Attacking Distribution: Obsolescence and Efficiency of Food Markets in the Age of Urban Renewal

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9 Scopus citations


Using studies, testimonies, and plans started in the 1950s to replace Philadelphia's Dock Street Market, this article critically examines motives and trends that culminated in federally generated studies recommending the forced displacement of the nation's largest inner-city food districts. While markets had served important social functions in addition to food, the consensus among postwar agricultural experts, downtown business leaders, and city planners was that urban food markets were slums associated with high prices, unsanitary conditions, and underperforming real estate. Market redevelopment was motivated by desires to increase land values and assert middle-class values and social norms in addition to concerns about efficiency and public safety. Public authorities and nonprofit organizations like the Greater Philadelphia Movement influenced the planning around Dock Street. Demolishing aging inner-city markets created large tracts of land coveted by postwar city planners for development of residential and commercial amenities like Society Hill that they hoped would lure the middle class back to the city. Unobstructed land that could be obtained cheaply and enclosed entirely like former trash dumps and underperforming industrial areas on the urban periphery were recommended sites for construction of new markets. This case study offers a relevant historical context for the causes of modern urban food desserts.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)136-159
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Planning History
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2014


  • food systems
  • historic preservation
  • urban renewal


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