Continued issues for Walmart in Chicago

Even with discussions last year suggesting more amity between Walmart and the city of Chicago (and an earlier post here), there are still some issues for the retailer in the city.

1. Over the weekend, activists in Little Village, a neighborhood on Chicago’s west side, said they think Walmart should locate one of their stores in their neighborhood rather than just building on the south side:

At a news conference Sunday afternoon at 26th Street and Kolin, Raul Montes Jr. said people could benefit from having a Wal-Mart more centrally located in the city, vs. the locations on the South Side, which are currently planned.

Montes says Wal-Mart would do well at 26th and Kostner, which has been vacant for years. Montes says he and others in Little Village have sent letters to their alderman over the past few months and have so far, gotten no response.

He says they feel ignored.

2. Last night, Walmart representatives presented plans to residents of Lakeview, a neighborhood on the north side, regarding a proposed smaller version of their store called “Walmart Market.” There was some opposition from the crowd:

About 200 people — many wearing anti-Wal-Mart buttons and stickers — filed into the Wellington Avenue United Church of Christ to hear the proposal.

John Bisio, a Wal-Mart Stores Inc. public affairs senior manager, said that although he recognized the citizens’ concerns, the smaller facility at Broadway and Surf Street would not interfere with the neighborhood’s character…

But many in the audience could be heard snickering at company representatives’ arguments for why the 32,000-square-foot Walmart Market would be good for the North Side neighborhood.

After the presentation, several residents overwhelmingly shouted down the proposal and urged Alderman Tunney to push forth the zoning limitation in City Council.

It is interesting to contrast these two responses to Walmart: one neighborhood wants a store while another is very skeptical and thinks the store is unnecessary and could harm the neighborhood.

But with big box stores wanting to move into cities (Target recently talking about plans to open on State Street as well as recently opening their first store in Manhattan), these discussions will continue to take place.

2010 Census figures show growing urban population

In the last 110 years, the United States has become very urbanized: in 1900, 60.4% of the population was rural and 29.6% urban while in 1990, those numbers changed to 24.8% rural and 75.2% urban. New 2010 Census figures show that this trend has continued:

The U.S. population grew by 27 million over the decade, to 308 million. But growth was unevenly distributed. Metropolitan areas, defined as the collection of small cities and suburbs that surround an urban core with at least 50,000 people, accounted for most of the gain, growing 10.8% over the decade to 257.7 million people.

Rural areas, meanwhile, grew just 4.5% to 51 million. Many regions—from the Great Plains to the Mississippi Delta to rural New England—saw population declines. About 46% of rural counties lost population in the decade, including almost 60% of rural counties that aren’t adjacent to a metro area, according to an analysis of Census data by Kenneth Johnson, senior demographer at the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire.

Based on these 2010 figures of 308 million US residents (though the population now is just over 311 million), that means 83.67% of the US lives in metropolitan areas. I still want to see the breakdown of urban areas: how much of the population now lives in suburbs (50.0% of Americans in 2000 compared to 30.3% percent in central cities – page 33 of this report) compared to cities. It is interesting to note that rural areas have still grown in population even as nearly half of rural counties lost population. Where exactly are the rural growth spots and are these exurbs that will soon become part of a metropolitan region or tourist spots?

(The rest of the article talks about how the population continues to grow more in the South and West. Read more about that here.)

USA Today says McMansions are “out of vogue”

Citing recent housing figures, USA Today argues that McMansions are “out of vogue”:

Fran DiBello of Cleveland didn’t need a lot of room. For her, a three-story townhome has everything she could need.

“I really like the style of this home,” she says. “It’s very efficient. The appliances, the heat.”

It also has a view of Lake Erie and an 8-minute commute to work. Ten years ago, this neighborhood wasn’t here; 10 years ago, these homes would have been over shadowed by the McMansion.

“A McMansion was a trophy — often times a house with five or six bedrooms when you only needed two,” says Scott Phillips, real-estate agent with Keller Williams in Clevekand.

