You may have heard by now about Walmart’s plans to open two more stores in D.C.: One at JBG’s Fort Totten Square at South Dakota and Riggs Road NE and another in Ward 7’s Skyland Town Center. You might feel overwhelmed by that many Walmarts coming to our little city, frustrated that there’s still no city-wide community benefits agreement, or delighted that it’s all happening. But one thing you should know about these latest additions: From an urbanism standpoint, they’re a lot better than they could be.
From a local perspective, one of my biggest qualms about Walmart is what the mega-retailer could do neighborhoods: Can a big-box store integrate well with its surroundings, creating walkable places where other kinds of small businesses can thrive? The District’s experience with other chain-centric developments, like Home Depot in Brentwood, has been rather terrible. And we’re still building suburban-style strip malls on D.C.’s increasingly precious land, both with Walmarts and without them—-the Shops at Dakota Crossing, the Point at Arboretum, the Georgia Avenue Walmart, and the Walmart at Capitol Gateway will all be one or two story single-use buildings, and most with large areas of surface parking.
But it’s hard to have much of a problem with JBG’s Walmart development on New Jersey Avenue, which has all the right elements as far as urban development is concerned: Decent architecture, apartments on the upper floors, smaller stores fronting the street. And fortunately, Walmart’s fourth and fifth stores—-both at 120,000 square feet—-are more in that vein. Skyland is a cohesive master plan with 468 housing units, allowing new residents to walk to get their groceries. Same with Hickok Cole-designed Fort Totten Square, which will have some 300 apartments and sit blocks from a metro station.
So yes, Walmart, meh. But at a time when other big retailers are cutting back, the company’s willingness to keep signing leases will allow a couple good new developments to move forward where they otherwise might have never happened.