Researchers in Montreal, Canada have come up with a way to help people living in food deserts access nutritious and affordable food. Food deserts are urban areas typically loaded with fast-food chains and bare-bones supermarkets. Meals in these areas are easy, cheap, and unhealthy. Furthermore, studies have found that food deserts are often located in low-income and immigrant or minority communities.
Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has only compounded the problem; with more and more people going on unemployment and food prices rising, access to fresh, nutritious food is becoming harder to come by for many.
Looking at the Montreal borough of Little Burgundy where 60-70% of people have to travel more than 500 meters on foot to do their groceries, researchers at Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) are proposing a solution to the problem. They’ve come up with a driverless shuttle bus to help people run their errands.
Driven by artificial intelligence, the bus would travel at speeds of up to 30 km/hour (18 miles/hour) and bring residents to local grocery stores and community centers offering food and other support services.
Researchers say the proposal is a cheaper and faster alternative to large city buses with drivers and multiple stops. It will also significantly help families, older people, or those with mobility issues, and people who don’t own vehicles.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 delayed a pilot project that was set to begin in Montreal this past summer. In the meantime, researchers are receiving feedback from the community and tweaking the proposed route as necessary.
Other initiatives to help people living in food deserts include community gardens and urban farms.
In Phoenix, Arizona, for example, the Spaces of Opportunity neighborhood food system encourages people in low-income brackets to rent garden space for very little money to grow their own food.
Similar initiatives exist in cities across North America, such as the Toronto Black Farmers and Growers Collective in Canada, and in the U.S., Sankofa Farms in North Carolina.