18 November 2010

What have we gained (and what have we lost)?

I'm too busy at work on a regular day to keep up with the news, so I generally don't write about the most up-to-date happenings in DC. The Walmart story, though, is far too big and consequential to not weigh in on in a timely fashion.

There are things that make Washington, DC unique: things that make us different from every other city in the country and give us a sense of pride. It seems like that specialness, that uniqueness is slipping away from us in some ways. Is it all important? In some ways it is, and it others, it really isn't, but I wanted to note how I feel about these things, while the feelings are fresh.

I wanted to focus on the things we didn't have.

We didn't have handguns. Sure, "when you make handgun ownership a crime, only criminals will own handguns," was a phrase we all heard a million times, but most of agreed with the ban. It's gone now, not just for DC, but for any other municipality in the United States, thanks to the Supreme Court.

We didn't have voting rights in Congress. Fought like hell for it the last few years, with ideas that seemed ingenious and workable (a seat for us, a seat for Utah), only to come out with nothing. With the results of the election two weeks ago, the chances of that changing any time soon are less than zero.

We didn't have Walmart. So what? Neither do most cities, if you think about it. But this mostly left-leaning city decided multiple times, when the retailing behemoth made overtures about crossing the line and setting up shop, that we didn't want them here. For reasons related to labor, mostly, Walmart stood on the outside looking in. Most of us agreed with this (well, maybe not this lobbyist), but it looks like they've wiggled their nose far enough under the tent this time.

This one divides people in strange ways. Some are excited about the possibility that they won't have to travel out to Landover Hills to get some goods cheaper. Some are enraged that a company with a reputation for not being fair to workers could get a foothold in the city. Some fear what will happen to small business in the city. My biggest fear is that Walmart will be able to steamroll any opposition, and I don't mean regarding their existence here. I mean opposition to locations, or site layout and design, or wage deals. Their PR machine helicoptered in and was ready to go at 100 miles per hour before anyone even knew what was happening. If that doesn't convince you that the fix is in, then nothing likely will.

What really makes DC unique, especially when compared to surrounding jurisdictions, is that we're a real, dense, urban city. Montgomery, Prince George's, Fairfax—even Arlington—they're not the same thing. A lot of us live here, or moved here, because of the uniqueness of that, vis-a-vis those surrounding counties. Many had a choice to live in suburbia or to live in the city. I chose the city. It looks like suburbia has decided they want to be here too.

At the end of the day, the one thing we didn't have, and really fought for, we still don't have.


  1. You mean you didn't have legal handguns.

  2. I'm not sure if it's necessary to set Walmart up as part of the urban-suburban dichotomy (which doesn't really exist IMO, as long as there are ranchers in Michigan Park and rowhouses and highrises in Arlington). Whether or not you agree with Walmart's practices and policies as a retailer, there's a difference between the big box that sits behind a sea of parking (the suburban model) and the big box pulled up to the street (the urban model). I don't necessarily agree with Walmart and I don't shop there (mostly because there isn't one near where I live), but I'm not convinced that bringing Walmart to any part of DC is akin to "bringing suburbia" there. If Walmart is coming, we should push for the best urban Walmart we can get. After all, we got it (sort of) with DCUSA. I don't see why that can't happen again.

    And BTW, the current Walmart is in Landover HILLS, not Landover (or They're totally unrelated and aren't even near each other. If we're gonna be accurate about how places are named in D.C., we should do the same for elsewhere.

  3. am i missing something? what i read in the Post was all hypothetical... i don't think this ship has sailed.

    methinks this is a walmart strategy to get one store here. they announce four stores and an ambitious plan knowing the push back they will get from DC and 'settle' for one store.

    i am in the NIMBY corner on this one. i would prefer stores to be very good and knowledgeable at one thing, not grossly inept with poor customer service and cheap junk. well, that's been my walmart experience anyway.

  4. If they can do it without tax incentives (DC USA, Baseball Stadium), without massive surface parking (Home Depot/Giant), and without blocking mixed use residential, then why not?

    I probably wouldn't shop there much, but in the locations mentioned they wouldn't be competing with much aside from liquor stores and Chinese food.

    I take your point about the massive PR swoop, but much of the opposition seems like "I'm liberal, and we're all supposed to hate Walmart, right?" Sometimes I think Target just has an ad campaign that strokes the smug urbanite ego.

  5. Dan: I made the fix, it says Landover Hills now. Thanks!

    I totally agree with you about the best urban Walmart we can get. I could go on and on about goods made in China, or the value of small neighborhood stores versus a agglomerated box like this, but that's a debate for another day. I guess I'm just worried that the leadership in the city won't push for that urban model. They'll let Walmart say they're bringing an urban model, but we'll find out that means some kitchy thing like this. I hope not, but I don't have faith in the best outcome.

    CR: If they can do it without incentives. We'll see. Councilmember Wells said on twitter that they aren't asking for them, but I've been told that some mayoral staffers are saying that they are.

  6. ha! your kitschy Meijer store is like 3 miles from where i grew up. i do miss Meijer. yes they're big box, but they have much higher quality items available, have great groceries and produce better than most chain stores around here can muster, and they are, IMHO, better corporate citizens. Plus when youre in college, the ability to buy underwear, mac n cheese, beer, liquor, and video games at 1am is amazing.

  7. Dano: I went to college (and high school) in Michigan, so let me tell you, if there were some way we could swap out Walmart for Meijer in DC, I might be willing to sacrifice a few digits.

    I remember driving by that Meijer on I-75 and thinking it was more than just a little off. Who are you thinking you'll fool with that faux-town thing?


You can be curmudgeonly too, but let's try to be civil and constructive here, ok?