GIS Independent Study

This semester I am doing an independent study in GIS to research the locations of urban gardens and food deserts in Pittsburgh. I am using GIS to find how many urban gardens in Pittsburgh are accessible for people living in food deserts, low income areas, and neighborhoods with high minority populations. I hope that my results will show how much of an impact urban gardens have on food insecurity in Pittsburgh. I have collected datasets that include information on census tracts in Allegheny County, neighborhood borders in Pittsburgh, and locations of urban gardens. In addition to that data, I found a Food Access Research Atlas compiled by the USDA that contains information on the populations of census tracts in the United States and the locations of food deserts and low income areas. I connected the Food Access Research Atlas to my Allegheny County census tract dataset, and that has allowed me to begin isolating food deserts and low income areas in Pittsburgh.

There are several possible ways to define food deserts and low income areas according to the USDA’s guidelines. A low income area is a census tract with a poverty rate above 20% or where the median family income is less than 80% of the median family income of the smaller area. I have labeled two types of food deserts, depending on their distance from the nearest supermarket. One analysis will define a food desert as a census tract within which at least either 500 families or 33% of the population lives at least half a mile from the nearest grocery store; the other will define a food desert as a tract in which the same number or proportion of people lives at least one mile from the nearest grocery store. Because I am only examining Pittsburgh, which is an urban area, I can disregard the different measures for food deserts in rural areas. My two definitions of food deserts will provide more in-depth understanding of how widespread food insecurity is in Pittsburgh and where food insecurity is concentrated within the city. In many of my classes, particularly classes with discussions of urban planning and sustainability, urban gardens are touted as good ways to provide communities with fresh, local food. After participating in Plant to Plate for the last couple years, I became skeptical that such small gardens could provide food for entire neighborhoods. I hope to learn how much of a positive impact urban gardens have on food insecurity in Pittsburgh, if they have an impact at all.

First Experiences in Research

In the spring of 2016 I participated in the First Experiences in Research Program with Dr. Yolanda Covington-Ward from the Africana Studies Department and another student, Eden Hailu. Dr. Covington-Ward, Eden, and I worked on her ongoing book project about race, mobility, and displacement in Liberia and in the Liberian diaspora. After a brief background on the history of Liberia, which was originally founded by free African Americans and freed American slaves aiming to start their own country in Africa in the 1820s, I began reading inauguration speeches by the leaders of the country and tracking the use of the word “race” by Liberians and people speaking about Liberia between 1848 and 1976. At the same time, Eden performed her own content analysis on articles kept in journals by the American Colonization Society between 1850 and 1869. We took note of themes in the ways race was mentioned and compared notes at the end of the semester. Some common themes included the ideas that African Americans will always be seen as inferior in America due to prejudice, that Black people in Africa have a duty toward Black people in America, and that God intended for Liberia to be a way for African Americans to civilize Africa.

Eden and I did not start the semester with a particular question in mind; our goal was to provide historical context for the idea of race in Liberia for Dr. Covington-Ward to use in her book project. Dr. Covington-Ward taught us how to perform content analyses and find common themes, and as the semester continued she introduced us to Endnote and the methods she used to analyze interviews and keep track of her data. At the end of the semester, Eden and I found that we had several themes in common with regard to the idea of race in Liberia. Our themes were simultaneously friendly and prejudiced toward Liberians, which highlighted both Americans’ and Liberians’ conflicting views of the country and its citizens. This is still relevant today, as there are still divides within Liberian society based on race and people’s connections back to America. Eden and I presented our findings at the Celebration of Research on April 22, 2016.