Walmart, McCain forge new alliance to fight sprawl

vision of "neighborhood" Walmart on Main Street

BENTONVILLE, April 1 – In an unusual joint appearance this morning, Walmart CEO Mike F. Duke and former candidate John R. McCain announced major new initiatives to curtail poorly planned, sprawling land development across the country.

“It’s simply the right thing to do,” said Duke. “It’s the best way we can live up to the image of sustainability we want our company to have.” Duke’s predecessor, former Walmart chief Lee R. Scott, started the retail giant on a path of increased responsibility to the environment earlier this decade. The campaign has been supported by extensive corporate advertising, but until now the company has continued to build 200,000-square foot “supercenters,” each surrounded by as much as 20 acres of parking, on prime farmland beyond the edges of existing communities. The stores have seldom been reachable by customers on foot or taking public transportation.

“I am honored to stand here with my friend Mark Duke and begin this important new journey,” said McCain, who was accompanied by his wife, Cindee, at the press conference. “It feels like every inch of our beautiful home state of Arizona has been paved over. Enough is enough.”

While Walmart will continue to open new stores where invited to do so by local merchants, starting this month all but a handful will consist of 5,000-15,000-square-foot outlets in walkable, “Main Street” shopping districts and mixed commercial-residential neighborhoods. The company will recycle historic buildings with adaptive reuse whenever possible, and each store will have its own product mix, designed to “complement rather than compete” with local small businesses. Duke said his company would also be initiating a grant program to help small businesses in traditional town centers stay afloat during the recession.

McCain, for his part, announced that he will be sponsoring legislation to require regions to draw “urban growth boundaries” around cities and suburbs in order for their states to qualify for federal transportation funding. Such boundaries, pioneered in Oregon, are designed to strengthen existing communities while protecting farms, forests, and other undeveloped land from sprawl. “How can I be a maverick,” McCain joked, “if there are no more wide open spaces?” Walmart has pledged to spend a portion of its profits on a public education effort in support of the bill.

For a full account of the announcement, go here.

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