Eliminating Food Deserts Theory and Design

Mobile device usage has become ubiquitous for people of all social classes. From cell phones to tablets, you’d be hard pressed to find someone living in America without access to some sort of information and communication device (ICT). Because of their ubiquity ICT’s have fundamentally changed the way all people interact with each other. By their very nature these devices enhance the mobile aspect of communication, allowing people to communicate regardless of location or circumstance. It is this mobility that can allow for people to not only communicate, but to collaborate in ways that were not possible in the pre-digital age. It is my aim with my community garden app to use the social and mobile aspects of ICTs to help individuals form larger collaborative groups in order to help communities with poor access to healthy food options free themselves from the confines of the food deserts they are currently living in.

Spatial mobility can classically be described as a person’s or objects’ ability to travel through geographic space. But as Kakihara and Sorensen note, symbols and information can also relate to spatial mobility, as symbols and information can be received by a large number of people far away from the senders geographic location thanks to ICTs. The example they give is that of global satellite television networks, where billions of people can receive news simultaneously on a global scale. This idea plays heavily into my app concept because users from across the globe will be able to share ideas and data when using the app. For example, say a user in Philadelphia wants to know how to go about starting a personal vegetable garden on a small plot in their back yard. They will be able to access information libraries built by other users in an open source manner and find out the best crops to grow in the mid Atlantic climate. They will also be able to ask users on the in app forum how to best sow their crops, when to plant, and when to harvest. Basically any information they need can be shared with them by any user within the apps network. Perhaps a user in New York with an already successful garden will have suggestions for which particular strain of tomato grows best in the Mid Atlantic climate and can share that information with the Philadelphia user, even though both users are complete strangers separated by hundreds of miles of landmass. This communication would not be possible without the spatial aspect of mobility covered in the Kakihara and Sorensen piece.

Obviously these features of the app not only incorporate mobility but also social interaction. The social interactions previously described in the last paragraph explore what Humphreys describes as the concepts of inner and outer space. Inner space can be described as the intimacy or familiarity of the users interacting with each other. When a user makes their first post on the in app forum they will most likely be communicating with complete and total strangers, but as they post more and interact with other app users they will develop a more intimate inner space that will affect the way in which they communicate. The concept of outer space is described as being the physical closeness of the users. Through the app, users will be able to share thoughts and ideas with with other users of varying proximity, leading to a wide range of differing outer spatial communications. For example a user will be able to locate other users within their geographic area and might choose to coordinate in the physical realm by planning a small community garden in their area. Another possibility is that they might chose to ride share to the closest health food store (which they can find with the in app store locator) thus further closing their outer space.

Since users will be able to search for other users in their area, privacy concerns will have to be taken into account. Users will not be asked for any personal information, and can opt out of having their phone’s location services utilized by the app. Of course this would limit the functionality of the app, but users would still be able to use all of the functions that do not rely on the app knowing their location. By eliminating the ability to personally identify anyone, the app will protect against both surveillance and “sousveillance” by both the app maker and the app users.

This brings us to the app’s accessibility. First and foremost the app should be available to everyone for free as it is primarily targeted to lower income areas. Secondly, the app will need to be able to run on older mobile phones so that it is accessible to those who may not have the financial ability to purchase the newest technology. To accomplish this the app will have to be very simple and perhaps even built off of an HTML code base, so that even the oldest of modern mobile phones could at least run it in their internet browsers. This also has the added benefit of being able to be accessed from any computer with an internet connection.

Works cited:

Kakihara, Masao & Sorensen, Carsten. (2001). Expanding the ‘Mobility’ Concept. SIGGROUP Bulletin

Humphreys, Lee. (2012). “Connecting, Coordinating, Cataloguing: Communicative Practices on Mobile Social Networks,” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Marwick, Alice. (2012). “Public Domain: Surveillance in everyday life.” Surveillance & Society.

Watching the Watchmen — The NYC Stop and Frisk app.

In addition to protecting and serving, the job of a police officer is to uphold the public’s trust. Due to a recent rash of incidents involving questionable police procedures as well as police misconduct, the public trust of law officials has been called into question. From the Ferguson shooting of Michael Brown to broken window searches in Philadelphia, many are questioning the methods of law enforcement, and whether or not these methods are perhaps racially motivated. In response, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has put out a sting of apps designed to monitor and report police conduct in the users area. So far the ACLU has put out apps for various regions most affected by alleged police misconduct, but the first app they released, the New York City Stop and Frisk Watch app has had the most impact.

