It's a small piece in the Sun-Sentinel, a story about how plans for a Wal-Mart Supercenter in North Lauderdale have fallen through for a variety of reasons, but it made me think, and since I blog, that means you get to read about it. Sorry.
My first thought was "yay!" I'm not alone in disliking everything Wal-Mart stands for and the effect a Supercenter opening has on the local economy, but my dislike has deepened over the years. Part of it has to do with the problem of sprawl. This Wal-Mart was supposed to become part of a "town center," which basically means a huge complex where people from the surrounding developments, load up their stuff, and drive back to their developments. It's acres and acres of concrete and steel, with little to no interaction with the communities its supposed to serve. There's no town at the center of this town center--there's a Wal-Mart, which may be indicative of where we are as a society. Consumer capitalism is at the heart, not the common good.
Then there's the larger environmental impact to discuss. If we're going to get serious about controlling carbon emissions, especially in cities, then developments like this have to disappear, no two ways about it. Cities have to become more compact, more walkable, and more efficient in their use of people-movers. In other words, no more of these multi-acre parking lots surrounding multi-acre developments. Retail needs to be integrated with living spaces, and the whole thing needs to be tied together with a working transit system, because if we don't adapt, we won't be shopping down here at all. We'll have moved north to escape the encroaching waters.
But then there was this:
Further complicating the conflict, city officials refused to approve the tenants that Wal-Mart sought for the center. Wal-Mart development officials told commissioners last year the city could not attract desirable names such as Morton's Steakhouse, Bonefish Grill, Houston's or Ann Taylor and City Manager Richard Sala would not approve the businesses they could deliver. Those businesses have not been identified.Sounds to me like North Lauderdale got a little snobby on Wal-Mart there. No IHOP's or low end deli's here, thank you very much. We want high-end businesses on that property. And what does it say about Wal-Mart's rep as an anchor store that they couldn't pull in that quality of restaurant for the development? Part of it is no doubt a reaction to the current economy--basketball star Dwayne Wade had a restaurant in Boca Raton that closed after two months. If a local basketball start can't keep interest alive in a restaurant, how many other companies are going to take a shot in a town center anchored by a Wal-Mart?
The answer, apparently, is zero.
So one fewer Wal-Marts will be built, for now. It's a small bit of good news. But it's certainly nothing I'd call a victory, because the problems here are way more systemic. This one failed because the North Lauderdale city officials wanted high-end restaurants included. The next group might not be so picky.