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, June 12, 2013

The reason why Walmart is committed to a store that is part of a mixed use project at 1st and New Jersey Avenue NW in Washington DC

Because elsewhere in the building, the company will be housing its Washington, DC-based lobbying operation.

They want to show that they are "urban."  Even though only 2 of the 6 DC Walmarts will be in vertical mixed use projects.

Because "seeing is believing," Walmart will have the upper hand with elected officials vis-a-vis local communities, when the company says it is committed to fitting in to urban locations.

The building under construction at 1st and New Jersey Avenue NW, Washington DC
the new mixed use building, including a Walmart, at 1st and New Jersey Avenue NW

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At 10:31 AM, Anonymous BeyondDC said...

Interesting thought. Assuming it's true, isn't it a good thing? Why bother trying to convince people they can build urban if they're not genuinely interested in building urban?

It's not like anybody in a strong enough position to negotiate approves a Walmart without seeing renderings first anyway, so I don't think they can use this to pull one over on some unsuspecting city somewhere.

At 11:04 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

The point that I keep making is that Walmart is committed to locating in cities but is agnostic/uncaring about urbanism or urban-appropriate projects.

If the developer, like JBG, comes to them with sites that they want to locate at AND a vertical mixed use project to boot, they say fine.

If a developer like Foulger Pratt comes to them with a site that they want to locate at AND a single use nonmixed use project, they say fine too.

The point is that people who promote urban design and mixed use and urbanism generally need to know that and must be prepared to fight very hard for better projects in the face of this reality.

Walmart's move into cities has to do with markets, not urbanism. Calling it anything different is a mistake.

Local governments still need to have strong ordinances and regulations in place that better generate preferred outcomes as they relate to urban form.

In the same conversation that led to this post, the person I was talking to made the point that "the Georgia Avenue walmart is so much better than a suburban store because it has underground parking and is built, zero lot line, to the street, rather than being fronted by parking."

Yes, that is true but it is a minimal concession. That should be the minimum expectation, and one not worth giving them props for. Etc. But if you're happy with that, and ask for nothing else, that's not enough.

IMO anyway.

At 3:03 PM, Anonymous Alex B. said...

The reason the move matters is because it's a major shift for Wal-Mart to move to stores they do not own.

Which makes Wal-mart just one more big box store with urban ambitions, just like Target or Bed Bath and Beyond or Home Depot...

If you want to then focus on the impacts of big box stores, then there is no reason to single out Wal-Mart. They're just a late adopter here.

However, asking for vertical mixed use is tough. We can't and shouldn't compell a landowner to do vertical mixed use just because it makes for better urbanism. The downtown location has vertical mixed use because the zoning and land values all support it, and that's just not necessarily the case at Skyland or along Upper Georgia Ave.

What's wrong with Wal-Mart being agnostic about the urban-ness of their stores? They're just the retailer. If cities don't want suburban style big box stores, then regulate against those physical conditions, rather than focusing on the name of the tenant.

At 2:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This swings both ways. Maybe Walmart will be trying to convince communities it's urban, but the NJ Ave location can also be used by the communities to demand more - they can take the tack that "if Walmart can do it on MJ Ave, why not here?" So to the extent that Walmrt's convincing is a sham, it might just backfire on them, especially if it's a successful location.

At 9:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm from NorthWest Arkansas, Walmart isn't just building this to house it's lobbying office. They are understanding that this is a way to enter markets that have been closed to them. They are even going to build a mixed use Neighborhood Market with two to three levels of office space and an enclosed parking deck in Bentonville. They could do anything they want in Bentonville.

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