The West End Community Association in Long Beach, CA. has made it perfectly clear to developers: Residents don’t want a suburban-style retail mall in an urban environment. Wal-Mart has confirmed that it is negotiating with developers who plan to demolish a downtown mall and put up a new one on Long Beach boulevard and Sixth Street. In standard Walspeak, a company spokesman said “We do feel there is a customer base that we can serve, and we plan to fill that niche with what we can provide.” The “niche” Wal-Mart wants to fill is at least 126,000 s.f. in size, or a niche as big as 3 football fields. The Councilman who serves this part of the city told the West End Community Association that several residents had called her about the mall — all of them opposed to it. Said one resident: “We’re here to try and make downtown a better place, not go backwards.” The project is being planned by the Ohio developer, Developers Diversified Realty, who stress that they are talking to “literally dozens” of national chain stores about the mall. How reassuring. They seem to miss the residents point. Association Vice President Don Darnauer told reporters “The developers said originally that they’re not trying to overlay a suburban shopping concept in the inner city like this, and that’s exactly what they’re doing. It’s not an appropriate place for a Wal-Mart.”
One of the failings of Wal-Mart and its developers is that they don’t seem to be able to distinguish between differing environments. Their product always comes out looking roughly the same, whether its in a cornfield, or a downtown. Sure, they tweak the facade around, but the basic suburban mall format of the single story, windowless, flat-roofed box, set back from a large parking lot, pretty much is what you get. No wonder people in Long Beach feel like they are being invaded by the New Jersey Turnpike. For further details on the Long Beach protest, contact sprawl-busters.