Naperville cites traffic concerns and proximity to a residential area in rejecting McDonald’s near downtown

Naperville’s City Council voted Tuesday against a proposal from McDonald’s to build a restaurant just south of downtown. The cited reasons: traffic and proximity to a residential area.

The City Council unanimously turned down the proposed fast-food restaurant at the southeast corner of Washington Street and Hillside Road citing concerns about traffic at an already busy intersection and locating a 24-hour business close to homes…

The proposal was backed by both city staff and the plan commission. However, in a discussion that lasted more than an hour, councilmen focused on the potential for traffic tie-ups…Addressing the myriad of traffic concerns, William Grieve, a traffic engineer hired by McDonald’s, said a traffic study showed travel time through the intersection would only increase by about a second and double drive-through lanes would prevent backups.  Stillwell said the company would be diligent about addressing any problems if they arise…

But traffic wasn’t the only concern. Neighbors said they feared there would be increased noise and lights coming from the restaurant if it was allowed to stay open 24 hours as proposed.

Both Judy Brodhead and Joe McElroywere among the councilmen who agreed and said having a restaurant open 24 hours so close to homes was a deal-breaker regardless of the traffic issues.

I’m not surprised by this result: not too many residents would willingly choose to have a McDonald’s nearby and few people want more traffic. However, this seems a bit strange for a few reasons:

1. Washington is already a fairly busy road.

2. This intersection is near homes but there are already strip mall type establishments at this corner. In fact, I’m not sure there any homes that back up directly to this site as the DuPage River is to the east and all of the corners at the intersection are already occupied. The McDonald’s would replace a Citgo gas station, not exactly a paragon of civic architecture. Across the street is a Brown’s Chicken establishment. The other two corners include a cemetery and another strip mall type establishment.

3. The traffic study from McDonald’s seems to suggest there wouldn’t be any issues.

4. I wondered if this had anything to do with protecting the downtown but it is three blocks south of the downtown so it shouldn’t contribute to congestion problems there.

I wonder if there isn’t more to this story. Indeed, here are a few more details from the Daily Herald:

Council members admitted they were initially thrilled that McDonald’s wanted to open a downtown store on the southeast corner of Hillside and Washington streets. But when it came down to a plan that included five zoning variances, three landscape variances and a sign variance, they just weren’t lovin’ it.

So the McDonald’s required too many deviations from Naperville’s guidelines? While the restaurant might have needed 9 variances, the city could have made it happen if they really wanted to. Just how much did the pressure from the neighborhood matter?

An Arkansas McDonalds that looks like a McMansion

The term McMansion is tied to the company McDonald’s: the homes are said to have a standardized look and are mass produced. Even though McDonald’s locations don’t usually look like McMansions, a new location in Little Rock, Arkansas combines the two:

The Promenade at Chenal announces the groundbreaking ceremony for the new McDonald’s to be held Tuesday, February 21 at 3:00 PM. This new addition to The Promenade at Chenal marks the first Pad Lot construction since the Shopping Center opened in 2008 as well as the first fast food restaurant for the Chenal Valley area of west Little Rock. Furthermore, this McDonald’s will be one of the first in the state to showcase the new, sleek modernized décor with wooden and graphic vinyl textured walls outlining seating zones designed to appease any customer from the casual visitor to the grab and go. “It promises to be the nicest designed McDonald’s in the State.” — Michael Todd, Vice President Salter Construction, Inc.

See the picture with the story to get a taste of what a McDonald’s McMansion could look like. Here is some commentary about the design:

The picture above is actually Ronald’s place in Independence, Ohio, but in the land of McMansions out in West Little Rock, what will a McDonald’s have to look like to impress? (then again, times are tough, maybe even for the purse-dog crowd) Most importantly: Will those chicken McNuggets taste better under a crystal chandelier than they do under a buzzing tube light? Stay tuned, foodies.

At first glance, this looks most like a bank to me with its columns, brick exterior, and plenty of windows in the front. How much more profitable would the “nicest designed McDonald’s in the State” be?

Despite the criticism of McMansions, I don’t feel like I have seen much criticism of the design of McDonald’s restaurants themselves. After upgrades at many locations in recent years, some McDonalds have upgraded from more tacky seating and a cheaper look to rivaling Starbucks and Panera. Compared to other fast food restaurants, are McDonalds exteriors and interiors better or worse than the competition? On the whole, I would say they are nicer than the average Taco Bell, Wendy’s, Pizza Hut, and Burger King.

