Geography Students Analyze Urban Food Stores

UC geography students participating in the interdisciplinary Niehoff Studio are gaining experience that is much more than an academic exercise. They are producing research that may help address the needs of Cincinnati’s urban neighborhoods.

The studio, which began in fall 2002, has been examining the retail food environment within the urban neighborhoods not far from the university. Those areas include Cincinnati’s Over-The-Rhine, central business district, Walnut Hills, East Walnut Hills, Avondale, Corryville, Mt. Auburn, West End, East End, University Heights, Paddock Hills, Mt. Adams, Fairview and Clifton Heights. Geography students have put their skills to work on the project, using Geographic Information Systems, a sophisticated computerized mapping and spatial analysis technique.

During winter quarter, geography students Aaron Crary, Adam Parrillo and Julia Shultz, as well as planning students Dina Abdulkarim, Milana Boz and David Parish worked under geography instructor Colleen McTague using GIS to analyze the location and distribution of retail food establishments within the studied neighborhoods. They also layered their maps with demographics on educational levels, income levels, race and access to vehicles from the U.S. Census. They were surprised to find that although there is only one supermarket in Over-The-Rhine, that area does have a high number of grocery stories and limited-access retail food establishments, such as convenience stores. So does the central business district. On the other hand, several areas contain no supermarkets or grocery stores, including all of the East End and all of Mt. Adams. The upper income level areas of Uptown/Downtown seem to be underserved when it comes to food stores, their results suggest.

This quarter Parrillo and Shultz are continuing to work with adjunct instructor Colleen McTague on analyzing shopping data by gender. The students helped to conduct surveys in the neighborhoods in question and will be assessing the results throughout the rest of the quarter.

The students’ goal is to create data that is as accurate and useable as possible. “We want our research to be as valuable to the stockholders as possible,” said Parrillo, a PhD student.

The interdisciplinary nature of the studio has allowed the GIS students, who are enrolled in the UC McMicken College of Arts and Sciences, to work side by side with students in the College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning. “It’s really an interesting mesh,” says McTague. The planning and architecture students’ methods “are so different from the social sciences that we have had to learn to bend and stretch with each other.”

“It has been valuable to have this kind of interdisciplinary collaboration,” said Shultz. “It has been great to do some field work that has been something that is real life.” The experience has been much more intensive and real world than the traditional classroom, added Parrillo. It has also allowed undergraduates, such as Crary, to work along with graduate students.

The spring quarter results will be presented on June 9 at the Niehoff Studio on Central Parkway.

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