(Un)Making the Food Desert: Food, Race, and Redevelopment in Miami's Overtown Community Dissertation

(2016). (Un)Making the Food Desert: Food, Race, and Redevelopment in Miami's Overtown Community . 10.25148/etd.FIDC001200

thesis or dissertation chair


  • Hall, William


  • In recent years, efforts to transform food environments have played a key role in urban revitalization strategies. On one hand, concerns over urban food deserts have spurred efforts to attract supermarkets to places where access to healthy food is difficult for lower income residents. On the other, the creation of new spaces of consumption, such as trendy restaurants and food retail, has helped cities rebrand low-income communities as cultural destinations of leisure and tourism. In cities around the US, these processes often overlap, converting poorer neighborhoods into places more desirable for the middle-class. My dissertation research examines the social and historical forces that have given rise to these twin processes in Miami’s poorest neighborhood, Overtown, a historically Black community on the cusp of rapidly encroaching gentrification.

    My project incorporates a mix of methods from urban geography, anthropology, and the emerging geohumanities, including geospatial mapping, historical analysis, participatory observation, and in-depth interviews. In triangulating these methods, I first unearth Overtown’s vibrant food environment during Jim Crow segregation and then trace its decline through urban renewal, expressway construction, and public divestment, focusing particularly on the dismantling of Black food businesses. I also investigate the spatial politics of recent urban agriculture projects and community redevelopment practices, the latter of which aim to remake Overtown as a cultural dining and entertainment district in the image of its former heydays.

    This research is theoretically informed by and contributes to work on urban foodscapes, urban geographies of race, and African American foodways. Based on my empirical findings, I argue that redevelopment practices in Overtown are undermining networks of social and economic interdependency in the existing foodscape, effectively reproducing the spatial and racial urbicide once delivered by more overt forms of racism. By linking place-based racial histories to the production of inequitable urban food systems, this research reveals the underlying geographies of struggle and dispossession that have shaped the production of both food deserts and gentrifying foodie districts.

publication date

  • November 7, 2016


  • food deserts
  • gentrification
  • race
  • space

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)