Wednesday, July 25, 2018

When "change" is really just more of the same

Yesterday, the Washington Post reported on the Takoma Junction development, which I discussed in a previous post. In the article, a city spokesmen said, "I think it's about change. Change is hard." So, those who are against the developer's vision of the redevelopment are against change? What is this change? A local resident said, "To me, these are the things you do to adopt progressive values to changing times." At the same time, the city seeks to "[maintain] the unique character of the community." The Post was presenting the developers as part of the inevitable future and the opponents as stuck in the past. But what if the demands of changing times force Takoma Park to lose one of the things that is in fact the way of the future?

Yes, the Takoma Park Silver Spring Co-op (TPSS) is the future.

Andy Shallal (image from Twitter)
The proposed redevelopment is really just more of the same. As Andy Shallal, owner of the wildly successful Busboys and Poets restaurants, said at the WPFW town hall on the Takoma Park redevelopment (around 51:48):
After a while [as a result of the gentrification of businesses], you start losing the essence of a community, you start losing the vibe, you start losing its soul. And it becomes just like every other place anywhere, anywhere in the United States. I'm amazed at how many of these new developments that are coming in, they look almost identical. Like everywhere you go, they look identical. Somebody comes up with an idea of having mixed-use with an open atrium at the center and a bunch of string lights across the center. And everyone is like, "this is so novel!" People get really excited. And they all come. It's like this worked here. Let's do ten of these. That's what happens. 
When I happened to visit Bentonville, Arkansas (the headquarters of Walmart, not the reason I was visiting there), I thought, "This looks a lot like DC." The new buildings seemed to have the same architects as new DC developments. Cities, investors, and developers seek tried-and-true solutions, which leads to a homogenization, a standardization of cities that you see around the world. These solutions that developers tell us are the way of the future are in fact just more of the same, done over and over again.

The Takoma Junction redevelopment as currently imagined would endanger the TPSS Co-op, a thriving business. Among other things, the redevelopment would be on the parking lot used for deliveries and customer parking. With the redevelopment, the delivery trucks would have to park in the road out front. Thus the redevelopment would de-develop or underdevelop Takoma Park. How about expanding on the TPSS and embracing this model for the future?

Here are just a few thoughts about TPSS as the future:
  • As a co-op, the profits from TPSS are distributed to the members and the workers, thus enriching the local economy. 
  • TPSS sells products from local businesses, thus expanding the community economy.
  • TPSS could provide the basis for a cooperative economy, which has been successful in places like Spain
  • TPSS is also incredibly pleasant, a space that exemplifies democracy, equality, equity, and solidarity, which is also a space of the future.
But there are many other kinds of development envisioned by the Takoma Park residents, development projects that go beyond retail, such as Community Vision for Takoma Park and another group seeking to "set a brave and bold example."  Their ideas are not fear of change, but a call for real change in response to just more of the same.

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