Vancouver and Wal-Mart – a missed opportunity

Vancouver is getting a Wal-Mart in a few months. But it isn’t the store we deserve. We could have done better, much better.

Back in 2005/06 Wal-Mart applied to construct a store in Vancouver (along South West Marine drive for those who know the city). The City of Vancouver put all sorts of hurdles in Wal-Mart’s way. In particular it told Wal-Mart that its proposed store was not sufficiently environmentally sensitive and laid out guidelines stricter than any other proposed store would have to adhere to (such as the Canadian Tire being proposed next door).

It didnt have to be this way

It didn't have to be this way

We can debate whether it is fair to force Wal-Mart to live up to a unique set of guidelines. But what is unconscionable is what the city did next. Wal-Mart hired Peter Busby, a local architect who is a world leader on sustainable development, who designed a store that consumed 1/3 the energy of a normal store with windmills generating power and underground wells heating and cooling the building. What did City Council do with the proposal? It said no. It rejected Wal-Mart’s application even though it proposed to build one of the world’s most environmentally sensitive store’s and despite the fact that city planners and staffers recommended endorsing the plan.

Fast forward to today.

Wal-Mart recently bought property on the east side of the city (at 3585 Grandview Highway) that is an old vacated Cosco and is now renovating the site. I’ve heard of no plans for a super energy efficient building, nor for an electricity generating windmill or rainwater catchment system. It’ll just be a normal, run of the mill, Wal-Mart.

What an opportunity lost for Vancouver, and for Wal-Mart.

19 thoughts on “Vancouver and Wal-Mart – a missed opportunity

  1. Joseph

    I had watched this unfold as well, and am very disappointed with how it all played out.

    Not an environmentally-friendly example as much as it is a community-friendly example, I watched residents and community leaders do the same thing when I lived in Washington, DC. There, a neighborhood threw all sorts of hurdles in the way of a grocer who planned to greatly expand their store in a struggling retail strip in an older established neighborhood. The requests started out reasonable enough, changing the entrances to facilitate pedestrian flow along the main street, alter some of the re-sizing so other smaller retail spaces would remain, etc.

    But no matter what changes the store proposed in the changing plans, the neighborhood would always come back with new and changed demands. The store tried to accommodate, revising plans for over a year but no matter what they changed they could never quite achieve in the precise way the moving target of what the community “wanted.” Finally, the grocer simply canceled their plans because it grew to be too expensive for the grocer to consider. So today, 5 years later, a cramped decrepit older grocery sits in a foundering retail strip in one of the most prominent neighborhoods in Wasthington, DC. Meanwhile, other redeveloping neighborhoods have opened their arms to Whole Foods, the new “urban-style” Safeway stores, and a couple of prominent local grocers – including a new store opened by the grocer in question in another location.

    The art of compromise has been greatly diminished in the last several years. While there may be some issues where compromise is not always possible, certainly on actual infrastructure and physical plans such as this, not everything needs to be elevated to some type of “moral” or “idealistic” plane. If so, many times everyone loses out.

    And if we can’t compromise on the smaller stuff, how will we ever find solutions for the larger issues?

    Reply
  2. Joseph

    I had watched this unfold as well, and am very disappointed with how it all played out. Not an environmentally-friendly example as much as it is a community-friendly example, I watched residents and community leaders do the same thing when I lived in Washington, DC. There, a neighborhood threw all sorts of hurdles in the way of a grocer who planned to greatly expand their store in a struggling retail strip in an older established neighborhood. The requests started out reasonable enough, changing the entrances to facilitate pedestrian flow along the main street, alter some of the re-sizing so other smaller retail spaces would remain, etc.But no matter what changes the store proposed in the changing plans, the neighborhood would always come back with new and changed demands. The store tried to accommodate, revising plans for over a year but no matter what they changed they could never quite achieve in the precise way the moving target of what the community “wanted.” Finally, the grocer simply canceled their plans because it grew to be too expensive for the grocer to consider. So today, 5 years later, a cramped decrepit older grocery sits in a foundering retail strip in one of the most prominent neighborhoods in Wasthington, DC. Meanwhile, other redeveloping neighborhoods have opened their arms to Whole Foods, the new “urban-style” Safeway stores, and a couple of prominent local grocers – including a new store opened by the grocer in question in another location.The art of compromise has been greatly diminished in the last several years. While there may be some issues where compromise is not always possible, certainly on actual infrastructure and physical plans such as this, not everything needs to be elevated to some type of “moral” or “idealistic” plane. If so, many times everyone loses out.And if we can’t compromise on the smaller stuff, how will we ever find solutions for the larger issues?

    Reply
  3. rabbit

    Wal-Mart is a boon to lower-income Canadians. They offer brand-name goods at rock-bottom prices, all under a single convenient roof. Indeed, this one enterprise has been credited with measurably lowering the U.S. rate of inflation.

    The problem is that those who object to Wal-Mart don’t have to struggle to make ends meet. They can afford to yell out anti-corporate slogans between sips of their daily Starbucks.

    Reply
  4. MER1978

    rabbit wrote:

    “Wal-Mart is a boon to lower-income Canadians. They offer brand-name goods at rock-bottom prices, all under a single convenient roof. Indeed, this one enterprise has been credited with measurably lowering the U.S. rate of inflation.”

