In its April 10 work session, the council heard a report on the city's food deserts. These are geographic areas where residents have little or no access to affordable, healthy food options, especially fresh fruits and vegetables, due to the absence of grocery stores within convenient travelling distance.
A recent study by economists at New York University, Stanford University and the University of Chicago stressed that food deserts are disproportionately found in disadvantaged neighborhoods. The study indicated that 55 percent of all zip codes with a median income below $25,000 fit the definition of food deserts. These trends are reflected in recent grocery store closures on the east side of Fort Worth.
However, District 5 Councilwoman Gyna Bivens said there are some misconceptions about food deserts.
"It's not always about low income, low money. It's about not having a store," she said.
In an attempt to address this, the city passed amendments to the zoning ordinance to allow urban agriculture in most zoning districts without a zoning change. The primary purpose of the amendment is to allow produce to be grown and sold in many more location. This move is also intended to help provide more jobs.
The city also amended both the city code and the zoning ordinance for mobile vendors and pushcarts to allow them to sell fresh produce in residential districts. These amendments support the Blue Zones Initiative to bring fresh produce to residents in underserved areas, along with supporting the Plan4Health Tarrant County collaborative, which received an American Planning Association grant to improve access to fresh, local food in three Southeast Fort Worth ZIP codes.
"This is an issue that nationwide all the big cities are dealing with," Mayor Betsy Price said. It's not crime that is keeping grocery store chains away from some areas, she added, but rather shopping trends. She said residents are driving five and six miles to larger stores such as Walmart.
"Part of what we need to do is talk with our neighborhoods about supporting the stores that are there. Unless you can say you'll have shopping support in your district, they won't come."
The city’s recently completed Economic Development Strategic Plan also addresses the need for neighborhood realignment and for focusing investments to enhance the economic potential of a target area. A review and analysis is underway of current incentives to determine what revisions need to be made to better focus potential investment opportunities. The initial target areas will be Altamesa Boulevard and McCart Avenue, West Camp Bowie Boulevard, East Lancaster Avenue, Evans Avenue and Rosedale Street, Near Northside and Stop Six.
"The focus of our report did drill down to those target areas, but really we're talking about areas that have not had any level of grocery store development in some time, and that issue is driven by several factors," Economic Development Director Robert Sturns said.
Among them are more people using Amazon for grocery shopping, he said.
"Margins for grocery stores are typically very slim to begin with, and there's been a lot of consolidation in the industry as a whole," he said.
District 3 Councilman Brian Byrd asked Sturns to also look into areas in the city that are at risk of becoming food deserts. District 4 Councilman Cary Moon suggested that Sturns "think big" on the project.
"I think we can go bigger when going after some of these grocers instead of just trying to fill holes," Moon said.
District 6 Councilman Jungus Jordan said there have been some requests for a community garden in the Altamesa and McCart neighborhoods.
These redevelopment efforts will be coordinated with Neighborhood Services to ensure that the city provides a comprehensive approach to revitalization efforts. The Economic Development department is also coordinating with the Planning and Development Department to incorporate findings from the strategic plan into the city’s overall land use policies in order to have consistent guidelines for evaluating proposed land development projects.
The staff is expected to provided recommendations on the policies for council consideration by the summer.
The council heard an informal report on Makerspaces and Maker Cities during its work session April 10.
Makerspaces are the 21st-century solution to the wastes and excesses of the old industrial model of production. They are collective opportunities to develop technology or tangible objects for commercial purposes, lowering the entry fee into the competitive market and serving as community hubs and hands-on education centers.
Makerspaces began to spread throughout Europe and North America in the early 2000s. Also referred to as FabLabs or Hackerspaces, they began in the mid-1990s in Germany as collectives of programmers.
Some of these inspired U.S. hackers during a Chaos Communication Camp meeting in 2007. Soon after, Makers established the first fledgling spaces in New York, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco.
As membership grew, hackers began to buy more equipment and work on physical objects as well as create code. Some started to use the word “make” instead of “hack” to distance themselves from the negative connotation of subverting computer programs, as well as to encourage a more creative and community-oriented ethos. Makerspaces are typically facilities centered on crafting rather than repurposing hardware.
According to hackerspaces.org, there are 1,762 active spaces across the globe with 350 in development. Of those, MAKE Magazine has cataloged over 100 in the United States.
The Maker movement is not new. Tinkerers, inventors and Makers used to do this in their garages, basements and workshops.
According to CustomMade.com, the maker movement is made up of some 135 million adults in the United States. Makers use their skills to craft items, contributing $29 billion to the U.S. economy annually. From 3D printers to laser cutters, makers employ various tools to create their goods.
In the Walsh development in far west Fort Worth, Walsh Makerspace recently opened, available to residents, local businesses, community organizations, students and others. It includes a woodshop, computer design and 3D printers, laser cutter, robotics lab and an electronics lab.
The National League of Cities’s report on “Discovering Your City’s Maker Economy,” published in November, highlighted that during the early stages of the maker movement, participants required very little public support. Makerspaces organically emerged as people with similar interests and hobbies sought a place to experiment, tinker and learn.
However, in recent years, this mindset has begun to shift, and the considerable growth in the movement has caught the attention of local policymakers. As internal operations grow and expand outwards, makers are increasingly interacting with local government officials to determine how best to support the movement.
Cities that have supported Makers have become known as Maker Cities. Informal learning environments include libraries, museums, camps, afterschool programs, community centers, recreation centers and universities. College degrees are starting to give way to faster and more lightweight micro-credentialing programs that prove mastery of a specific skill or set of equipment.
Additionally, in a Maker City, new types of businesses are expected to emerge as a direct result of the Maker movement, including custom and digital fabrication using 3D printing, laser cutters and related technologies.
Furthermore, Maker Cities tend to become a magnet for talent, attracting the educated while simultaneously making the most of the talent pool already in the community.
As part of the Economic Development Strategic Plan implementation, the city's Economic Development team will be working with partners to map existing efforts and analyze the entrepreneurial environment, including Makers, looking for gaps. There will be an effort to understand the economic impact of Making in Fort Worth.
"I've got some plans in the future for what I'd like to see us do on a grand scale, Maker City projects," District 5 Councilwoman Gyna Bivens said.