Friday, July 28, 2017

Going back to the years-long Walmart battle - the empty lot wasn't just an eyesore

I recently searched this blog to see my most recent use of the word "eyesore."

There was a reason for that, which is obvious when you look at my November 1, 2013 post.

I wrote it around the time that the Ontario Walmart finally opened. Yes, that Walmart has been open for almost four years now. Which means that Walmart will probably close it in six years. But I digress.

Back to the o-word.

And it's definitely better than the abandoned eyesore that some people seemed to prefer over the past few years. Even the co-owners of Ontario Bakery agree about that, something that David Allen (no fan of Walmart) noted.

Some of you may remember that the site used to contain three stores - a Target, a Toys R Us, and a Kroger-owned grocery (Giant at one point, Food 4 Less at another point). All three businesses shut down (Target relocated to Montclair), and the buildings that housed the stores were abandoned.

For years.

And while Walmart opponents complained that the store should be prohibited because it would attract an undesirable element, I worried about the "abandoned eyesore" that remained as the fight went on.

I was thinking about that years-ago fight as I read this article from the Harvard Business Review. It starts by talking about medical marijuana dispensaries - a group of businesses that are even more controversial than Walmart. The researchers, well aware that medical marijuana dispensaries were alleged to also attract an undesirable element, looked at a period in 2010 when Los Angeles County forcibly closed a number of dispensaries. Their question: as these undesirable businesses closed, how much did crime in the surrounding area decrease?


Surprisingly, we discovered that the closures were associated with a significant increase in crime in the blocks immediately surrounding a closed dispensary, compared with the blocks around dispensaries allowed to remain open. Our results demonstrated that the dispensaries were not the crime magnets that they were often described as, but instead reduced crime in their immediate vicinity. And when breaking down the effect by types of crime, we found that the increases in crime after dispensary closures were driven by the types of crime most plausibly deterred by bystanders: property crime and theft from vehicles.

Bystanders. We'll return to that word later.

The researchers then looked at another category of businesses - restaurants that were temporarily closed because of health care violations. Again, they saw a spike in crime when the businesses were closed, and a decrease when they reopened.

Now medical marijuana dispensaries and restaurants are much smaller than big box stores, but as the researchers delved into the "why" of their data, they began looking at one fact.

One key factor common to retail establishments, whether MMDs or restaurants, is that they generate foot traffic. And with foot traffic comes informal surveillance.

From the bystanders who are in the area when the establishment is open. Let's continue.

As Jane Jacobs described in her groundbreaking 1961 work, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, people provide a natural form of incidental surveillance that can increase public safety. This idea, which Jacobs called “eyes upon the street,” has proven enormously influential, and is now a cornerstone of modern urban planning.

Some people enjoy mocking the people of Walmart - but they're actually performing a public service. We were just reminded of this by the tragedy in San Antonio.

On Monday, the driver of the semi-truck carrying at least 39 immigrants, James Matthew Bradley, Jr., was charged with one count of transporting illegal aliens.

A federal complaint filed Monday morning alleged that Bradley unlawfully transported undocumented immigrants in violation of law, resulting in the death of 10 of the people transported.

Upon conviction, the offense is punishable by life imprisonment or death, a $250,000 fine, and three years of supervised release, according to the U.S. Attorney Richard L. Durbin, Jr.

Supervised release after life imprisonment. That makes sense.

The apparent smuggling operation involving undocumented immigrants came to a tragic conclusion early Sunday morning when emergency responders found dozens of people in distress inside a hot semi-trailer at a Walmart in southwest San Antonio.

The death toll has risen to 10. Eight people were dead at the scene early Sunday morning. One more died during the day at a San Antonio hospital....

Early Sunday morning, an employee at the Walmart encountered a person who was disoriented and asking for water, San Antonio Police Chief William McManus said. The person said that there were people who needed help inside the trailer outside the store, which is located at I-35 and Highway 16 on the city's southwest side.

What if that truck had been parked in a vacant lot? The death toll could have been much higher.

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