The sociological origin of the term “McJob”

With McDonald’s hiring 62,000 employees on April 19, a journalist looks at the sociological origins of the term “McJobs“:

The term McJob first appeared in the summer of 1986, when George Washington University sociology professor Amitai Etzioni wrote a column for the Washington Post decrying the “highly routinized” jobs at fast-food restaurants and their effect on American teens.

“By nature, these jobs undermine school attendance and involvement, impart few skills that will be useful in later life, and simultaneously skew the values of teenagers -especially their ideas about the worth of a dollar,” Etzioni wrote.

He went on to criticize the culture and routine of working at McDonald’s and other fast-food companies, noting that the jobs do not provide opportunity for entrepreneurship like the traditional lemonade stand, or the lessons of self-organization, self-discipline and self-reliance like the traditional paper route.

“True, you still have to have the gumption to get yourself over to the hamburger stand, but once you don the prescribed uniform, your task is spelled out in minute detail,” he argued. “There is no room for initiative creativity or even elementary rearrangements. These are breeding grounds for robots working for yesterday’s assembly lines, not tomorrow’s high-tech posts.”

The article then goes on to describe how McDonald’s has tried to fit back against the term, including a 2007 from “the British arm of the company…to get the Oxford English Dictionary definition changed.”

On one hand, such jobs may not be great and this is what Etzioni was getting at: they generally are low-paying and in many places don’t pay enough to be considered a “living wage.” A work like Nickel and Dimed (a review of the theater version here) portrayed such employees as having difficult lifestyles and little hope for the future. More broadly, we could think of these jobs as emblematic of a larger process of McDonaldization, coined by sociologist George Ritzer, that describes the rationalization of the modern world.

On the other hand, we live in a country that really pays attention to job reports with less interest in what kinds of jobs were actually created. The April jobs figures showed good jobs growth but we could inquire about the quality of these jobs: are they well-paying, sustainable jobs that will pay American workers for decades to come? Or, were the majority of jobs middling to lower-skilled jobs that serve American consumers in the service industry?

In the end, we have a society that is quite dependent on such “McJobs.” The term is unlikely to go away though it clearly applies to a lot more corporations and areas than simply McDonald’s. Just as Walmart tends to get singled out as emblematic of big box stores and suburban sprawl because of its revenue (still at the top of the Fortune 500), McDonald’s size and influence draws attention (Super Size Me, anyone?). But as a society, we could have larger and ongoing discussions about what kind of jobs we wish to hold and to promote. In these discussions, we need corporations like McDonald’s, Walmart, Starbucks, Apple, and others involved to think about the American future.

American life can’t be too bad if people can spend lots of time tracking down a fast food sandwich

Times are dire, bad, fraught with difficulty. This is now what we have heard, and many have experienced, for months.

But it struck me today that American life is not that terrible if there are some people who are very devoted to tracking down McDonald’s McRib sandwich. It is this sort of quotidian hobby or interest that is only possible in societies where people have extra time and money on their hands.

So what exactly is going on here? Couple this story with the fervor that Chick-fil-A has inspired in the Chicago region with the opening of new stores and it is clear that many Americans love their fast food.

“I was lovin’ it”: battling over fast food

McDonald’s is a favorite target for those opposed to fast-food culture and typical American eating patterns. Amidst discussions in many municipalities about allowing fast-food restaurants, a new advertisement to run in Washington, D.C. adds to the debate:

In the commercial, produced by the nonprofit Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a woman weeps over a dead man lying in a morgue. In his hand is a hamburger. At the end, the golden arches appear over his feet, followed by the words, “I was lovin’ it,” a play on McDonald’s longtime ad slogan, “I’m lovin’ it.” A voiceover says, “High cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart attacks. Tonight, make it vegetarian.”

Americans tend to eat a lot of fast food: Gallup found in 2006 that 23% of Americans eat fast food several times a week or more with another 33% claiming to eat fast food about once a week.

Another option being discussed would allow for extra taxes on fast food and soft drinks. In another survey, Harris found “Over half of Americans (56%) are opposed to [an obesity] tax going into effect with two in five (42%) being strongly opposed. Three in ten (31%) support this tax being imposed.” There were some differences: people living in the South and Midwest or with lower incomes or with less education were more opposed to such measures.

Starbucks to expand far beyond coffee

Starbucks, one of the best symbols of globalization through the spread of its stores and its use of the international coffee commodity chain, is looking to branch out. At about a dozen stores around the world, Starbucks has been testing the sale of wine, beer, and more food. These stores have been informally named “Olive Way.”

This comes in face of competition from retailers like McDonald’s and also in the interest of expanding Starbuck’s reach to customers beyond 11 AM.