If you drive through any suburb of New Jersey, you could barely see a liquor store, a fast food restaurant or a church on your way. Yet, in the economically disfavored cities (i.e., East Orange, Orange, Irvington, Newark, etc…), all you see on every block are liquor stores, fast food restaurants (McDonald, Burger King, Wendy’s, Checkers, Popeyes, Chinese, etc…) and churches. And I truly believe it is like that in most, if not all, of the cities across the country. Trust me, there is a reason for that.
When in nursing school I was studying Community Health Nursing at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, I was extremely disturbed by this observation. As part of our final grade, we were to team up with a partner to work on a community health research. My partner and I were assigned to conduct a windshield survey in the city of East Orange to depict the socio-economic realities the citizens in that city were facing and how they (those realities) were impacting lives.
Windshield surveys are a form of information gathering mechanism, involving making direct visual observations of a neighborhood or community while driving. These types of surveys are quite an inexpensive, time-efficient approach to assess the social environment of a community. They can even be conducted on foot in the event that a vehicle is not available or practicable.
The purpose of the windshield survey my partner and I conducted was to gain a better understanding of the city of East Orange’s social environment in terms of its boundaries, housing conditions, use of open spaces, shopping areas, schools, religious facilities, human services (such as hospitals and physician offices), modes of transportation, protective services (such as fire and police stations), and the overall neighborhood life.
We were working closely with the health officials at the East Orange Public Health Department to retrieve and analyze health-related policies, prevalent diseases and statistical data. It was a very insightful research study, which was worth conducted.
Many may be asking why you only find the McDonalds, the Burger Kings, etc… in these economically challenged neighborhoods. Well, first of all, you cannot blame the city officials; they do not have control over that. It is pure economics –supply and demand. Why supplying a good or service to a population that does not have the financial or purchasing leverage to afford it? In other words, what is the sense for a fancy restaurant owner selling healthy food to come open a branch in a neighborhood where the people cannot afford to buy the exquisite meals? That would be really stupid, especially when we all know that business people are in business not for sympathy but for the purpose of making money.
What explanation do I have for the presence of the liquor stores and the churches in those neighborhoods? It is so because there is a demand for them. Otherwise, they would have not been there. Most of the people that live in poverty cling to their drugs to help them forget about the stressful lives they are living and their religion to give them a sense of hope. Do the people in the suburbs consume alcohol and honor their religion? Yes, they do, but demand is everything.
Could the city officials implement policies to discourage these businesses from opening shop in their neighborhoods? Well, that would be economically stupid on their parts, especially when we know the level of education of their constituents only equip them for these kinds of jobs. If they (these jobs) were to be pushed away, then what would happen to employment opportunities and tax revenues which the city governments desperately need to run their operations? So it is a vicious circle, which can only be broken and reversed (on a long-term basis) through a drastic agenda of social reforms with emphasis on investing in the people’s education to increase their socio-economic worth.