The NYC Stop and Frisk app was released in 2012 and it aims to keep NYC police officers honest in their duty through empowering individual citizens with the means to record and report civil liberties abuses directly to the ACLU. The app has three main functions to accomplish this. The first feature and arguably the most important is the “record” function. This function allows users to record a police encounter with just one touch of a button on their phone. Once the filming stops the user is presented with a survey they can fill out with details about the incident. Both the video and survey will then go directly to the ACLU for review.

The second function of the app is the “listen” function. When engaged the listen function will alert users when citizens in their vicinity are being stopped by the police. If another app user in the area triggers the record function, the app will send a notification to all users in the area with the listen function engaged letting them know the location of the incident, so that they can go keep tabs on interactions between the police and citizenry. This function is especially useful for community groups who aim to monitor law enforcement activity.

The third function of the app is the “report” function. The report function allows users to fill out the survey that accompanies the record function even if they haven’t recorded the incident. That report will then be sent directly to the ACLU for review. The app also includes a “know your rights” section that lets users know their rights when it comes to interacting with and recording police officers.

As with all apps that are used for recording there is an issue of privacy, namely the privacy of those being filmed, both officers and citizens. In the case of public officials it has been ruled by the Supreme Court that the filming of police officers is lawful and protected under free speech. For a citizen who may possibly be filmed getting arrested it is a little different. While the filming is still technically legal, that individual may be concerned about the footage getting into the public media space and doing damage to their reputation. Unfortunately I could not find any information on how these videos are stored by the ACLU, but judging by the nature of their work I would imagine that the footage is secured and identities protected.

In terms of accessibility there is not much effort in making the app accessible to those who may have disabilities such as loss of vision or hearing, or physical impairments like arthritis, but due to the one button functionality of the record feature, I imagine that it would be easy to use even for those with disabilities.

Works Cited:

Goggin, G. (2006). Cellular Disability: Consumption, Design, and Access. In Cell phone culture: Mobile technology in everyday life. London: Routledge.

Light, A., & Luckin, R. (2008). Designing for Social Justice: People, Technology, Learning. Futurelab.

Increasing healthy food access in “food deserts”

A “food desert” is an area where access to healthy and affordable food options is limited or in some cases, completely non-existent. Currently in the United States there are about 23.5 million people living in a food desert (Gali, Clift. 2012). The overwhelming majority of those 23.5 million people live in black or racially mixed communities where small corner bodegas have replaced actual grocery stores even though they rarely sell and fresh fruit or vegetables (Kwate. 2008). As a result, many people living in these food deserts have a disproportionate rate of diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, and heart disease when compared to those living in predominantly white, middle to upper class neighborhoods where the access to fresh food is four times greater (Go, et al. 2013) . My aim is to design an app that will address and hopefully increase the access to healthy food options in lower income areas that have become food deserts.

The first and most obvious solution to correcting the food desert ordeal is to simply inform those living in a food desert on where they can go to find fresh and healthy food options. The app would have a locator that would scan the users location and show them where the closest fresh food markets are, as well as giving them directions to said markets either by car or by public transportation. The app would also show any sales or coupons for healthy food options available at that store, as well as adding items to their in app grocery list that would allow them to pre-plan their shopping and know the total cost of their items (including tax) before they even get to the store. The only problem with this is that for people living in a food desert the closest grocery store might be twenty miles away and not practical to get to.

This is where the app can really help people living in food deserts in a number of other ways. The app would also include real time instructions for building and maintaining a personal or community garden. It would walk the user through the process step by step, starting with the actual construction of a small plot, all the way to harvesting and preparing their crops for consumption. It would monitor weather conditions in the area through a weather service and let the user know when to plant, when to water, and when to harvest. It would select the best crops to plant in the users geographic location and allow them to order seeds and supplies online for the cheapest prices available, as well as ask for advice from other community gardeners.

