In Denmark, a unique planning legislation has prevented the construction of hypermarkets for the last 20 years.
However a bizarre type of nostalgia keeps popping up among Danish politicians. For some reason they keep dreaming of a disconnected and absolutely unsustainable phenomenon which other countries long ago labelled as undesirable. The negative consequences of hypermarkets are wide-ranging, and, well, so last millennium.
In the US they haven’t built isolated hypermarkets since 2006. Instead they are talking enthusiastically about mixed-use projects, which combine retail, culture, parks and housing, resulting in something that looks like – yes, you guessed it – cities. Since 2009 hypermarket chains like Wal-Mart, Carrefour and Tesco have implemented down-sizing strategies, creating smaller stores in city centers.
At the global retail conference in New York in January 2014 trend spotters talked about the future of retail and showed pictures of markets, bazaars and high streets (including Strøget in Copenhagen!).
Shops belong to the city, and great shops create urban life. They support social relations, increase safety in the streets, attract tourists, enhance property values and inspire people in their daily life. Local shops also reduce CO2 emission. Therefore, the intention of keeping shops in cities – thereby responding directly to basic human needs – can never be retrograde. On the contrary, it is our way to move towards a sustainable future.
American university studies throughout the last couple of decades demonstrate that hypermarkets (example: Wal-Mart) do the opposite.
They increase CO2 emission.
They lead to the closing down of shops in nearby areas, which effectively reduces urban life and public meeting places; fewer social organizations and lower voter turnouts are de facto consequences of Wal-Mart coming to town. People get fewer reasons to go out and the citizens’ feeling of belonging to a place decreases. The result is lower property values and unsafe ghost towns – and ultimately a loss in the net-tax-income for the city.
Besides, hypermarkets, in the long run, lead to less competition and fewer options for the consumer. When the other shops are out of business, cases show that Wal-Mart rises their prices.
Another consequence is the distortion of the power structures regarding the production of food and other goods. During the 1990’s Wal-Mart achieved market shares that were so big they could control the production of food and non-food; their demands for low prices have had an unreasonably and detrimental influence on natural resources, animal welfare and human working conditions. The cost of low prices is very high.
Retail is a vastly complex field and it is essential to look at all aspects – not only productivity – when considering changing the legislation. As Winston Churchill said: ”We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us” – but before that we create commerce and then commerce sets the framework for the rest: Not only our cities but also our infrastructure, our landscapes, our social relations and the power structures of society.
Therefore, let’s jump over the dark hypermarket era, and continue straight ahead to a future of sustainable shopping in living cities!