Before the invasion of mega-retailers and suburban sprawl, downtowns were an efficient, tight-knit system. Jobs were close, money circulated and people moved freely. As big box stores moved in, they populated outlying areas and presented cheaper prices than the downtown individual business owners. This situation drove people out to the suburbs to shop which created a more inefficient system. Jobs, money and proximity were stretched farther apart and the suburban sprawl began. There is perhaps no greater culprit in this phenomenon than Walmart, the largest abandoner of buildings in the United States.
A downtown is in a sense a “permanent” development, with no ending point, where a Walmart only exists until a viable upgrade location is presented. This process is inevitable, and is becoming an increasingly devastating problem. Once Walmart moves out, the large shell is abandoned where it sit, empty for years to come. Walmart actively chooses to not release these shells to competitors. It is more financially viable for them to pay the taxes and keep the building, and its expansive parking lot, empty. So now we are posed with a major problem. Huge 100,000+ square foot building shells dot our landscape, never to be used. This is especially evident in Ohio, which is home to the second most abandoned Walmarts in the nation.
But how can analysing Walmarts and sprawl address public transportation in Cincinnati? Reading Don C. Hyde’s excellent essay “Moving People,” the problems with typically proposed solutions to transit are exceedingly evident. Wider roads means more cars. Freeways and expressways are anything but. To quote, “People are important. Streets, buildings, factories, offices, are unimportant without people.” The movement of people is what matters, not how they move. With that in mind the issue in Cincinnati can only be effectively addressed by proposing a revolution in thinking, not an evolution in outdated designs. Buildings and traffic planning can only fix so much, we need to change how people think.
So what if everyone who could, rode bikes? Repurposing the material from abandoned Walmarts, tens of thousands of bicycle stops, shops, and sheds could be made. A material palette can be produced to provide a cohesive aesthetic throughout the city and a new motivation for bicycle transportation can be achieved. More people riding bikes reduces congestion on city metro systems, allowing them to expand routes offering more stops in convenient locations for those who cannot bike. Walmart profits from selling of building materials, citizens can be offered tax breaks for contributing to the “green” effort, and the project can be self sustaining by charging the same nominal fees currently implemented by the metro system, while operating with a much lower overhead. Excess profits can be utilized to buy green bike sharing systems, like those that populate many college campuses and European cities.
It’s not the most radical scripted idea, filled with fancy graphics, but it is an honest to goodness way to solve two problems, Walmart sprawl and waste, and public transportation. And we think it’s pretty cool.
Project by Dan Blohowiak & Josh LaFreniere