The median size of homes purchased in 2008, the most recent year for which figures are available, is 1,825 square feet. For first-time buyers it is 1,580 square feet, according to the National Association of Realtors.

A majority of the homes Phillips sells are less than 1,700 square feet.

Some consider it an outgrowth of being green; others see it as people living within their means.

Another shift in housing trends also means a move closer to the city’s core, Phillips says.

Numbers show that 90% of home sales nationwide are to young professionals looking for urban housing.

“People like to live where they’re closer to the amenities, the parks, nightlife, grocery stores,” he says.

The article seems to invoke several meanings of McMansions:

1. A more suburban home. This is contrasted with a desire for more urban homes in these tougher economic times.

2. A large home, a “trophy” where people bought a bunch of space that they really didn’t need. It is also suggested that this is wasteful of both money and resources (not being “green”).

But overall, the real story of the article seems not be about McMansions but about the most recent patterns: a shrinking median size of homes purchased and a rise in demand for urban housing among young professionals. This is contrasted with the “McMansion,” that exemplar of all suburban housing and of American housing excess.

About these newer trends:

1. This article cites the median size of homes purchased in 2008. The typical figures cited for home size is the size of the average new home purchased. This figure is still over 2,400 square feet though this is down a bit from the peak of several years ago. The median size is rarely cited and this article doesn’t provide any comparison so that we would know how this size in 2008 compares with previous years.

2. I also had not heard of this figure that “90% of home sales nationwide are to young professionals looking for urban housing.” This is remarkable if it is true. It suggests that this group is the primary one driving the market and that they clearly prefer more urban living. This corroborates what the National Association of Home Builders has discussed.

3. Is this a long-term trend or will Americans seek larger homes once the economy picks up? See my thoughts here.

Considering what the “green Loop” might look like

Amidst talk of eco-cities, a Chicago architectural firm has put together a plan to reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent within Chicago’s Loop. How to accomplish this: retrofit older buildings rather than building a lot of new, green buildings.

The architects break what they call the Central Loop into four types of buildings: heritage buildings (1880-1945), which are clad in heat-absorbing masonry and have operable windows; midcentury modern buildings (1945-75), which hog energy due to their vast expanses of glass and heavy reliance on air conditioning; post-energy-crisis buildings (1975-2000), which show greater energy-efficiency but are burdened by an unanticipated rise in computer use; and energy-conscious buildings (2000-present), which continue to improve efficiency but are in relatively short supply.

That brings us to the heart of the matter: The key to cutting pollution isn’t building new green buildings. There simply aren’t enough of them to make a difference. The only way to lower our carbon footprint is to make the buildings we already have more energy-efficient.

That’s possible, as evidenced by the recent transformation of the Merchandise Mart, the massive yet graceful Art Deco commercial and trade show building along the Chicago River. At 4.2 million gross square feet, it’s one of the world’s largest buildings. By taking a variety of steps — from installing energy-saving water pumps to promoting eco-friendly products to the building’s tenants — the Mart cut its overall energy consumption by 21 percent from 2006 to 2010, executives there say.

I wonder how this plan would be received by businesses and building owners. While they suggest energy costs will decrease in the long run and rents may increase, such retrofitting could be costly in the short-term and there could be some anxiety about doing these things in the middle of a tough real estate and business market.

And how much would the City of Chicago really get behind this? Mayor Daley has drawn plaudits in the past for promoting ideas like rooftop gardens but these are limited in number. The City itself faces significant financial troubles in the coming years and I imagine issues like jobs, pensions, crime and the number of police in the streets, will dominate conversations for a while.

I would enjoy seeing their charts or models to see which particular buildings in the Loop use more or less energy. The picture that leads this report on the plan probably shows carbon emissions or energy use by building.

The new Congress marked by more suburban, rural, and small town members?

