Course:GEOG350/2011ST1/Group 5 Killarney

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Group Members

Pamela Goddard, Jeremy Keating, Sherwood Plant, Tom Wu

Executive Summary

Vancouver, British Columbia is the core city of Canada's third largest metropolitan area, with a population of 578,041 [1]. However, despite its size, food availablity can still be a problem for some of its residents. The Killarney neighbourhood, in the southeast corner of the city, contains areas that could be described as "food deserts," where residents do not have easy access to fresh, healthy food. In addition, many of the residents in these areas are low-income, widening the gap between them and the nutrition they require to lead healthy lives.

This report will focus on the lack of readily available healthy food (defined herein as available fresh, non-frozen produce) to residents in the neighbourhood, the potential ramifications of poor nutrition associated with reduced food availability, and provide some potential short- and long-term solutions for improving food availability for the population in this are of the city.

The Neighbourhood: Killarney

Figure 1 - Map of Vancouver
Figure 2 - Killarney Neighbourhood

Location and Demography

Killarney is a Southeast Vancouver neighbourhood; its boundaries are made up on the South by the North arm of the Fraser river, on the West by Elliott Street, Vivian Drive and Earles Street, on the North by Kingsway and 41st Avenue East, and on the East by Boundary road. The community has a population of 27,180 [1]

Condensed 2006 Census Data[1]

2006 Census Data 2006 City of Vancouver Data
Population 27 180 578 041
Population Change over 5 Years 5.4% 5.9%
Demography Killarney Vancouver
Age < 19 22.4% 17.9%
Age 20-39 27.4% 34.5%
Age 40-64 36.5% 34.5%
Age > 65 13.8% 13.1%
Mother Tongue - English 33.5% 49.1%
Mother Tongue - Chinese 38.4% 25.3%
Mother Tongue - Other 28.1% 25.6%
Household Data Killarney Vancouver
Private Households 9 665 253 210
One-person Households 21.6% 38.6%
Average Occupancy 2.8 2.2
Median Household Income $53 242 $47 299
Low Income Households 22.7% 26.6%
Dwellings Per Hectare 14.3 22.1
Rented Dwellings 37.7% 51.9%
Row House 31.9% 3.3%
Single-Detatched House 24.9% 19.1%
Apartment, Under 5 Stories 20.5% 34.8%
Other 22.7% 42.8%
Labour Force Killarney Vancouver
Employed 13 120 310 630
Working at Home 6.3% 8.6%
Working in the City 45.0% 52.6%
Unemployment Rate 6.1% 6.0%
Mode of Travel to Work Killarney Vancouver
Car/Truck/Van as Driver 65.1% 51.5%
Car/Truck/Van as Passenger 7.6% 6.1%
Public Transit 23.2% 25.1%
Walk 2.2% 12.2%
Bicycle/Other 1.9% 5%

Results of Demography

The neighbourhood of Killarney has a varied demographic makeup, resulting in some issues associated with multiculturalism and mixed income neighbourhoods. With a majority of the apparent ethnic makeup being Chinese, this neighbourhood represents one of Canada's few ethnically polarized neighbourhoods[2], even if only to a small degree. The neighbourhood is very well integrated when it comes to mixed incomes, with an average household income exceeding the Vancouver average, despite a low income group that is only marginally below the city average.

History of Killarney

Development of the Killarney region began with agricultural settlements in the late 1800's, slightly after the rest of Canada underwent an agricultural transition[2]. This was marked by the beginning of deforestation of the region as farm plots were cut out of the existing second-growth forest. An interurban streetcar line was introduced in 1891, running a similar route to today's Expo Sky Train line. This led to further development of residential housing along the streetcar line, similar to that of most pre-1945 communities. The region was amalgamated with the city of Vancouver in 1929, though it remained primarily agricultural throughout the Great Transitions[2]. The end of the Second World War marked the beginning of urbanization in the region as the grid pattern of Vancouver pushed East towards Burnaby.[3]

The development of major roads in the region continued post-WWII, particularly with Kingsway and Joyce Streets. The urban structure was indicative of the Fordist and Keynesian era, with an increase, for example, of retail strips. A large amount of mid 20th century development in this area was focused on the suburban planning style, with uniform plots and homogenous use. Later, however, development trends shifted to more mixed housing, including townhomes, low income condominiums and the traditional single family housing[3]. Development of the region has continued with primarily residential and residential-based services.

