Modeling food deserts : devising an adaptable framework to test built environment disruptors in urban food deserts

Abel, Kelsey Christina
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Food Deserts are an expansive problem with cascading effects on quality of life, equity, and health outcomes for FD residents. Within urban FDs, a disconnect exists between the built environment and stakeholder populations, which exacerbates access issues. Modeling food access within FDs could help decision makers and urban planners devise and test solutions to increase access and mitigate negative effects on FD residents. The devised framework provides an adaptable model that can be applied to any FD and then used to simulate the impact of a variety of disruptors. The framework leverages Object-Oriented Programming and combines Agent-Based Modeling, Geographic Information Systems, and Discrete Event Simulation. To test its functionality, this framework was applied to a case study region in Austin, Texas. Results indicate that all modeled disruptors improve food access in the case study region, but efficacy is dependent on disruptor location and the distance residents are willing to walk to reach a store or bus stop (referred to as WTWS and WTWB, respectively). Most significantly, this work demonstrates and discusses how simulation modeling can be used to (1) inexpensively test proposed solutions to food access issues before large-scale capital investments are made; (2) identify emergent behavior and confounding variables that might increase or decrease a disruptor’s efficacy if leveraged correctly; and (3) identify unique, area-specific solutions to food access issues within FDs to achieve more sustainable improvements in food access among underserved populations. The practical application of this work is its ability to provide decision makers with data on what built environment disruptors would be most effective at improving food access in FDs. Future iterations of this work may be used to recommended courses of action to engineers and decision makers about how to address food access in underserved regions from both a policy and a built environment perspective