the goldilocks of density. Not density alone but density with shops, kebab stands, transit, bike lanes, libraries, schools, parks and of course lots of grocery stores.

In Calgary I have over 300 choices of toothpaste but it’s inconvenient to shop. I would rather have five choices and have a ten minute round trip. I would love to live within walking distance of everything I could possibly need. A good solution here would be to require grocery stores in new developments and to promote smaller stores in the inner city.

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