Not in My Backyard…or Within 1000 Feet of it

by Harold Pollack | September 23, 2009

Harold Pollack is a professor at the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration and Special Correspondent for The Treatment.

As Ryan Grim has reported, House Democrats are on a path to reverse the ban on federal funding for syringe exchange. Unfortunately there is a catch. The New York Times notes that a rider attached to two House appropriations bills

would actually continue the ban — in a tawdry, passive-aggressive way — by barring federally financed programs from operating within 1,000 feet of colleges, universities, parks, video arcades, day-care centers, high schools, public swimming pools and other institutions.

Unless the Conference Committee shows unexpected good sense, these restrictions are likely to become law.

At first these restrictions sound reasonable. Few people--certainly few Democrats--want to defend distributing needles across the street from your local playground or elementary school. The restrictions sound less reasonable when you consider physical realities of crowded urban America. In many cities, you are pretty much always within 1000 feet of something on this list.

What does this mean for a real city? Russell Barbour and Robert  Heimer of the Yale Center For  Interdisciplinary Research on AIDS (CIRA) have examined the implications for Chicago. Through the magic of geographic information systems, they mapped out the city, and identified sites that appear to meet the 1000-foot requirements. They were gracious enough to share their maps, one of which is printed below. No-go areas are marked in red.

As shown, vast swathes of Chicago include noplace in which federally-financed needle exchanges could operate. Moreover, their map presumably overstates the availability of feasible locations. Many of the apparently usable areas abut railroad tracks, are inside O’Hare Airport, are within industrial areas, or are otherwise inaccessible to service interventions.

Oh yes. The north side does include one feasible site that complies with the 1000 foot restriction. It is, however, inside a cemetery.

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