At what point will our council decide that enough is enough and make an honest-to-goodness effort to turn our community into something other cities can look to for leadership?
By Frank Borger
Published June 16, 2009
Just recently, Hamilton council directed the Planning Committee to take another look at the deferred plans for a Walmart development at Fifty Road and the QEW in Winona. While this decision appeared to be a step in the right direction, council faces another big box development decision this week as they are to look at the plans for the Walmart development being proposed at Centennial Parkway and the QEW on the old Waxman site.
I live just down the road from this location and have contacted Councillor Chad Collins about the proposed development with some questions mostly related to the current lack of accessibility to anything other than a personal vehicle.
His responses were that the proposed changes are “an extension of the commercial development that’s existed on Centennial Parkway for decades” and that an extension of transit services to the development (which should include a hotel and a commercial office building) and sidewalks will be constructed in the Centennial Parkway reconstruction tentatively slated for next year.
In addition to that, he claimed that it would be a “poster child” for brownfield development as the old Waxman site was once one of the most contaminated sites in the City.
It’s not a stretch to think that our culture will soon start shifting from the use of personal vehicles to other modes of transport, whether it be on foot, bicycle or bus/light rail - as Jeff Rubin has stated in his book Why Your World Is About to Get a Whole Lot Smaller. So why does Hamilton City Council refuse to promote development that will be sustainable in the future rather than development that while effective in the short term won’t be in the future?
In terms of being a poster child for brownfield development, am I wrong to think that it’s not a very good one if the new development on the site is not environmentally sound or forward-thinking?
I came across a report by the State of Maryland’s Department of Planning entitled “Big Box” Retail Development [PDF link] published in 2001, in which the effects of Big Box development on the community as a whole are investigated. The findings in this report closely paralleled those in a book called The Impact of Big-Box Development on Toronto’s Retail Structure by Ken Jones and Michael Doucet.
Proponents of the big box style of development often cite things like economic benefit and job creation as a reason for their support. In contast, these studies found that while they create an overall increase in employment in the related category (i.e. general merchandise), they actually cause a decrease in employment in the non-big-box retail employment.
In short, more people work at the big box stores, taking employees away from the smaller stores in the town. Studies also found that there was an immediate decrease in sales at the smaller stores as a result, plus a decrease in the sales of the big box stores after three years, as well as a high closure rate for smaller stores in the area.
In terms of environmental impacts, they found:
A 110,00 square foot shopping centre can generate as many as 946 car trips per hour and 9,710 trips per day. While this may be somewhat comparable to conventional retailers, big-box retailers generate far more truck trips due to higher sales volumes and merchandise turnover. For example, a home improvement store can generate 35 tractor-trailer trips per day.
In addition, they found that they increase the demand for sewer and water services, create developments that are designed to be inaccessible to pedestrians, cause increased traffic congestion (think the Meadowlands on a Sunday afternoon), higher accident rates, excessive noise … and the list goes on. All of these present a financial toll on the local economy.
My question now is this: How many big box developments are necessary? At what point will our council decide that enough is enough and make an honest-to-goodness effort to turn our community into something other cities can look to for leadership in sound, forward-thinking development practices, rather than forcing us to repeat other cities' mistakes?