If the user was interested in starting a community garden, the app would help them connect to other app users in their area who are also interested. This way they could coordinate their efforts through an in app forum that would be specific to their garden. The app would also offer advice on selecting a site for the garden and as well as getting through the red tape of starting a community garden on publicly or privately owned land. Another added benefit would be that interested community groups could offer to sponsor a garden in their area through the app. Schools, churches, charities, private businesses, or public works departments would all be possible sponsors. The app would also accept donations of gardening supplies, so that they could be distributed to those starting a garden through the app for free.

It is my hope that this app would help grow access to healthy food in low access areas, thus alleviating many of the health problems that arise from living in a food desert.

Works cited:

Galli, A. M. and Clift, B. C. 2012. Food Justice. The Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Globalization.

Go AS, Mozaffarian D, Roger VL, Benjamin EJ, Berry JD, Borden WB, Bravata DM, Dai S, Ford ES, Fox CS, Franco S, Fullerton HJ, Gillespie C, Hailpern SM, Heit JA, Howard VJ, Huffman MD, Kissela BM, Kittner SJ, Lackland DT, Lichtman JH, Lisabeth LD, Magid D, Marcus GM, Marelli A, Matchar DB, McGuire DK, Mohler ER, Moy CS, Mussoli-no ME, Nichol G, Paynter NP, Schreiner PJ, Sorlie PD, Stein J, Turan TN, Virani SS, Wong ND, Woo D, Turner MB; on behalf of the American Heart Association Statistics Committee and Stroke Statistics Subcommittee. Heart disease and stroke statistics—2013 update: a report from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2013; 127:e6-e245.

Kwate, N.A. (2008). Fried chicken and fresh apples: Racial segregation as a fundamental cause of fast food density in black neighborhoods. Health and Place. Volume 14, Issue 1. March 2008, Pages 32–44

Racial and Economic Injustice in Food Access in the United States

Access to nutritional food is a fundamental human right in the United States, but unfortunately the food system in the America only provides this access to a select sector of the population. Many low income families in racially mixed, urban areas do not have equal access to fresh, healthy food when compared to those in middle or upper class neighborhoods. Low income areas are more likely to have a McDonald’s and a Burger King, than a Whole Foods or even a proper grocery store. This denial of access has led to a number of problems in lower income areas both from a nutritional and economic stand point. Fortunately sociologists have been working on solutions to the food access injustices prevalent in American society.

In 2004 City Limits magazine reported that in New York City, the wealthiest residents have five times as many square feet of grocery-store space as do the city’s poorest (Griffith 2006). This means that poorer families living within the city limits are five times less likely to eat healthy food than their wealthier neighbors. This is backed up by A 2006 University of Michigan study that was conducted in New York, Maryland and North Carolina that found that “neighborhoods of color and racially mixed areas had half as many supermarkets as predominantly white neighborhoods and twice the number of smaller corner and bodega-like stores, which carry little fresh produce. Similarly, low-income neighborhoods were found to have half as many supermarkets as the wealthiest communities, but four times as many of the smaller stores. Low-income and nonwhite communities in general had fewer natural food stores and fresh produce markets(Griffith 2006).” This problem is compounded by the fact that low income areas have not only low access to supermarkets but also a greater density of fast food restaurants than other areas (Kwate 2008). Therefore it is much easier to get a Big Mac or a pack of Twinkies in most low income areas than it is to get fresh fruits and vegetables. Areas where this disparity in food access takes place are often referred to as “food deserts” and are almost always confined to low income urban areas with a mixed race or African American populace.

Studies indicate the food available in these food deserts can affect obesity rates as well as other related health concerns such as heart disease and diabetes (Kwate 2008). In 2013 The American Heart Association listed cardiovascular disease as the number one major cause of death for black males and females(Go et. al. 2013). The same study also indicated that the rates of high blood pressure (HBP) in black men and women were significantly higher than white men and women. Diabetes is also of major concern in black populations. This is especially true for black women where it is estimated that diabetes can be attributed to abdominal obesity in 39.9% of African American women, compared with 24.0% of white American women (Marshall 2005).

