Big City Walmarts

Since Walmart announced its intent to develop stores in the District of Columbia, it's been a hot topic. The company's leveraging of the 'food desert' problem has been interesting, and shows that they are clearly appealing to local pain-points to maneuver their way into the city.

(from Lone Primate on Flickr)

Whether or not you like Walmart, their arrival is probably inevitable at this point. I often feel like the people who dislike the store on ideological grounds are loud and outspoken, but not as large in number as you might expect. Walmart isn't going to put its stores in the part of town where its critics live - they know better than that. They're targeting underdeveloped sections of the city and know that they can win support from people there.

In urbanist circles, the debate seems to be boiling down to a question of whether or not Walmart can effectively be 'urban' or whether it's going to stick to its guns and try to force a suburban style super-center into the middle of the city.

Cleveland got a big-box Walmart a few years ago when I was living there. In fact, the whole complex where it's located, Steelyard Commons, is painfully suburban in just about every way. At the time, and even to this day, people get upset when its criticized. "We're lucky to have anything and there's is no room to complain" seems to be the frequent retort.

Fortunately, Washington is a stronger city right now, with more powerful urban interests. If Wal-Mart builds stores that sufficiently mesh with the historic neighborhoods where they're going, it will show that the 'one-size fits all' attitude need not apply. If they don't, it will demonstrate the power of this huge corporation to get things done in the way that it wants things done.