Saturday, February 26, 2011

Another Example of Developers Running the Show

Today I direct your attention to this piece from the Unfair Park. In essence, Wal-Mart has announced plans to build lots of stores within Dallas city limits, including one in North Oak Cliff.

Wal-Mart building stores is never news. There are literally thousands upon thousands all over the place. This is news because the neighbors worked with the City to develop stricter design standards that encourage non-automotive transportation. While this is done to varying degrees all over Dallas, the region and U.S., this is one of the few areas where residents also walk the walk.

Imagine if you were a neighbor and you negotiated a design of the built-environment to be a more walkable area that resembles this...
...but instead you read in the newspaper the city is more than happy to have this instead...
Now city leaders, like Dave Neumann who represents the area, are quick to point out that nothing is in stone yet in regards to the site plan or that Wal-Mart hasn't even outright purchased the property yet. But let's face it, Wal-Mart doesn't announce anything and then walk away unless there is a super-compelling reason, which is usually neighborhood protests or political opposition, and even then they can and do get the courts involved.

But unlike some claims, what the residents are opposed to isn't the Wal-Mart specifically, but the design. Wal-Mart does one thing and one thing only, detached buildings with acres of parking lots. When was the last time you can remember a Wal-Mart that didn't look like that? Forget landscaping or paint on the building. Their sites are the same, just arranged a tad differently to fit the area. Wal-Mart is the pioneer of suburban big box retail and that's the issue. If this was a Wal-Mart, Target or K-Mart, the outcry would be the same. The design does not fit what the residents worked for in this area.

Some have been quick to suggest this could be an neighborhood market and that would be okay. That still wouldn't fit the area. Compare this link from google maps of the neighborhood market in Uptown and see for yourself how urban and walkable it is. Now compare that to the picture below (taken from the Unfair Park post) of what residents had in mind for this tract of land and see just how out-of-style this development is from the product the neighbors and City worked out.

I'd also like to point out Wal-Mart is notorious for opening multiple stores in an area or region and saturating the market, to drive out competitors and then shutter multiple stores. If they do open all 14 proposed stores, that combined with the roughly ten stores already in Dallas seems like over-saturation. Because Wal-Mart is so big, they can open stores that lose money, since they will eventually close those stores after driving out the competition and make more money at the remaining stores. So maybe it is a coincidence that new stores like Aldi have opened up recently near some of the proposed stores, but I doubt it. If they are using that tactic and are trying to close competitors stores, what happens if they decide this store is no longer viable as a loss leader. Then we are back to the same state it is today, while at the same time, there would now a vacant building that doesn't fit the area.

This is just another example of Dallas working on an issue in regards to urban development and then throwing it out the window when the first developer comes along. What I am interested to see is how the neighborhoods respond. They are developing a reputation for circumventing City Hall to achieve their objectives for their area.

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