Joel Kotkin continues to make the case that the political changes in the new Congress are marked by a city/suburb split. Kotkin explains this shift:

This contrasts dramatically with the last Congress. Virtually its entire leadership — from former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on down — represented either the urban core or affluent, close-in suburbs of large metropolitan areas. Powerful old lions like Reps. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) of Harlem, Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) of Los Angeles and Barney Frank (D-Mass.) of Newton, an affluent, close-in Boston suburb, roamed…

The new House leaders are, for the most part, from small towns, suburbs and interior cities. Most GOP pickups came from precisely these regions — particularly in the South and Midwest.

Kotkin then goes on to talk about the possible consequences of the change in leadership:

This change in geography also suggests a shift in the economic balance of power. The old Congress owed its allegiance largely to the “social-industrial” complex around Washington, Wall Street, public-sector unions, large universities and the emergent, highly subsidized alternative-energy industry. In contrast, the new House leaders largely represent districts tied to more traditional energy development, manufacturing and agriculture.

The urban-centered environmental movement’s much-hyped talk of “green jobs,” so popular in Obama-dominated Washington, is now likely to be supplanted by a concern with the more than 700,000 jobs directly related to fossil fuel production. Greater emphasis may be placed on ensuring that electric power rates are low enough to keep U.S. industry competitive.

The Obama administration’s land-use policies will also be forced to shift. Sums lavished on “smart growth” grants to regions, high-speed rail and new light-rail transit are likely to face tough obstacles in this Congress.

Kotkin is not alone in discussing these potential consequences: the Infrastructurist has been tracking for a while how Republican control might threaten plans for high-speed rail, infrastructure, and green programs.

But I wonder if suburban/exurban/more rural Congressmen will really express these kinds of political sensibilities in Congress. Traditionally, local suburban politics has been marked by a lack of partisanship (with many municipal races not involving the two major parties) and an emphasis on issues like keeping property taxes low, ensuring property values, and keeping crime rates low. Do these concerns translate to a national level where everything becomes a political skirmish and politicians consider the national budget, defense spending, entitlement programs, and so on? Can Kotkin or others point to a current or past member of Congress who has exemplified a suburban or exurban approach to national government that is distinct from an urban approach?

How rural homelessness might differ from urban homelessness

An Illinois sociologist argues that rural homelessness can look quite different from urban homelessness:

“In rural America … a lot of homelessness is hidden from the community,” said Judi Kessler, associate professor for the department of sociology and anthropology at Monmouth College. In a big city like Los Angeles, “homeless is easily identified and easily spotted.”

As a result, residents conjure up images of the homeless in larger cities, which contrasts sharply with homelessness in rural Illinois…

Instead, some rural homeless people “couch surf” by living with a friend until they are no longer wanted. They then move in with a new friend or into a rundown, low-rent home that may not have proper utilities. This process, while very telling, goes largely unnoticed by the general population.

“I think it’s fair to at least speculate that homelessness is much bigger than is immediately evident to our eyes,” Kessler said

Being homeless in rural America also presents unique challenges, which were discovered last spring by a group of students in Goble’s class who were assigned to produce a documentary on rural homelessness.

The group decided to focus on one person who had some bad luck and was staying at a Monmouth shelter…

Among the problems she faced were the lack of mental health services and public transportation in a town of 10,000 residents. Health services are at least 30 minutes away from the shelter, yet the female didn’t have a vehicle. She also had kids, and child care was hard to come by.

This brings up the issue of the social problem of rural homelessness – if people can’t easily see it, then they don’t know it exists. And if they are unaware, it is hard to motivate people to act. Is there a concerted effort in Galesburg or other rural areas to tackle this issue? How can social services be distributed in rural areas in a way that people could access them on a regular basis or in a time of crisis?

A second thought: how prevalent is rural homelessness? Are there figures from certain areas or across the country? I wonder how many cases of rural homelessness are linked to not knowing anyone in the small community.