Some of my favorites in my Twitter stream were abuzz this week tweeting and retweeting about the winner of this year's library interior design competition*, the main branch of the McAllen, Texas library. The buzz was about more than just a cool, modern library--setting aside shock at any community willing to put money into public libraries--and had more to do with the fact that this library moved into an abandoned Wal-Mart and exemplified solid adaptive reuse.
While I'm stoked to hear of any abandoned building gaining a new life and get a particular thrill to know someone is trying to make right of Wal-Mart's waste, I think we need to use this story to push for even more.
We need to continue to reward and tell the story of local governments like McAllen who make smart decisions to reuse space. However, they need to be pushed harder. Is anyone asking where Wal-Mart went? I can guarantee you that they didn't just close up shop. My guess is that they wanted to remodel and start afresh, leaving behind their huge, abandoned footprint and clearing and erecting a newer, bigger model in a nearby location.
I know this because they did the same thing in my hometown just a few short years ago. I grew up in a two-Wal-Mart town in West Texas. Go ahead, say it. Classy, right? Once the newer Super Wal-Mart went in across town, it was only a matter of time before they upgraded the "old" Wal-Mart. So, instead of just revamping what they already had, they left their mess and built an even bigger store on adjacent lot.
I was livid! It's been at least 3 or 4 years, and I'm still burned up about it.
Who is issuing these permits and letting them get away with this? San Angelo can never be accused of embracing smart growth, but people in these towns need to start thinking beyond short-term dollars and more about long-term sustainability.
So, bravo to McAllen for reusing the old Wal-Mart building, but I want our cities to stop allowing corporations like Wal-Mart to wield so much power over local government. Don't issue permits when they want to jump ship to a new location. Enforce strict zoning laws. Something.
San Angelo was lucky enough to have the county government step up and reuse the old Wal-Mart building for new county offices. It won't win any awards, but it was the right thing to do.
*Some wicked cool entries, btw. You should check them out!
**Pictures by my mom. :-)