Sidewalks? We don't need no stinking sidewalks.

Editor's note: A couple of weeks ago we challenged Justin, my co-worker and a part-time Strong Towns volunteer, to put his thoughts on a local Costco project into writing. Justin is our first line of defense here for my mistakes, editing new content each morning. Today I return the favor in his first ever post. There will be more. -Chuck

Designers for a proposed Costco store in Baxter, Minnesota, left one thing out of their plans, and it wasn’t by accident: sidewalks. For those of you that don’t know, Costco is a large wholesale retailer that sells anything from appliances to zucchinis, coffins (seriously) to wedding rings. Most of their products are sold in bulk (much like Sam’s Club), giving consumers the opportunity to buy items at a reduced cost. Costco’s whole pricing structure is based entirely on the assumption that energy will forever be cheap, an assumption that is tragically flawed.

The proposed Costco is a prime example of a suburban development tragedy. A recent newspaper article highlights that fact. The primary concern: traffic. What are we to do with all these cars?

If they build it, people will come. And that means counting cars.

Baxter City Council members and staff met with traffic consultants Tuesday to look at traffic patterns for the proposed development, consider possible bottlenecks and look at best options.  

The proposed development is at the southwest corner of two state highways.  It will consist of a Costco and four outlots, presumably for a couple of fast food restaurants, a bank and possibly a strip mall.  The proposal fits the Baxter development model perfectly. 

By Costco's own admission, “pedestrian movement” was not “actively included in Costco’s plan.”  And why would it be?  As you can see on the image below, there isn’t a single person that will be walking to the Costco location.


The typical Costco costumer isn’t going to be able to carry all their purchases in a bag or two (paper or plastic for that coffin?).  I also understand the fact that peoples’ method of transportation to Costco (or any big box store for that matter) is the automobile.  That “pedestrian movement” is not even considered in their plans is a microcosm of our nation’s development pattern over the past half century. Auto orientated. Auto orientated. Auto orientated.

Ideally, we would keep the big-box style stores out of our towns.  Not only do they funnel dollars earned locally directly into the pockets of the fat cats of Corporate America, the physical design and location of these monstrosities destroys any chance of creating lovable places, spaces that will endure.

Straight up telling these companies they can’t come to town isn’t exactly legal.  After all, we do live in a capitalistic country and they (big box stores) have every right to locate where they very well please -- kind of. But why do we have to make it the default option?

Local governments have the ability to create a form for the physical/built environment of their places.  A simple form based code is a tool communities can use to shape the physical layout of their places any which way they desire. Such a code could prevent structures from covering too much land, require buildings be constructed in close proximity to each other by limiting lot size and create a “sense of place” by requiring dwellings to be built on a certain pattern.   

If form based codes are implemented in our communities, we will see a resurgence in a ma n’ pa hardware stores, food co-ops, and locally owned thrift stores.  Such stores will keep locally earned money where it should be: local. Such codes will also restore the communities of old.  It will give residents not only the ability to walk downtown, but the desire to.  It will allow for social interactions not possible with suburban style development. 

We need to design our places scaled to the pedestrian, for the pedestrian.  Continuing to build big box stores with no concern for anything but the automobile is so Old Economy.