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Austin American-Statesman, February 28, 2007
As a resident of the North Shoal Creek Neighborhood, which is directly across Anderson Lane from Northcross Mall, I have a personal and fiscal stake in the planned redevelopment of the space. I am worried about increased noise, traffic and crime, ultimately leading to the decline of my property value. But there are recent emotional responses to the redevelopment that I feel need more rational consideration then they seem to be receiving from many of my neighbors and other concerned citizens.
Some neighbors are against the redevelopment because of Wal-Mart specifically but would support any other comparably-sized but more attractive store moving into the neighborhood. If their objection is the traffic, light, and noise concerns, any store that is as large as an anchor store is going to create similar problems.
But I worry that people are not concerned with Wal-Mart, but with "those people" who shop at Wal-Mart. "Those people" are bad drivers, more likely to commit crimes, rude, undesirable, etc., and we don't want them coming into or through our neighborhood. This is class warfare that is as ugly as our city's past segregation efforts, it's just not as obvious. The fact is that "those people" who shop at Wal-Mart, many of them the working poor, have been squeezed for years by rising inflation and stagnant wages, making life more expensive. Every day, they (not to mention the rest of us) have to make a dollar go farther, and Wal-Mart, for all its devilish business practices, helps them do that.
I do not think that the addition of a Wal-Mart in a neighborhood makes the crime increase. I think doubling the traffic and inviting more people, more potential victims, and more kids with nothing to do into the neighborhood, all can and do make crime increase—and I think a large anchor retailer of any kind can bring these things to our neighborhood.
Our perception, sadly, is that only "those people" commit crimes and therefore only stores at which they shop attract crime. I don't buy it.
Another objection is that the Wal-Mart will drive out locally owned businesses in the neighborhood. The only way these stores will suffer is if those people who presently shop at them discontinue this practice. Many of our local stores are specialty retailers that market to their neighbors, so if the shoppers who currently patronize these stores continue to do so, they should be fine.
The problem comes when these same neighbors who abhor Wal-Mart decide to shop there because of the lower prices and convenience. The free market can solve this problem. If people put their money where their hearts lie and pay more to keep the local businesses open, then Wal-Mart will not be a threat.
The fact is, any redevelopment of Northcross, whether it includes a Wal-Mart or Best Buy or any other major retail business, is going to affect my neighborhood. There will be positive and negative effects. I think opposing the development simply because of the inclusion of a Wal-Mart Supercenter is superfluous and unproductive, and we must examine our true motivations before making any rash decisions that could harm the neighborhood in the future.
Thronson is a first year master's degree student at the LBJ School of Public Affairs and past president of the North Shoal Creek Neighborhood Association.
Copyright 2007 Austin American-Statesman