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.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Walmart and urbanism and urbanness, continued

Photo by Richard Guzman, LA Downtown News: Future location of a Walmart Neighborhood Market in Chinatown, Los Angeles, to be located on the ground floor of a rent-subsidized 303 unit senior housing building.

Yes, I am not necessarily on board with Walmart's push into urban markets as a salvation for urban commercial districts. I co-authored a report on the issue as it relates to the building of a store on Georgia Avenue in DC, not too far from my house (3/4 of a mile) to ignore, but not close enough to be negatively impacted.

The report made the point that Walmart and un-community-minded developers (like Foulger-Pratt) use the animus around the company to create noise and avoid dealing with substantive issues. Of course, it makes it hard for the community to deal with the entry of the company on a level playing field because the company is smart enough to "roll up" support of key elected officials and other community stakeholders before they announce their plans.

2. But Walmart has announced that their entry into the DC market will take longer than they originally intimated. Now, "only" one store will open as of 2013. See "Wal-Mart delays stores planned for the District" from the Washington Post.

3. So while the company and the elected officials they rolled up keep trumpeting "all the jobs" that are being created by the entry of the company into DC, the reality is that this impact is seriously diminished on an annual basis and will take quite a few years to come to fruition.

4. Related to jobs, I guess the average number of jobs for a larger store, say around 100,000 s.f. is 150. Based on this report of the future opening of 5 Walmart Neighborhood Markets in Greater Denver, "Denver metro area to see five new Walmarts and 400 new jobs," from the Denver Post, a Walmart supermarket employs about 80 people.

5. Something that I find very disturbing albeit somewhat necessary, is the strategic alliance that the environmental group Environmental Defense Fund has made with Walmart to improve the company's environmental impact. See "Unexpected Ally helps Wal-Mart cut waste" from the New York Times.

While because Walmart is such a big company if you get them to be less wasteful that's good for the country, at the same time their overall negative impact on local commercial district revitalization and community economic development gets a pass, especially because of their association with one of the world's biggest environmental groups.

It's an another element of creating a difficult and more noisy "milieu" that makes it that much more difficult for local communities to organize and represent their interests in ways that support their objectives and not necessarily Walmart's entry.

Relating to this issue though is the fact that as a business, Wal-mart makes business decisions. They don't care about the environment necessarily as much as they do reducing costs--one of the major corporate goals and objectives. The benefits they get from associating with a leading environmental organization is just a bonus.

6. Speaking of Walmart opening supermarkets in Greater Denver, they will also be opening supermarkets in Los Angeles. When they do it in under-stored areas, it makes it difficult for elected officials to say no to their entry. See "Wal-Mart to open Neighborhood Market grocery in Panorama City" from the Los Angeles Times.

The entry of Walmart into Chinatown in Los Angeles has caused animus as well. As in DC, they picked a location where the use was already permitted without special review requirements. See "Wal-Mart Outfoxes the City Council" from the LA Downtown News blog.

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