The malling of San Francisco - Page 2

National chain stores are flooding into a city that once led the nation in protecting neighborhood businesses and setting limits on commercial spaces

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The Metreon mall is being revived by a huge Target scheduled to open this fall. Will it put the city in chains?
GUARDIAN ILLUSTRATION BY DANNY HELLMAN

Even Walmart — the dreaded poster child for huge corporations that use their market power to drive down wages or force local stores out of business — is reported to be actively looking to open "a couple" of stores in San Francisco (see "Walmart sets sights on San Francisco," June 24, San Francisco Chronicle).

To Livable City Executive Director Tom Radulovich and others who have long encouraged San Francisco to embrace the kind of urbanism advocated by famed author and activist Jane Jacobs — which emphasizes unique, neighborhood-based development that enhances public spaces and street life — accepting the malls feels like giving up on more dynamic urban models.

"It's sort of an admission of failure," Radulovich said. "It's the failure of urbanism in San Francisco."

 

 

MID-MARKET SYMBOLISM

Mid-Market Street is a bellwether for the type of city San Francisco may become. Every mayor since at least Dianne Feinstein in the late 1970s has called for the redevelopment of Mid-Market into a more active and inviting commercial and social corridor, and few have done so more fervently than Mayor Ed Lee.

Several city studies have explored a wide variety of ways to accomplish that goal, from eliminating automobiles and transforming Market Street into a lively pedestrian promenade to using redevelopment money, tax breaks, and/or flashy lighted signs to encourage distinctive development projects unique to San Francisco.

"But the city failed, so the market filled the void," Radulovich said.

It isn't that all shopping malls or enclosed commercial areas are necessarily bad, Radulovich said, citing the influential work by writer Walter Benjamin on the roles the enclosed "arcades" of Paris played in public life. "They work when they are an extension of public spaces," Radulovich said.

Yet that isn't what he sees being built in San Francisco, where what gets approved and who occupies those spaces is largely being dictated by private developers who are more interested in their bottom lines than with the creation of a vibrant urban environment where people are valued as more than mere consumers or workers.

San Francisco isn't alone in allowing national chains to increasingly dominate commercial spaces. In fact, Stacy Mitchell, a researcher with the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, said that until recently San Francisco was one of the best big US cities in controlling the proliferation of chain stores.

But the city has lost ground since its anti-chain high water mark in 2007, when voters approved Proposition G, which expanded the controls on formula retail outlets — generally requiring them to get a conditional use permit and go through public hearings — that the Board of Supervisors had approved in 2004.

Those controls are only as good as the political will to reject a permit application, and that doesn't happen very often. A memo prepared last July for the Planning Commission — entitled "Informational Presentation on the Status of Formula Retail Controls" — found that of the 31 formula retails applications the city received since 2007, just three were rejected by the commission, six were withdrawn, and 22 were approved.

It's gotten even worse since then, as the two Targets and other chains have been courted and embraced by Mayor's Lee's administration, whose key representatives didn't respond to Guardian interview requests by press time.

Mitchell said it's not nearly as bad in San Francisco as it is in Chicago, New York City, New Orleans, and other iconic US cities whose commercial spaces have been flooded with chains since the recession began.

"It's nothing compared to the no-holds-barred stuff going on in New York City right now," Mitchell said. "Walking down Broadway now is like a repeating loop of the stores you just saw further up the street."

Comments

No, its because they are too lazy to travel, and too afraid to do anything but shi* in their own backyards

Posted by Greg on Jul. 12, 2012 @ 10:18 am

What's the big deal if a Target and so forth open up... Where do folks shop there, because no small business has the range or prices of these stores.

Why should the rest of us be forced to put up and shop at these stores? In reality, there is room for both and of course, there are things large stores do better. Costco allows me to purchase organic food, for example, at 1/3 the cost of a small store.

