In the 73111 ZIP code of Oklahoma City, which covers nine square miles just northeast of downtown, there are 11,000 residents, 3,500 people living below the poverty line, and, as of last summer, zero grocery stores. There are, however, four dollar stores, and this week the city council is expected to pass an ordinance that requires each of them to set aside at least 500 square feet to stock fresh food.
“That ZIP code is one of the unhealthiest in our city,” councilwoman Nikki Nice told The Wall Street Journal, which reported the story. “Changing that starts with access to food.”
Dollar General wasn’t originally intended as a grocery store, a spokeswoman told the Journal, but now all 16,000 locations stock basics like eggs, bread, and milk, and 650 stores are expected to sell produce by January.
Other cities, though, including Tulsa, Fort Worth, and Birmingham, Alabama, have been trying to solve the problem of food deserts by changing zoning regulations to prevent dollar stores from saturating certain neighborhoods and encouraging grocery stores to move in. “There are the short-term repercussions for not being able to cook a healthy meal,” Birmingham’s director of innovation and economic opportunity told the Journal, “but also the long-term health consequences for a community that has been deprived of access to healthy food over time.”