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Mar 25, 2022Liked by Addison Del Mastro

I worked at a Kmart in Toms River, New Jersey as an adolescent in the 1980s. I can't say I have any nostalgia for the place, having spent Thanksgiving pushing shopping carts through the snow across the parking lot and such. Not exactly the stuff of romance. But that flashing blue light ("Attention Kmart shoppers!" for those of you of a certain age who will remember) brings back peculiar memories.

The old Kmarts were squat concrete buildings with zero charm imbedded in a depressing suburban landscape along the highway. I rode my bike there in all weather as motorists attempted to drive me off the road as a kind of punishment for not being in a car. It was part of the poverty tax I just had to suck up, along with being stopped by the police frequently and being asked to explain myself for "suspicious activity." Being a pedestrian in that environment constituted "probable cause" for an impromptu inspection of the contents of my backpack. Ritual humiliation was just part of the deal.

The suburbs were intentionally built to physically exclude lower income people. Now that many of these auto-dependent places are aging, their flagship retailers like Kmart are dying off, and the demographic is shifting they will eventually be reinvented. The burden won't be on municipal officials to make them more walkable or accommodating. Instead, town leaders double down on the idea that they need to find ever more creative ways to filter out the "wrong element."

On the other hand, I suspect some of these dead Kmarts in funky downwardly mobile suburbs might be the best possible habitat for future bohemians looking for cheap flexible accommodations the way industrial lofts once attracted artists and misfits.

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Great comment. I remember reading somewhere that because they were generally built earlier than Walmart and Target, they ended up disproportionately in older neighborhoods, surrounded by more traffic, etc. In Annandale, Virginia - a suburban area not far from Fairfax and Falls Church - there's an old K-Mart. Half is now a thrift store, and half is an Asian food hall. Annandale is heavily Korean today. It's a really interesting somewhat informal use of existing space.

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Mar 25, 2022Liked by Addison Del Mastro

I used to subscribe to Bloomberg Businessweek. I didn't have time for it so I let it lapse, but the last few pages of every issue were always culture/arts/etc. It seemed like every week, there was a profile of a Harvard Business School student or recent grad starting a business that mailed people something in a box every month. I guess it's better than new financial magic tricks, but still, not super imaginative.

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So...I am the Mason rep to the County's Sidewalk, Trails, and Bikeways committee, and this Leesburg Pike situation is what I am working on right now because it is in my neighborhood. Discussing efforts underway by VDOT, which owns the solution to the problem, I noted to the lead engineer that arterials built in the 40s-70s in this area are unbelievably inhumane - in some cases thousands of feet between crosswalks (just check out Little River Turnpike, Leesburg Pike, Rt 1, and Braddock Road). When I asked whether there was any effort to address these numerous walking challenges at a more systematic level (not case by case, but County/State wide) I drew a blank. There is a LOT to dig into this situation...

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