24 May 2004
I live in what the city calls an Urban Conservation District, which means more or less that they'd like for this neck of the woods to continue to look as much as possible as it did when it was carved out of a farm in the late 1940s. To support this notion, there are some restrictions on building and on rebuilding. I knew this when I bought the place, so it's not like I'm hostile to the concept of preservation.
Still, sometimes it's possible to overdo it. The National Trust's new list of 11 Most Endangered Historic Places includes the entire state of Vermont, for one reason alone: Wal-Mart is putting seven superstores in Deanland.
Trust president Richard Moe explains:
If they are built as proposed, these seven huge new stores will change the character of their communities and the state of Vermont. We're not saying that communities shouldn't allow big-box stores but if they choose to do so, they should be aware of the consequences, including the possible impact on jobs, traffic, the environment and locally-owned businesses. New stores should complement existing businesses, not devour them but there are communities all over America whose downtowns have been devastated by the arrival of big-box retailers. Vermonters shouldn't let that happen in their state.
Which begs the question: If an operation like Oklahoma City-based Six Flags were going to put seven theme parks in Vermont, which likely would play hell with traffic and the environment, would the National Trust be similarly up in arms? I rather doubt it. Wal-Mart, to preservationists, is the Great Satan, its machinations motivated by pure evil, its stores a repository of all that is banal and consumption-oriented.
Vermont was the last state to get a Wal-Mart store the first one opened in 1995 in Bennington and the existing stores were subject to the provisions of the state's Act 250, which is intended to guard against the very situations the Trust decries. If the proposals for the new stores fail to meet the Act's ten criteria [link requires Adobe Reader], Vermont can forbid construction. In the past, Vermont has had no trouble enforcing Act 250; if all seven of the new Wal-Mart stores are built, it should be safe to assume that the company has met the requirements of the state's Environmental Board.
Target apparently has no stores in Vermont. I wonder if they would get the same response from the National Trust if they'd planned seven Super Targets for the state.
(Suggested by a Fark item)