    They’re also responsible for lowering the bar when it comes to wages + benefits for retail workers.

    UC Berkeley study estimates Wal-Mart employment policies cost California taxpayers $86 million a year

    http://berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2004/08/02_walmart.shtml

    Reply
  5. rabbit

    Wal-Mart is a boon to lower-income Canadians. They offer brand-name goods at rock-bottom prices, all under a single convenient roof. Indeed, this one enterprise has been credited with measurably lowering the U.S. rate of inflation.The problem is that those who object to Wal-Mart don’t have to struggle to make ends meet. They can afford to yell out anti-corporate slogans between sips of their daily Starbucks.

    Reply
  6. JBarker

    Interesting that as a director of Vision Vancouver that you should be critical of one of your own City Council candidates, Raymond Louie. Indeed, he was wrong to vote with Anne Roberts and his COPE colleagues, when Ladner, Sullivan and Larry Campbell voted for Busby-Perkins Wal-Mart building. Progressive, or politically convenient? You decide. The minutes of the meeting are here:http://vancouver.ca/ctyclerk/cclerk/20050628/do

    Reply
  7. MER1978

    rabbit wrote:”Wal-Mart is a boon to lower-income Canadians. They offer brand-name goods at rock-bottom prices, all under a single convenient roof. Indeed, this one enterprise has been credited with measurably lowering the U.S. rate of inflation.”They’re also responsible for lowering the bar when it comes to wages + benefits for retail workers.UC Berkeley study estimates Wal-Mart employment policies cost California taxpayers $86 million a yearhttp://berkeley.edu/news/media/releases/2004/08

    Reply
  8. David Eaves Post author

    Barker, thank you for the comment. I think people should hardly be surprised that not everyone in Vision (or any political party) agrees with one another all of the time. That said, there many votes in which I’ve been deeply supportive of Raymond. One of the most importantly was his vote in support of the Canada Line which I believe is critical for the city’s growth and development.

    Reply
  9. David Eaves

    Barker, thank you for the comment. I think people should hardly be surprised that not everyone in Vision (or any political party) agrees with one another all of the time. That said, there many votes in which I’ve been deeply supportive of Raymond. One of the most importantly was his vote in support of the Canada Line which I believe is critical for the city’s growth and development.

    Reply
  10. Dave Donovan

    It does appear that Wal-Mart is good for poor people, and for everyone, by keeping inflation down by bringing us cheap Chinese products.

    See: Broda and Romails, Inequality and Prices: Does China Benefit the Poor in America? University of Chicago. March 2008 (draft).

    Reply
  11. Dave Donovan

    … but it is nice to see that they were trying to respond to community needs… despite silly bureaucrats that shut them down in Vancouver.

    Reply
  12. Dave Donovan

    It does appear that Wal-Mart is good for poor people, and for everyone, by keeping inflation down by bringing us cheap Chinese products.See: Broda and Romails, Inequality and Prices: Does China Benefit the Poor in America? University of Chicago. March 2008 (draft).

    Reply
  13. Dave Donovan

    … but it is nice to see that they were trying to respond to community needs… despite silly bureaucrats that shut them down in Vancouver.

    Reply
  14. Michael Molson

    Quite the provocateur aren’t you David! I see where you are coming from but this was clearly a utilitarian analysis – environmentally sensitive building vs. all the other ‘stuff’ that Walmart brings.

    I can go either way on this point of view, however it will be interesting to see how you further extend your social networking theories to Walmart. I don’t see it.

    Reply
  15. Michael Molson

    Quite the provocateur aren’t you David! I see where you are coming from but this was clearly a utilitarian analysis – environmentally sensitive building vs. all the other ‘stuff’ that Walmart brings.I can go either way on this point of view, however it will be interesting to see how you further extend your social networking theories to Walmart. I don’t see it.

    Reply
    1. Adam Fitch

      Good piece, David. According to a google search that I just did today (July 9, 2011), not many people have published thoughts such as yours, which I agree with. I thought this as I drove by the still-abandoned and still-undeveloped site, sitting forlornly in between the always crazy busy Superstore, and the under construction Canadian Tire superstore.
       
      If you want to see another similar expample of local politics overcoming rational planning, and shooting a commuunity in the foot, you need look no further than the new walmart in Campbell River on Vancouver Island. There, the city (ie: the community) rejected a walmart rezoning for a site just outside the downtown area of CR, in 2005 or 2006, I think. Walmart ended up leasing a site from the local first nation – the campbell river indian band – which was immediately next door to the site that the city rejected. The new walmart was constructed, and opened I believe in Jan or Feb 2010.
       
       Thus, the people of CR still get the walmart that they said they did not want, and they do shop there a lot, I believe, but the city does not get any prperty tax revenue, because the city cannot, and does not, tax reserve land.
       
      Furthermore, the site that the city originally rejected for a walmart was bought by the CR Indian Band, incorporated into the reserve, and is now the site of a Home Depot, another large big box store, basically almost indistiguishable from a walmart anyway. Ha!
       
      Adam Fitch
      e-mail: adamfitchathome@gmail.com

      Reply

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