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Big and ugly just the way we like it


Arizona Daily Wildcat

By Deron Overpeck
Arizona Daily Wildcat,
February 18, 2000
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In a move that surprised few and appalled many, the Tucson City Council Monday voted 4-3 in favor of allowing big box stores at El Con Mall. The four members who supported the resolution did so despite heavy disapproval from residents of the surrounding neighborhood. Their decision is another step in the transformation of Tucson into one giant strip mall.

The council had another viable option open to them. Neighborhood residents presented a preliminary development plan that would have turned El Con into an aesthetically pleasing public center that would have helped to beautify Broadway Boulevard and minimized noise pollution. The stores at the mall would have been more appropriate to a residential environment.

Instead of postponing their decision until a formal proposal for that development could be made, the city council approved a plan setting stipulations for the opening of big box stores. The passed plan limits the stores' operating hours and requires the owners of the mall to build sound-dampening walls to protect the neighborhood. Two of the roads leading into the mall from the north will be closed. The approved plan also promises the city will not attempt to regulate further development for the next 20 years.

Any sensible person knows that stores like Wal-Mart and Home Depot have no place in El Con or any other neighborhood mall. The very nature of such stores makes them inappropriate to any sane concept of aesthetics and healthy human experience. Wal-Mart and Home Depot commercials present their stores as clean, staffed by friendly, helpful clerks, and patronized by friendly shoppers. In reality, they're like the Fourth Circle of Hell: dreary spaces full of disgruntled souls smacking into one another in endless searches for cheap wares.

Unfortunately, big box stores are growing in number. Across the country, once pleasant land is grazed over to make way for Super K Marts and Office Depots. Of course, Americans flock to these stores like Mesa Republicans to conspiracy theories. Americans evidently can't get enough of the convenience of shopping in impersonal, ugly megastores.

Tucson is no different. A sort of herd mentality prevails in the Old Pueblo, in the sense that whatever is most conducive to people behaving like a herd of cattle is supported. Public space is reduced to a site of thoughtless conspicuous consumption. In stores like Just for Feet and Best Buy, Tucsonans rifle through mounds of identical products, doing their best to ignore one another in their hunts for bargains.

Most of these stores look identical, apparently adding to their attraction. Their bland interchangeability frees the shopper from any considerations beyond their purchases. The Tucson cityscape is losing what's left of its unique regional atmosphere as strip malls and big box stores metastasize across the Sonoran Desert.

Despite growing concerns about urban sprawl, city and county officials continue to support the idiotic growth that is quickly making the city unlivable. Even when Tucsonans demand relief from megalithic development, their pleas fall on deaf ears. Mayor Bob Walkup and the new council members promised in their campaigns to support Tucson's neighborhoods. Their actions Monday night reveal how meaningless neighborhoods and individual citizens are to them. They clearly prefer international corporations that build ugly stores and take money out of Tucson over locally owned businesses that support the community.

Walkup and the four council members who voted with him to allow big box stores have done their best to emphasize the "concessions" they won from the mall owners. The noise mitigation measures the mall will install are beside the point. The stores simply do not belong there. The surrounding neighborhoods the council members promised to protect will forever be altered by the presence of these enormous monuments to brainless consumption. No wonder members of the audience Monday night called them liars.

Much commentary after the vote asserted that big box stores are the future of retail and necessary to the survival of El Con Mall. But big boxes are inevitable only if Tucsonans allow it. We should refuse to patronize big box stores. Let's kick Wal Mart out of Tucson and hope they take Bob Walkup and his cronies with them.

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