So far public discourse over health concerns have rarely placed emphasis on socioeconomic issues (Galli, Clift. 2012), but there are some exceptions. Bronx City Councilman Jim Rivera has called for legal hearings over whether or not New York City zoning laws could be used to restrict the concentration of fast food restaurants in low income areas (Griffith 2006). And in 1992 Washington State established the Farmers Market Nutrition Program to “provide fresh, unprepared, locally grown fruits and vegetables to families on public assistance” and to “expand the awareness, use of and sales at farmers’ markets.”(Griffith 2006).

Works Cited:

Griffith, M. W. (2006). How Harlem Eats. Nation, 283(7), 36-38.

Kwate, N.A. (2008). Fried chicken and fresh apples: Racial segregation as a fundamental cause of fast food density in black neighborhoods. Health and Place. Volume 14, Issue 1. March 2008, Pages 32–44

Go AS, Mozaffarian D, Roger VL, Benjamin EJ, Berry JD, Borden WB, Bravata DM, Dai S, Ford ES, Fox CS, Franco S, Fullerton HJ, Gillespie C, Hailpern SM, Heit JA, Howard VJ, Huffman MD, Kissela BM, Kittner SJ, Lackland DT, Lichtman JH, Lisabeth LD, Magid D, Marcus GM, Marelli A, Matchar DB, McGuire DK, Mohler ER, Moy CS, Mussoli-no ME, Nichol G, Paynter NP, Schreiner PJ, Sorlie PD, Stein J, Turan TN, Virani SS, Wong ND, Woo D, Turner MB; on behalf of the American Heart Association Statistics Committee and Stroke Statistics Subcommittee. Heart disease and stroke statistics—2013 update: a report from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2013; 127:e6-e245.

Marshall M.C. 2005. Diabetes in African Americans. Postgraduate Medical Journal. 2005 Dec;81(962):734-40.

Galli, A. M. and Clift, B. C. 2012. Food Justice. The Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Globalization.

Intro Post


Hello! My name is Nicholas Konieczny and I will be a new student in your class starting on Wednesday Jan 28th. To be perfectly honest, I’m taking this class because it was the only production track class that I could add to stay on track for May graduation, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not interested in the subject matter.

Being and older student (I’m 30) I can still remember the world before the internet and before the ubiquity of mobile media. I watched the beginnings of cell phone culture emerge. I remember dial up! I remember AOL! I remember when no one thought text messaging would catch on, when people would actually say “I hate texting, just call me!”. Watching how all these things progressed to where we are now, it starts to become easier to see where the trends are headed. We are quickly becoming a global culture linked together through our cell phones and other mobile platforms. Everyday I communicate with people from across the globe on my cell phone whether through tweets, web forums, image boards, or direct messaging. It’s a tremendously fascinating thing to be linked like this considering that in my freshman year of high school almost no one had a regular old “Zack Morris-y” style cell phone, let alone the fancy touch screen pocket computers we call cell phones today. I never thought I’d be able to ask someone in Germany, or Denmark, or wherever in the English speaking world about their preferred method for mic-ing a snare drum while sitting on the toilet at work. Or to be able to stream the complete run of Twin Peaks while making my daily train commutes. It really still astounds me every day what we’re capable of today with our tablets and cell phones… Jesus, I’m starting to talk like an old man…

As far as what I hope to get out of this class, well, I’d be lying if I didn’t say my degree in May, but also I’d just like to get maybe a wider perspective on where we’re headed as a mobile society. What the future of human interaction will look like, for good or bad, as we progress down this path. Really, all this tech is super new, like I said, I was a teenager in the age of dial up and AOL, so just thinking about the possibilities of where we’re headed is really mind bending. To me, it already feels like were living in a William Gibson novel at this point.

But with all this talk about the future of mobile media and where we’re heading with it, I still feel like the peak of mobile tech (to me at least) was around 2002 when this Nokia was the single greatest cell phone ever made. I had one of these fall out of my pocket on The Great American Scream Machine in the early oughts and survive the fall with nothing but a small crack. No fancy pants iPhone or Galaxy Note is going to do that! Plus it came pre-loaded with the best mobile game ever — Snake.


I used to be with “it”: posted by YouTube user OriginalDip on April 27,2014, accessed on January 27, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LV0wTtiJygY

[Untitled photograph of the infamous Nokia “brick” phone]. Retrieved January 27th from http://media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/04/4a/e4/044ae4cf28a238a3a7b182d591c796cd.jpg