Friday, May 04, 2012

A Win for Urbanism

Forgive my absence, fatherhood takes its toll on a young man.

 That said, I want to defend the indefensible. I am a supporter of Walmart.

 Now before you attack me let me add my caveat. I am a supporter of the Fulton Bellows project and I'll tell you why. For years we have been talking about how people need to look back to the center city for living and working. That sprawl is not the inevitable, much less the desirable goal of city planning. How we long for businesses, stores, retail, grocery, etc. to move back in to downtown bringing with it that density that adds so much flavor to life.

 Well, its time to declare a partial victory.

 Walmart is a suburb store. The epitome of what we look to as the problem. Walmart buys up 20 acres of farmland, throws up a store and with 6 months there is a Chili's, McDonald's, 2 strip malls, Advanced Auto and 19 subdivisions full of throw away houses. Yes they are part of the problem, but they are the worlds largest retailer, they draw people out of the city center and now they are coming back in.

 I recently had a conversation with a friend who went off on having a Walmart move in near campus. He is convinced that it will destroy businesses in the area. Lets grant the possibility, though I'm not sure what retailers on the strip will suffer. He argued that people who would shop at Just Ripe and The Market would now just go to Walmart or the new Publix. Again, that may be marginally true, but people are already doing that. I shop Kroger weekly, it's just a must do. So do 95% of everyone else.

 And here is the core of my argument, people are going to shop the big retailers, because its more economical. It just is. But by companies like Walmart and Publix taking a non-standard site that would be vacant and blighted, trying out a new location and a new model and in turn keeping more people close to town I see as a win-win. This is something to be looked at as a positive development as a sign that our overall goal of bringing life back to the high density areas is well under way.

Congratulations Knoxville Urbanists, you are having a bigger impact than you thought.