The Hidden Costs of Almost-Walkable Neigborhoods

Yesterday the Provo Police Department posted the picture below on Facebook. It shows Sgt. Crosby gathering and returning shopping carts as part of the department’s Community Based Policing initiative.

A Provo police officer gathers stolen shopping carts.

It’s worth mentioning here that the Provo Police Department is doing great things right now and should be commended for their efforts. I’m glad they’re out there cleaning up neighborhoods.

But from a broader perspective, this picture reiterates the problem with neighborhoods that aren’t quite walkable enough.

Specifically, in this post I explained how having grocery stores just beyond walking distance simultaneously discourages frequent shopping trips and incentivizes larger, bulk purchases. The result is that people buy too many groceries per visit to realistically carry home on foot, and they also have to travel a further distance if they do attempt to walk. The key, however, is that grocery stores are only barely beyond a comfortable walking distance, so people steal grocery carts to make the trek easier.

Consumers pay for the price of stolen shopping carts in the form higher grocery prices, but as the picture above shows they also pay for them in the form of taxes to support police officers. Many stores gather up stolen shopping carts on their own — I even saw that happening yesterday afternoon on my way home from work — but when the task falls to government employees the community gets hit in the pocketbook twice.

There are ways to solve this problem on a superficial level and this Wikipedia page offers a rundown on some programs. Communities could also simply tell people to stop taking the carts, though I’m not aware of many instances where simply telling people to stop breaking the law was effective.

A more sustainable solution would be to eliminate the need to steal carts in the first place. After all, there’s no reason to steal a cart if you live next door to a store and can make frequent small shopping trips. Adding more neighborhood stores while increasing the surrounding density would consequently mean more people walking but fewer stolen carts. That’s obviously a longer term option, but because it’s based on reducing demand it might have a higher likelihood of actually succeeding.


Filed under community, economics

3 responses to “The Hidden Costs of Almost-Walkable Neigborhoods

  1. Sarah

    This all sounds good but zoning wont allow neighborhood grocery stores. I can think of two places in particular of large shops attached to homes that are currently vacant because of zoning. They’d be great little stores, but remember what happened to Kent’s on 9th east?

    • That is true to some extent, though the South End Market more or less works for what I’m talking about. However, I am researching it with city leaders — I just interviewed one yesterday — and I hope to see that changed.

  2. dubsdrivel

    Many of us have long wished for a grocery store on the west side at the corner of Center and Geneva. I believe that one of the major chains still owns the property. It has been very frustrating that Clarks Market got bulldozed on the promise of a new grocery store when all we have had for years is a weed patch. Shoot, we would be happy to get any services out by the airport. Like you, we would much rather have walk-able services!

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