Public Transportation Infrastructure

Public bus transportation in Killarney is limited to the community boundary along Elliott Street, Vivian Drive, 41st Avenue, Kingsway, Marine Drive, and Boundary Road. There are also a number of bus stops located along 49th Avenue, Champlain and Matheson Crescents, and Kerr Street that service the neighbourhood centre. The Skytrain does not directly service Killarney, with the closest stop being Joyce Station north of Kingsway, but is serviced by a few buses within Killarney, with transit times to Joyce Station by bus ranging from 5 minutes to just over 30 minutes.[4]

The Issue: Food Deserts

A food desert can be defined as an "area of relative exclusion where people experience physical and economic barriers to accessing healthy foods”[5]. This poor access can be due to a number of factors, including proximity issues, poor quality of accessible food, affordability of healthy food, and poor transportation to food suppliers. Research in the United States has indicated that as proximity to quality food improves, so does the overall health of the surrounding neighbourhood[6][7]. Areas that can be classified as food deserts tend to have higher rates of obesity and poorer health. Urban sprawl is increasingly being tied in with the spread of food deserts in North America[8], as large surburban communities tend to be constructed further from business districts where food and other goods can be procured.

Urban Food Desert in Killarney

Maps of Sunset and Killarney Neighbourhoods
Figure 4 - Sunset Produce Availability
Figure 5 - Killarney Produce Availability
Figure 6 - Killarney Junk Food Availability

Dots represent the location of a store that either sells produce (green) or does not (red). The concentric circles from each store represent distances as-the-crow-flies (250m, 500m, 1000m). Note that in almost all cases, drive/walk distances will be significantly greater than direct distances. To give an idea of the grade of the land in the area, contour lines are included (each line represents an increase in elevation of 10m).

Killarney, while not a food desert when considered on a global scale, has poor access to food when compared to other neighbourhoods in Vancouver. The nearby south Vancouver neighbourhood of Sunset, with a roughly equivalent land area, has significantly more stores selling fresh, healthy food (see Figures 4 and 5). Comparing the proximity of the majority of residents in the two neighbourhoods, it is clear that Sunset's residents are as a whole much closer to many more sources of produce. The presence of so many vendors is also likely to drive prices down, making the produce more affordable in areas where it is in abundant supply.

Killarney's residents have better access to so called "junk food" (pre-packaged goods, no fresh produce) than proper grocers (Figure 6), another characteristic of many food deserts. The shorter distances to low quality food may have an impact on the nutritional choices that residents of the community make. Because the distance to a source of fresh produce can be in excess of 2 km,a minimum 25 minute walk or 10 minute bike ride), it would be much easier to either choose the closer, but less healthy, option or drive. The community is relatively car dependant, and the distances that many people are forced to commute to a grocery store can be in excess of 2km. Another major characteristic of Killarney is its high poverty rate, which makes it difficult for that portion of the population to properly afford food, housing and the transportation required to access jobs and nutrition.

Poverty and Social Housing

Table 1 - Available Social Housing in Vancouver (by neighbourhood)[9]
Figure 7 - Social housing locations in Killarney
Figure 8 - Trivoli Gardens family housing co-op in southeastern Killarney

A large section of the southeast corner of the Killarney neighbourhood is made up of low-income and co-op housing for families (Figure 7). Low income is defined as a household income of less than half of the median household income for the region; in the Metro Vancouver area, this threshold is $23,650 [10]. Killarney has the most social housing units for families in Vancouver, as well as the most two, three, and four-bedroom units, and is third in total number of units only to the Downtown core and Downtown Eastside neighbourhoods.

