Wal-Mart is not an anti-poverty program

This week, John Tierney's weekly NYTimes column takes issue with Wal-Mart critics. Instead of accelerating poverty in local communities, as many Wal-Mart critics have proposed, he claims that Wal-Mart is in fact responsible for helping to alleviate poverty. First, Wal-Mart jobs are highly competitive - there are hundreds of job applications for each open position at a new Wal-Mart. Then he cites a study completed by a visiting NYU professor, which found that the low- to middle-income families that shopped at Wal-Mart saved at least $800 per year from the lower price index, compared to other shoppers who might have patronized Target (the middle price range) or Costco (the most expensive of the three).

Well. Wal-Mart jobs are highly competitive among workers because Wal-Mart tends to drive out competition among employers. Second, no one disputes the lower prices that Wal-Mart offers, but I find the price index comparison a shallow measure. In measuring cost-savings of only the cost of the goods purchased, it doesn't take into account the cost of taking advantage of those goods - gas, time spent driving to Wal-Mart, and the social cost of having Wal-Mart replace the community network. All of these are quite expensive in the long-run.

Wal-Mart is at best a short-sighted alleviation of poverty. More significantly, it erodes many options of creating wealth for lower-income families by turning them into the workers and customers of the same large corporate machine - and the one that has replaced their community.

Thanks to TimeSelect, you can't read the article. A search for the text turned out to be fruitless, and I guess most bloggers aren't blogging about this because the article isn't available. I guess I'm the only sucker.

Water, pavement and streets

I know that this site is primarily about our human-built environment, but I thought this fabulous Washington Post article, "Silent Stream," does such an excellent job of showing how our built environment impacts our natural resources that it's worth reading, even for the simple reminder of how interconnected our built and natural ecosystems are. (I also loved the anecdotes about inter-jurisdictional collaboration that's required to monitor streams effectively.)

For a long time, one of our champions at NJDOT had raved about stormwater run-off and how transportation engineers should pay attention to it. After reading this article, you'll be strongly reminded that anyone involved in any aspect of the built environment should be keenly aware of the co-dependencies of our environment. A flip of a butterfly's wing doesn't need 3,000 miles before it morphs into storm.


Homeowner Associations

A while ago, someone left a slightly angry and puzzling comment here blaming home owner associations for being bossy (and suggesting that they obstruct housing developments? Confusing...)

Guess the reader was right with regard to bossiness, but not everyone is opposed to being bossed around by their neighbors (that is, everyone who is most likely white, privileged and can afford to purchase a new single-family property in a hot new development and whose neighbors are of a similar demographic). A new study by economists at George Mason University suggests that there is great value placed on homeowner associations in new housing developments. It also suggests that people want to be regulated - but not by state or even county/city officials. They want to be regulated by their neighbors.

John Tierney commented on it this week in the NYTimes (a digression: TimesSelect is one of the worst decisions NYTimes Direct has made, how much revenue can this subscription really generate?), speaking from his own experience with his neighborhood. Thank goodness for syndication - here's the op-ed re-run in the Rutland, VT newspaper, without the byline.

Thanks Kayx!


If IKEA wants to be in NYC

...then I wish they would set up in a transit-oriented development, like this one being planned for Portland, OR, instead of out in un-transit friendly Red Hook. They could offer flat fee delivery - a la Room and Board - to the five boroughs, and lessen their effect on congestion/parking/emissions.

Toronto Transit Wants You

Toronto Transit Commissioner Howard Moscoe

I love this idea. The Toronto Transit Commission has launched a competition, appealing to its riders for ideas to add pizzazz to its system, ways to liven up the experience of taking public transit. The prize is one of twenty TTC Adult Metropass. Canadians have a great sense of humor.

Speaking of Canadians, Spacing in Toronto has released its latest issue, The New Beautiful City. Check it out here, opening party on November 24. Wish I could be there!


Street bratwurst wins!

Rolf Babiel, king of the street bratwurst, won the Vendy Award out of four finalists and 200 applicants!

Congratulations Rolf!!

(Those who want to try the winning cuisine, his cart is on 54th near 5th.)

A great idea!

Congestion pricing in New York City!

Just looking at time lapse footage of pedestrians trying to cross a New York street makes me cringe. With so much aggressive driving, we take a chance whenever we get out on the streets. Walking around London was that way too - but congestion pricing really created a friendly pedestrian environment there.