Most opponents use coercion; the better approach, however, may be to work with big box retailers to redirect their inherent and, I submit, ultimately irresistible power in more constructive ways.Technorati Tags: wal-mart walmart
No one is going to be successful in the long run by trying to ride on the backs of these monsters and beat them into submission. It is the hundreds of millions of bargain-hungry shoppers who feed these formats and cause them to grow to sumo-like proportions.
Let me suggest that some of those who rail against big box retail are out of touch with what mainstream America wants.
Costco is also a retailing behemoth. (for Lu Laoshi)
If child labor were used illegally in automobile assembly plants, would we seek to prohibit such plants through our comprehensive planning process and zoning regulations? Probably not. Yet much of the opposition to big box retail and the efforts to keep them out of our cities and towns through plan amendments and zoning strategies are based on the idea that some of these retailers, some of the time, treat their workers poorly.
For example, Levi Strauss, which had sixty clothing plants in the United States twenty-two years ago, does not make clothing in the United States anymore—it just imports what it sells. Again, is this a land use issue to be addressed through planning and regulation?
Growth management can encourage as well as discourage development. It can stimulate the rate of development or attempt to retard it. It can nudge developments into one area and seek to keep them out of others.
The reality is that the market is powerful and those who regulate should focus on ways to channel, not hold back, that force.
If the central city prohibits big box retail and the well-managed and carefully planned inner suburbs do likewise, you can be sure that big box retail will flow on past those closed doors and restricted lands to the fringe or some interstitial area of weak planning and regulation. It will not in the end be stopped; instead it will be driven to a sub-optimum location, which in the end may be worse than prohibiting it elsewhere. [Are you listening Moscow City Council? This is what is going to happen to you. Wal-Mart will be in the corridor or somewhere else in Latah County that you consider a sub-optimum location.]
Instead of big box retail causing sprawl, it may indeed prove to be a catalyst, a driver, for infill redevelopment, intensification, mixed-use, and a reorientation of low density sites to pedestrian-friendly design and transit-oriented development. [Moscow could have had this, which they say they want, if only they had been willing work with Wal-Mart. As it is, Mayor Nancy Chaney won't even meet with the manager of the Moscow Wal-Mart, even though it is her city's third largest private employer.]
I submit that it is unnecessary to try and bludgeon big box retail into submission, and such efforts are ultimately doomed for several reasons.
First, as I previously suggested, the market is all-powerful. Bit by bit, the buying public's desire for cheap underwear, or whatever else it is that they want from such stores, will come to rule, just like the constant pounding of the ocean with small waves and big waves alike will eventually bring down the strongest sea wall. Regardless of the rhetoric, the public wants to shop in these stores. [PARD and No Super WalMart would save themselves a lot of trouble if they just listened to this reasoning.]
Second, the "over-our-dead-bodies" approach to siting big box retail only raises the ire and resolve of developers. Media attention exacerbates the strong feelings on both sides and creates a gestalt of winning by attrition, not reason. The winner of the contest is the one who gives up the most and spends the most, much like the semi-myth of the potlatch Indians. [Oh, our local media has definitely exacerbated feelings. PARD must feel that they have won by attrition. They'll claim "victory" even if they lose the appeal. Unfortunately, the citizens of Pullman can hardly be called "winners," no matter what happens, because of all the taxpayer's money that has been wasted on this fight.]
How about this radical idea? We actually allow big box retail stores in enough places that consumer demand will be met, and we carefully design them so they are not gut-wrenchingly ugly. [This is the approach the Pullman took. Instead of fighting Wal-Mart, we worked with them, and now we will have a beautiful store that exceeds all environmental requirements in a location that the city decied was the optimal site.]
Floor area limitations have been upheld by the courts in several instances, but responsible planners need to do a "reality check" of such limitations to determine whether they truly are intended to ensure compatibility with the scale of their communities, or whether such limitations are designed to keep out retailers for reasons unrelated to good planning. [In Moscow's case, the proposed square footage cap is defintely designed to keep Wal-Mart out for reasons unre;ated to good planning.]
A one-size-fits-all approach to planning and regulating big box retail generally will not work. [Again, are you listening Moscow City Council?]
Big box retail carries with it some heavy baggage. Issues of unionization, wage scales, benefits for workers, and adverse impacts on existing retail uses are real and important, but must be questioned as a basis for land-use planning and regulation. [Which is why PARD's appeal is ultimately doomed to fail. Political issues cannot be addressed in the land use process.]
Plans and regulations should recognize the public demand for the value shopping opportunities provided by big box retail, whether it is of the general merchandise variety such as Wal-Mart, or category killers like Best Buy or factory outlets.