by P. Barbanegra- Recently in Miami, a showdown has been brewing between a group of activist, artist, business owners, and some residents of Midtown over the building of a new Walmart. They’ve started a campaign called Save Midtown, and have embarked on a mission to stop Walmart from setting up shop in the trendy Miami neighborhood. So far, they’ve succeeded in beating back the retail giant, whose application for securing a right to change current city planning and zoning laws to allow them to build loading docks along North Miami Avenue, a busy pedestrian and vehicular street, was rejected by the City of Miami’s Planning & Zoning Appeals Board. While this ruling can be categorized as a temporary victory against one of the most powerful emblems of the neoliberal age, the way this campaign is being framed is very problematic to say the least. Even though some of those involved with the Save Midtown campaign rightly take Walmart to task for its deplorable environmental and labor practices at home and abroad, there’s very little discussion about what makes Walmart so popular amongst the working class and low-income patrons of the store, and a real blind spot about what can be done to change that outside of ethical consumerism.
The Save Midtown website gives numerous reasons for why Walmart would be harmful to the Midtown community, but perhaps the most ironic one would have to be that Walmart would change the character of the neighborhood; an example of the proverbial teapot calling the kettle black if I’ve ever heard one. The Midtown project has been challenged by housing rights and anti-gentrification groups for some time, arguing that creations like Midtown-whose developers unabashedly admit to trying to recreate the “New York’s SoHo district with a Miami twist,” SoHo being a model for gentrification- are part of a social phenomenon by wealthy and more affluent people to reclaim urban areas while pushing out the long-term working class or low income residents of such neighborhoods, many of which are Black or Latino. Yet, aside from this rather laughable at best, cynical at worst, accusation that Walmart would change the “character” of the neighborhood-which I can only take to mean that it would attract the unhip, poor people that used to populate the area before the trendy lofts and chic restaurants came around-the majority of the reasons for opposing Walmart by Save Midtown tend to fall along such lines. Continue reading