Also ironic to see an area that heavily exploits outsourcing and cheaper migrants over Americans in the IT sector, to rant about protecting the little guy. Not to mention, I am sure no one in the bay area shops online either of course.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 13, 2012 @ 9:50 am

Denying consumer choices to others is a far bigger problem.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 13, 2012 @ 10:34 am

Go rent the movie "The High Cost of Low Prices"

Posted by Guest on Jul. 13, 2012 @ 5:31 pm

The witchunt vilification of "chain stores" (11 stores nationally... WTF?) and anything made outside 15 miles of SF is misguided policy by progressive supervisors (past and present) based on half truths, opinion, guesswork and so called "neighborhood input" (NIMBYS) that has hurt the city and it's neighborhoods more than helped them. SF already has one of the most difficult approval processes for retail businesses in the country, but it's not enough. clowns like Supervisor MAarr favor total ban on specific uses of certain categories of retail and protecting certain categories. After the happy meal ban pet stores and chains are next. Ever been to the Richmond lately? Highest retail vacancy in the city. Mr. jones thinks it's horrible that JC Penney is coming to mid market where it's better to have piss stained, graffitid, vacant storefronts with crack dealers and porn stores than national chains in his mind. He feels awkward in a Safeway i guess. What did you want the metreon to bcome? A urban garden, lasertag, art gallery, homeless shelter? It was built as a retail project you moron. Other businesses follow target and JCPenneys in and around these projects and oftentimes are local retailers and restaurants. Go to the metreon, you can see for yourself if you could bear the site. The transbay terminal "god forbid" might have retail stores. Really? It's a terminal for god sakes. Target is taking over two spaces that were previous large box stores. Guess we should just let spaces sit vacant and wait for 120000 square foot local yarn store. There was an I magnin dept store here 50 years ago you know...... Why does nobody ever talk about the other jobs created (other than employees) for people when a company opens up a business. Much goes on in the background that employs many people but progressives would never mention or bear the thought of mentioning this just focus on the evil corporation and their fleecing of the stupid masses that go there The professionals referenced in the article prefer a "dynamic" view of neighborhoods. How do you pay for these ideal park, open space, car free, neighborhoods if you could? Tax dollars. Where does most of city revenue come from? sales tax. Especially RETAIL sales tax. Theatres and grocery stores and gyms and drugbstores don't open due to useless red tape and small businesses opportunities to open. I'm just a sheep brainwashed by chain stores I guess.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 13, 2012 @ 10:37 pm

Every time I go to San Francisco is a real treat for me, I can find there whatever goes through my mind and it's a beautiful city as well. I hope I'll get back there soon, I am planning some business trips there.

Posted by san francisco burrito on Sep. 13, 2012 @ 1:07 pm

In the absence of government intervention in land use, through height and minimum setback restrictions, segregation of residential, commercial and institutional use of land, impact fees being too low for low-density land use and too high for infill, and property taxes based on the combination of land and building rather than the value of the land alone, big business would not be economically competitive, as the chains require greater amount of transportation infrastructure (both consumers travelling by car and suppliers travelling by truck) and would be paying much more in property taxes per square foot of land.

Posted by Danny Handelman on Jul. 15, 2012 @ 12:20 pm

Anyhting that constrains business imposes a cost to business, which translates to lower wages and higher prices.

Government costs you far more than just the taxes you pay. It's a frictional impediment to all economic activity, and mostly for stuff you don't want or need.

Posted by Guest on Jul. 15, 2012 @ 1:29 pm

Some consumers do love the malls exactly because of their national chain stores and restaurants. This could be due to the familiarity of the brand names and due to the consumers being already accustomed to patronizing those places which are considered common. Well, it is also true though that the authenticity of a place will be diminished or fully eliminated but as time goes by and as economic progression takes over, some things are simply too inevitable not to occur.

Posted by Jeanette Hayworth on Oct. 24, 2012 @ 1:43 am

Just wear one of these beauties to a party and see the attention you will be receiving. You do not have to approach any women.

Posted by aisin on Apr. 17, 2013 @ 8:05 pm