The low income of these families provides a significant barrier to obtaining fresh produce. This, combined with the longer travel distance to the closest source of fresh produce (Kerr and 54th) means that healthy food is less accessible. The topography of the area is an added obstacle; the average slope in this part of the neighbourhood -- approximately 10% -- makes walking more difficult and increases travel times.

Ramifications of Poor Food Access

Good Food Means Good Health

In neighbourhoods with supermarkets, residents have been found to have a reduced prevalence of obesity, diabetes, and other diet-related health issues, while those with more ready access to convenience stores, or stores without healthy food, show a significant increase in the prevalence rates of those same issues[7][11]. When the supermarkets provide healthier products, the residents are typically healthier themselves [12]. Providing the families of Killarney with fresh, affordable, healthy food will help to keep the community healthy in the long term, allowing more of their income to go towards other living expenses.

In both the United States and Canada, four out of the top ten leading causes of death are directly related to diet [13][14]. Unhealthy diets, especially when combined with a lack of proper exercise, can lead to obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease [15]. Lower income population groups tend to be especially susceptible to obesity[16]. One possible explanation is the relationship between food's energy density and its cost.

Food Energy Density vs. Cost

Figure 9 - Food energy density vs. cost

Figure 9[16] displays the relationship between the energy density (MJ/kg) of some popular foods and their cost ($/MJ). Foods high in fats and added sugars are represented towards the top left of the graph, where energy density is highest and cost is lowest. Fast food is a prime example of a food that would fit into the high energy/low cost area. The lower right area contains foods generally considered to be healthy (lean meats, fruits, and vegetables). Note that the logarithmic scale along the x-axis shows the vast differences in cost per MJ (i.e.: cost per calorie) between the unhealthy foods - $0.10 to $1.00 per MJ - and the healthy foods - $1.00 to $100 per MJ. Given the much higher caloric value of the foods to the left of the scale, and their significantly lower price, it is easy to see how those with lower income might opt for a meal that gives them the highest food energy for their dollar. A likely consequence of this is that children in poorer areas are twice as likely to be obese as those in richer areas [17].

The financial aspect is not the only factor at play. Studies using laboratory animals have shown that both sugar and fat are powerful neurobiological rewards, meaning that those animals, and humans as well, receive positive neurological stimulus from foods containing high fat and sugar. Over time, this stimulus can lead to diminished satiation (no longer feeling "full"), overconsumption, and higher energy intakes [16]. The contrast to these foods are the bulkier, lower energy foods that take up more space in the stomach, giving the "full" feeling. Of course, these healthier foods can also contribute to better health through proper nutrition and reducing caloric intake to more appropriate levels.

Built Environment-Related Factors

Other factors, related to the built environment, can also affect the health of the residents living there. Excessive driving has been shown to correlate with a significant increase in obesity: each additional hour spent in a car per day was associated with a 6% increase in the likelihood of obesity [18]. The nature of the area itself can have an effect of the overall health of the residents. Winters (2010) found that, in addition to being away from traffic and noise pollution, scenery, separated bicycle paths, flat topography was listed as one of the top four motivators for current and potential cyclists to make a trip by bicycle, a clearly more sustainable and healthy alternative to the car [19].


The most important components of the neighbourhood that should be improved in order to relieve the food desert-like characteristics are twofold; increase access to food in the community and increase the supply of local food[20]. In order to combat these several things can change over the course of several years.

It is desirable, in a modern neighbourhood, for a resident to be within a short walk, between 5 and 10 minutes, of a centre of transportation and commerce within a community [21]. Looking at the topology of Killarney, it becomes clear that many of the houses within the community are outside of this area. By improving the walking time to necessary amenities like fresh food, reliance on the car and public transit can be reduced, thereby increasing the liveability of the neighbourhood.

