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Kaid Benfield’s Blog

Can a Walmart anchor transit-oriented revitalization?

Kaid Benfield

Posted September 3, 2009

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  abandoned furniture store in Amity Gardens Shopping Center (courtesy of Bobby Brandon)  rear of abandoned Amity Gardens Shopping Center (courtesy of Bobby Brandon)

Can a Walmart anchor transit-oriented revitalization?  Charlotte city council member Nancy Carter seems to think so.  From News 14 Carolina's web site:

"Soon, the boarded-up store fronts and run-down parking lots that make up the mostly vacant Amity Gardens Shopping Center will be torn down to make room for a Walmart Supercenter . . .

"'I think we have a real opportunity for transit oriented development next door and farther out.  This will anchor all of those developments,' said Nancy Carter, of the Charlotte City Council."

  site of new Walmart (image via Google Earth, boundary by me)

On its face, this sounds preposterous.  I have given sprawl's number one poster child all sorts of grief for talking sustainability to the media while paving over one greenfield after another.  They deserve it, and I doubt that I'm ready to let up.

But this one is different.  This isn't expanding the suburban fringe onto farmland and lengthening driving distances.  This is revitalization of a decaying area of town, a brownfield that the retailer is cleaning up at its own expense.  The site is surrounded by existing development.

A largely automobile-dependent area, to be sure, and maybe "transit-oriented" is a bit of wishful thinking, at least for now.  But not necessarily over the long run. Walmart SuperCenter in Tulsa (by: Bill Kramme, creative commons license) Independence Boulevard is a major artery that can support more transit, especially with the sort of new development nearby that the council member hopes to see. 

Is the design likely to be mediocre at best, fronted by a large parking lot?  Would I rather see the site begin its revitalization with a showcase walkable, new urbanist, mixed-use development with local businesses?  Sure, on both counts.  But this location is just not ready for that.  First it needs some sort of economic activity that can help stop the bleeding.  This is a corridor that needs help and, even if it happens to be Walmart providing it, smart growth advocates should approve.

Kaid Benfield writes (almost) daily about community, development, and the environment.  For more posts, see his blog's home page. 


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Victor DoverSep 3 2009 05:23 PM

You report that this site is "not ready" for walkable, mixed use, new urbanist design. Can you explain why this site (disclosure: I know it well) is "not ready for that"?

T. CaineSep 3 2009 07:07 PM

I'd agree this one seems different than the regular ex-urban tragedies that Walmart superstores create. I would be happier about it if they chose an existing warehouse in the city and restored it instead of putting up another building with a sea of thin columns holding up a network of open-webbed K-joists.

But I would say that even these places that epitomize our country's addiction to consumption can help in being a catalyst to urban renewal and even transit. In the old manufacturing district of Red Hook, a part of Brooklyn, the Ikea that moved there was not only a big hit, but they routed a new water taxi from Manhattan directly to the store across the river. That's shopping progress.

Randy SimesSep 3 2009 11:32 PM

Charlotte is an interesting city. They have their light rail line and have invested in neighborhoods close to the city center successfully. Some of those redevelopment efforts have included urban versions of typically big-box stores like Home Depot, Lowes, Staples, Target and several urban grocery stores. I'm guessing Charlotte will try to work the same magic with this Wal-Mart, but even that will be mediocre at best as you so eloquently pointed out.

Kaid @ NRDCSep 4 2009 09:59 AM

V, it is not ready because there is no developer willing to invest in that type of development on the site. As you know, the whole area is in decline. Perhaps with heavy subsidies, the city could pull it off, but I have seen nothing that suggests those are likely, either.

If you have the influence to change those circumstances and get the right kind of development there in a timely fashion, no one will be happier than I.

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