Driving down Verona Road on Madison’s near west side, anyone can see the new fancy bridges and landscaping. What is often forgotten and unknown is the closing of Walgreens, which has turned the urban west side neighborhood into a food desert. Walgreens served as the only source of fresh fruits and vegetables within walking distance of that neighborhood. In the multi-year Verona road construction project, the neighborhoods (including Allied Drive) have become isolated and have forced many businesses to either relocate or close.
The Verona road construction project, while good in intention, has had multiple negative side effects. As stated by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, the construction project purpose is to “provide better access to local neighborhoods and businesses, and enhanced mobility for local and regional travelers.” As someone who has driven on Verona Road for my morning commute, the accessibility and lower rates of congestion is definitely a positive change. However, while the construction is enhancing the experience for local and regional travelers, it leaves the local neighborhoods to bear the negative externalities.
Madison Mayor Paul Soglin has indicated that plans will be made in the future to establish a neighborhood grocery store in the area. While there are attempts to increase the incentive for businesses to move into this isolated area, the communities in the neighborhoods are still left without a grocery store within walking distance while construction begins. In urban neighborhoods, the option of driving is often not available and individuals end up relying heavily on public transport.
Food deserts not only pose inconveniences with access and transportation, but also pose many health concerns for low-income neighborhoods. With gas stations and convenience stores carrying extremely processed foods or overpriced fruits and vegetables, individuals are often left to few choices for healthy meals. With these poor choices available, risks of heart disease and obesity skyrocket in food deserts. With nutritious food serving as the basis for a healthy childhood, children growing up in food deserts are left with fewer options.
In hopes of solutions, the city should look to provide options while the construction project continues. From neighborhood cooperatives to partnerships with the farmers market, there should be available options to residents in the area. By providing temporary solutions, especially solutions that include working with the community, the neighborhoods are not left in isolation during the long, multi-year construction project.
In a city where socioeconomic inequality is often not brought to the forefront, it is extremely important to keep all communities in mind when discussing and carrying forth citywide projects. Especially when socioeconomic status and race fit hand-in-hand, all communities and neighborhoods should gain the same attention and care. For now, all eyes are on the Verona Road construction project and the further changes it will bring to the west-side neighborhood.