Friday, November 18, 2005

The Meaning of Tottenville

The community forum that was held in a driving rain on Wednesday in Tottenville on Staten Island is not the best harbinger for the prospects for Wal-Mart in NYC. The CYO hall was packed with over a hundred community residents and it is likely that the attendance would have been doubled if the weather wasn't so bad.

The Tottenville gathering does demonstrate a number of important points. In the first place Wal-Mart will have the most difficult time in middle class and working class homeowner communities. The Alliance's success over the years has been in these particular communities, neighborhoods concerned with quality of life issues such as traffic, crime, fire safety, tranquility, as well as the importance of neighborhood shopping.

Check out the record. We were first successful in Zarega-Morris Park in the early eighties at preventing the building of a large shopping center on Westchester Avenue in the Bronx (which later became a successful HIP Center). In Morris Park again a proposal to build a 60,000 sq. ft. supermarket on Bronxdale Avenue was defeated. Later shopping centers went down to defeat in Forest Hills, Canarsie, Astoria and Mill Basin.

The supreme example in this genre, however, was the defeat of the 500,000 sq. ft. Brooklyn Junction Mall in Bay Ridge, a project that propelled mall opponent, Conservative Republican Marty Golden, to his first elective office. Even when we lost a shopping center battle in Laurelton, Queens, it was only because the largely African-American homeowner community (and its councilmember and community board) were ignored and disrespected by City Council leadership.

The defeat in Laurelton does not mean that other communities can't successfully prevent the proliferation of box stores and suburban-style shopping centers. After all the Chelsea and Clinton neighborhoods said NO to Related's attempt to put two Costco's on the West Side (without any parking facilities) and Throggs Neck-Soundview did help to defeat a BJ's just this year. These types of neighborhoods present formidable barriers and because of these impediments are not susceptible to the blandishments of ersatz community benefits agreements.

From our varied experiences, we realize that Wal-Mart still presents a major challenge. Wal-Mart is going to find a community like Red Hook in Brooklyn – IKEA is set to build a huge store here – where the desperate need for jobs, aided and abetted by an ambitious booty capitalist or two, will make the siting of a Walmonster attractive. Just as clearly, Tottenville won't be such a site.