Immediate Solutions

First of all, there are several steps that can be taken immediately in order to improve food access within the neighbourhood. Improving public transit in the area through the use of more community shuttles running throughout the neighbourhood, particularly in the Southeast, will help people with transportation issues easily make it to and from supermarkets in the area. There are also existing stores in the area that do not currently sell more nutritious foods, but if they were to begin stocking this they would drastically improve access in the neighbourhood. Building community gardens can be helpful in providing residents with fresh, locally grown produce, as well as contributing to a sense of community and neighbourhood beauty. However, this option does not offer a complete solution, as it is neither year round, nor would it provide sufficient food quantities to adequately supplement the neighbourhood's dietary needs. That said, while it is not a complete solution, the abundance of green space in Killarney would allow for a significant number of community garden plots to be constructed, and the positive effects of community gardens should not be overlooked.

Short Term Solutions

In the short term, more grocers can be introduced in the community. Increasing the density of grocers in the area makes it easier for people to access food, and would likely drive down prices due to competition for customers. Implementation of mobile markets in the region that would allow occasional service of fresh vegetables from local farmers and produce suppliers to be brought in close proximity to different areas of the neighbourhood. This has been successfully implemented in the past [8]. Improving alternative transportation infrastructure, such as bike lanes, would also allow lower income families who don’t have access to a car easier access to existing grocers. In addition to providing mediums for walking and cycling, improving mass transit, particularly in the Southeast region, should be of importance. This area of the community has the poorest access to nutrition as well as a high density of low income housing, and by improving their access to transit it would allow them better access to affordable nutrition.

Long Term Solutions

The long term solutions require more extensive redevelopment of the community. Increasing the overall density of the neighbourhood will allow more lower income people better access to food in the area and will also promote more grocers to open in the area. Further development in the area can also take on a New Urbanist style development, where communities form around a mixed use hub with shops on the main floor and housing above, as well as higher density housing outside of that core[22]

New Urbanist Approach to Further Development

A new urbanist style street.
A New Urbanist Style Street[23].

A New Urbanist approach to future development in the Killarney region would be one method that would likely have success in improving access to healthy food, with the added benefit of improved community characteristics. New Urbanism focuses on 10 key characteristics: walkability, connectivity, mixed-use and diversity, mixed housing, quality architecture and urban design, traditional neighbourhood structure, increased density, green transportation, sustainability, and quality of life.[22]

Several of these reflect characteristics of the community that exists, such as mixed housing and diversity. By improving the walkability and density will help bring food closer to the consumers, and by improving transportation, specifically green, improved access to retail areas for the fringe areas of the neighbourhood will be seen. Even these key components of New Urbanism could greatly improve the access to nutritious food, with the effect of healthier living.

Barriers to Solutions

The Victoria-Fraserview/Killarney (V-F/K) community vision[24], a joint report from the City of Vancouver and residents of the Victoria-Fraserview and Killarney neighbourhoods, shows resistance towards a great deal of increase in population density. Some high density residential areas, such as the Fraserlands area between Marine Way and the Fraser River, have been approved in the past, though any new developments would require close evaluation for their impacts on the neighbourhood's character. Over the next 10 years, the expected increase in housing requirements far outweighs the capacity allowed by current zoning in the neighbourhood. A large portion of the Killarney neighbourhood east of Kerr Street is zoned as Comprehensive Development; therefore, each area requires independent review for zoning changes. These zoning changes could allow building of more commercial areas (including food providers) with surrounding residential areas. There may be considerable opposition to the development of New Urbanist characteristics. As Grant and Filion point out in Canadian Cities in Transition due to an escalation of demand for the New Urban developments housing prices rise quickly despite starting out at a more affordable price point[2]. This effectively acts as gentrification and goes against the core principals of New Urbanism. Many members of the community may be averse to the prospect of being forced out by rising house prices in the new developments.


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