Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Constraints vs. values, focusing on practical organizing opportunities regarding Walmart in DC

One of the reasons I can't get all that worked up about the Walmart issue is that the projects as proposed fall into the category of "matter of right." In other words, as long as the projects proposed meet the basic land use and building requirements of the zoning classification, they will get approved. That's the case despite all the reasons for not favoring the company and their business practices

-- Walmart Movie: The High Cost of Low Price from Brave New Films
-- Confessions of a Wal-Mart Hit Man

• Sure, DC has a large tract review process which provides "an additional level" of review, but the review process is pretty narrow, sticking to questions concerning building and transportation impact.

The Georgia Avenue site is zoned C3A. (See Chapter 11 of the DC Zoning Regulations.) It's possible that the LTR will mention how a single use project at the Missouri Avenue-Georgia Avenue site doesn't meet many of the stated objectives in the Georgia Avenue Great Streets program, but it probably won't, instead it will focus on adding destination retail at a key node on the corridor.

- Georgia Avenue Great Streets Planning reports

• Although the negative transportation impacts are likely major, because unlike say DC/USA where probably at least 50% of the customers come by transit (bus or subway), on foot, or by bicycle, the proposed Walmart location on Georgia Avenue is only served by bus transit (Walmart should be required to provide shuttle service from Petworth and/or Fort Totten Metro stations) and the neighborhood is not highly populated, meaning that foot traffic is likely to be minimal. That means thousands of additional car trips per day, in a congested location, and the possibility of through trips to the store via neighborhood streets.

Now, if DC had another zoning review process for retail projects larger than say 75,000 square feet, it would be a different story. We don't.

But that is something to advocate for, in theory at least, going forward.

So I am not likely to be out there demonstrating at the house of Foulger-Pratt principal Dick Knapp this Thursday, because it's a symbolic act that can't accomplish much.

• Even though my big problem with the project to come on Georgia Avenue is that at least initially, it isn't mixed use. So the thing to lobby for with the developer is doing the Walmart project in a way that doesn't encumber other positive development opportunities on the parcels, as well as "on top of" the Walmart store.

The big thing that I think various anti-Walmart Union organizations are forgetting is that by Walmart entering urban markets (Chicago, Baltimore, DC, and NYC to start), Walmart is presenting unions with the opportunity to organize their workers, in a way that stores located in suburban, exurban, and rural locations do not.

I'd be focusing on that. And just as supermarkets are hiring consulting firms like Saint Consulting to help fight off Walmart (see "Rivals Secretly Finance Opposition to Wal-Mart" from the Wall Street Journal), unions ought to be seeking out the most able resources to help them organize urban Walmart workers.

Although Walmart is notoriously anti-union. When a group of butchers in one store were successful in getting union representation, Walmart closed the meat cutting operation at that store (and many others to preclude further organizing efforts), and trucked in prepackaged meat. See the story from 2000, "Wal-Mart pins butcher reductions on consumer, industry changes" from the Oklahoma City Journal-Record.

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