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Have we been defeated by the 'sprawl-mart' invasion?

Marc Lefkowitz  |  03/10/11 @ 12:16pm

Back in the 1990s, cities across Northeast Ohio braced for the impact of the 'sprawl-mart invasion.' Some-like Broadview Heights-protested and voted down the small business 'category killers'. Many more fell for the promise of expanding tax revenues (even though studies showed, for example, that a 120,000-square-foot superstore could be expected to generate $3 in public costs for every $1 in public benefit).

We rediscovered this prescient EcoCity Cleveland article from 1995 that warned:

Secondary sprawl of more retail and housing will occur near the sprawl-marts. Where the superstores have followed small population shifts-as did Macedonia's Wal-Mart-the increased availability of services will encourage even greater sprawl in coming years, driving up public costs for schools, roads and other services."

The article was written by Jordan Yin who lead a fight eerily familiar to those opposing the contemporary development proposal on the former Oakwood Country Club. Apparently, back in the 90s a similar proposal came to Cleveland Heights and South Euclid for an 800,000-square-foot sprawl-mart strip mall development on the Oakwood land. Opponents argued that it would have hurt the aging Severance Center mall and destroyed a 170-acre green space. Wal-mart and other big box retailers eventually acquiesced and joined the redeveloped Severance Mall, thus preserving the green space.

Articles like this remind us that the region is losing the battle for future vitality to the 'sprawl-marts' and their promise of cheap food, TVs and iPods. The 2010 Census population figures for Northeast Ohio have shown this to be true-sprawl is a shell game. When you move the same-or, in the 6-county Northeast Ohio region, 2.2% fewer-people to far flung cornfields and start communities on green spaces and wonder why schools and cities are going broke, eventually the whole region loses.

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