Date of Award

2019

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Graduate Group

City & Regional Planning

First Advisor

Domenic Vitiello

Abstract

Metropolitan suburban communities have become increasingly diverse in the past two decades. Most working-class and lower-income immigrant households settle in the old industrial suburbs of the US metro regions. These newcomers have reversed the declining patterns of many first-ring suburban communities. Policy makers have celebrated the contribution of these newcomers mainly to the labor market and local economy and paid less attention to the health-effect of immigrant revitalization. This study aims to address this gap by focusing on the ways that immigrant food entrepreneurs contribute to the health and wellbeing of a multiethnic working-class suburb (Upper Darby, PA). The research pursues three questions (1) how do immigrant food entrepreneurs contribute to community and economic development? (2) how do they shape the food environment of a diverse community? (3) how do they impact people’s food shopping and consumption patterns? This mixed-method research has three lines of inquiry. The first relies on historical research to examine the ways that immigrant food businesses impacted vacancy and food access over time. The results showed that the persistent operation, ownership and business transfer of ethnic food businesses stabilized the community and provided continuous access to food. The second utilizes interviews, field observation, and a survey of customers at ethnic and non-ethnic food businesses to explore the roles of immigrant-run food stores among immigrant and native-born residents. The findings revealed that ethnic food businesses served both ethnic and non-ethnic clientele, promoted walking, and enhanced community safety and relationships. The third draws on cross-sectional surveys of a purposive sample of residents to understand how residents of different backgrounds navigate their food environment in a diverse setting. The survey demonstrated that ethnic food businesses contributed to the diversity and density of the food environment, enabling residents to navigate the food environment based on their own needs, preferences and food budget. This study carries implications for local governments that seek to achieve the triple goals of creating healthy communities, community and economic development, and integration of newcomers in receiving communities.

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