Map of the Day: Wal-Mart Versus Downtown Waynesboro

Kudos to Luke Juday for his latest graphics in “Mapping the Commonwealth.” As an intellectual exercise, he overlaid Google images of ten downtown areas around Virginia with overhead images of nearby Wal-Marts. There was no particular agenda to the images, he says — “I’m not a big Walmart hater or anything.”  He just wanted to illustrate the difference in scale between places meant to be experienced on foot and places meant to be experienced by car.

Writes Juday: “Automobile-oriented places provide the same grid of connections and destinations at a dramatically expanded scale.  The time distance is still the same – everything is accessible in five to ten minutes.  But that means something different in terms of space – more like five miles than a half mile.”


Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


4 responses to “Map of the Day: Wal-Mart Versus Downtown Waynesboro”

  1. LifeOnTheFallLine Avatar

    I’ll cop to being a Wal-Mart/Big Box hater up front, so the remainder of this comment can be taken with that in mind.

    While there are problems with market distortion (honestly as much as people moan about transit subsidies the biggest beneficiaries are places like Wal-Mart that use it as a way to not pay their employees enough to afford a car. See also, food stamps, Medicaid, etc. And the way they’ll lease hop within a municipality leaving a string of shuttered stores in search of the next agreeable bargain.), one of the other large problems with big boxes and especially malls is the sheer amount of space taken up by parking lots that sit underutilized for such a large part of the year. They’re just massive, impermeable surfaces that mostly go unused except for Christmas/Black Friday. I know some of this is local zoning, but when you have enough space on your parking lot to hold a carnival AND still meet shopping demands then that’s a problem.

    There are two in Richmond (on Parham and in Forrest Hill) that largely avoid this.

  2. I’m not a WalMart hater so you can take the following comments in that context..

    how many different kinds of businesses that would here-to-for have separate footprints are their under one WalMart roof where you in fact, WALK to those different businesses?

    In the pre-WalMart days, if you wanted a gallon of milk, a t-shirt, tires for your car, and a prescription filled as well as depositing a check in the bank – how many different, separate trips would you make to do that?

    how much “parking” sits empty at 9pm at night in downtown Podunk while the WalMart parking lot is half full?

    really, how different is WalMart is “functionality” than your old “General Store” where you could buy hard candy and a washing machine in the same store?

    There are many things I’m not enamored of with Walmart and the general concept of “big box” but I try to keep some perspective in with respect to …. change… so a good question to ask is – “is WalMart a fundamentally flawed concept – a fad – that will soon prove to not be sustainable”?

    what’s the answer to that question? I think it’s extremely sustainable but I’ll certainly be willing to be “educated” by others who see things that I perhaps do not see.

  3. Thanks for all the reposts, Jim. A couple other thoughts on this:

    Larry is, of course, right about how many different functions the Walmart plays. It’s certainly more convenient. And the big critique of Walmart and other big box stores is that it’s displaced dozens of locally-owned small businesses. That takes money out of local circulation and making communities less healthy by structuring them around lots of low-wage service jobs, with profits going to a central headquarters, rather than lots of business owners being part of the middle class and invested in the town and its community. The other side of that coin is that it makes a wide range of goods available at a low cost so that those low wage service workers can have things they couldn’t have otherwise. I’m still thinking through this one myself.

    I’m not sure that you can really say Walmart is subsidized by our lifestyle – as Jim pointed out in a post a while back, big box stores are making strides around the world, including in Europe – but they are certainly aided by a few things. The most important one I was pointing out is the scale of automobile-oriented life. Once you have taken the trouble to get in a car, you want to drive it to one place where you can get everything and be assured of no inconvenience parking. If you’re not getting in a car, it makes a lot more sense to go to a smaller-scale store nearby that provides the good within easy walking distance.

    Additionally, I think there is a link to the “Stroads” problem. Big box and strip retail live for highway choke points and high-traffic roads that people can still get off of (see: Breezewood, PA, West Broad Street in Henrico County, or US 29 north of Cville). They don’t do nearly as well with limited-access highways that people have to exit and drive from to find them – or with 25 mph parallel-parked streets that people are walking along. They will make do with either of these if they have to – hence Walmart’s new urban-style stores – but the urban form will be very different. I’m starting to think if you solve the stroads problem that there will be some domino effects with big box retail.

  4. What does Wal-Mart equal sprawl? Why did Wal-Mart open in Tysons?

Leave a Reply