Up Against The Wal
We are forces of chaos and anarchy
Everything they say we are, we are
And we are very proud of ourselves
Up against the wall
Up against the wall, motherfucker
Tear down the the wall…
- Jefferson Airplane, “We Can Be Together”
Over the past year I’ve received not one, but two object lessons in the truth of four little words, wrongly attributed to the late, great Thomas P. (“Tip”) O’Neill, longtime Speaker of the House from Massachusetts (O’Neill actually got the maxim from his dad):
“All politics is local.”
On November 4, 2008, I celebrated the election of a dynamic new president who I believed then (and still do today) could lead us out of the prior eight years of regressive, thoughtless, conservative-for-the-sake-of-it domestic and foreign policy. Topping that scarcely seems possible, right? But just two days later it happened, with the defeat of a proposed Walmart (or as I prefer, The Wal) right in our neighborhood.
Both these local victories had national ramifications, pointedly proving the “all politics is local” theorem.
Though certainly national (and more), Obama’s win was local, too. It not only turned my adopted home state of North Carolina blue, but half the President’s 12,000-vote margin in Ol’ Tabaccy came from right here in Pitt County.
In the summer of 2008, as my partner and I worked countless voter registration drives, phone banks, early-vote pushes, and “Cookouts for Change,” another battle was being waged - this one for the very soul of our neighborhood. And it doesn’t get more local than that.
Marion Blackburn, co-president of the River Hills Neighborhood Association, was rallying neighbors, city planners, and city council members to the cause of rejecting a zoning change that would plunk The Wal on a wetland tract adjacent to the Tar River in Greenville. Pitt County’s seat, Greenville is home to East Carolina University (which, with more than 25,000 students, just might be the best-kept secret in the UNC system). It is also the city into which, that very summer, our neighborhood had been annexed.
Thanks largely to Marion’s leadership, we tore down that Wal (ripped it up is more like it) while it was nothing more than a sketch plan. But surely as Obama’s win imparted one lesson about the always-local nature of politics, a second was already taking shape, and three weeks ago we got schooled - with a vengeance.
The Wal was back, this time asking the city to re-zone a tract just down the road from the previous one, and only slightly less objectionable. Council approved the change.
If built as originally conceived, the project will:
- snarl traffic
- regularly flood a nearby neighborhood
- employ few, if any, local construction workers (the developer is from South Carolina)
- increase noise, light, and sight pollution (What would you rather see: Open space backed by forest, or a sign for The Wal’s “Woodforest National Bank”? And just what’s up with that name, anyway, Woodforest? Is there any other kind? Morons.)
- probably lead to the closing of The Wal’s existing Greenville “Superstore,” and thereby…
- net the town few, if any, additional jobs (once that store is closed); and worse…
- hasten the closing of nearby, locally owned shops
City planners, council members, and too many of us who opposed the first zoning change said far too often, in the heat of battle, that the tract just approved was “more appropriate” for the project, under the city’s comprehensive plan.
Talk about shortsighted.
Each of the listed outcomes is a result of sprawl, which happens – can only happen – when a municipality allows development on “more appropriate” tracts rather than the most appropriate ones.
Though city council has approved the rezoning, we’re not out of ammo yet. As the developer navigates the approval process, we’ll be there - fighting at every turn to reduce the scale and impacts of the project.
But we’ve learned our lesson. Maybe you can learn from it, too.
If you might enjoy being able to recognize your neighborhood five years from now, don’t just sit there.
Learn why the growth of your town means it now takes fifteen minutes to drive three miles.
Find out about the forces which have conspired to make driving your only option, and biking or walking acts of suicide.
Explore the “smart growth” movement, which aims to preserve and restore the unique attributes of the towns and regions in which we live, work, and play. A good place to start is by reading “Save Our Land, Save Our Towns”by Tom Hylton, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist. Considered by many a seminal work in the battle against sprawl, it’s also available as a DVD presentation.
By reading, viewing, and sharing the book and/or video with your area’s planners, councilors, supervisors, and your neighbors, you can play a key role in raising awareness that there are viable, “everybody wins” alternatives to unchecked, endless, and often mindless development.
And like me, you can experience firsthand what Tip O’Neill’s dad meant when he told his son, “All politics is local.”
WalmartWatch Anyone staring down The Wal in their town, or simply opposed to its policies – which include hiring primarily part-time workers; building “second” stores only to soon vacate “first” ones, thus creating vast expanses of unoccupied, soon-blighted property; and almost single-handedly shifting the manufacturing of consumer goods from the U.S. to China - should visit Al Norman’s site.
SmartGrowth Online A comprehensive site with helpful links, presentations, news, and ideas for fostering smart growth in your community.