Photo via Bowery Boogie

Last year, Inhabitat reported on the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area (SPURA), a massive redevelopment project in the Lower East Side for one of the city’s largest underdeveloped plots of land centered on Delancy and Essex. While official plans revealed earlier this month promised new housing, retail space, and a 10,000 square foot park, these may come at a price that many residents are unwillingly to pay: the construction of big box retail stores.

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In an op-ed piece, David Bergman, an architect and long time of the LES, criticizes Community Board 3, and the idea that the LES requires an “anchor tenant,” the theory that a large name brand store is needed in order to attract shoppers to an area. Bergman argues that the idea is detrimental to the neighborhood because many locally owned small businesses would suffer an economic blow. Bergman also states that cultural landmarks like the Essex Street Market would face demise, and affordable housing in an area marred with gentrification would be compromised.

Bergman believes that an anchor tenant (a theory originally from the shopping mall industry) will have the reverse effect of attracting shoppers to the LES; the concept does not apply to an urban situation, where there are already thousands of local residents in the area. Bergman also argues that in today’s economic situation, the anchor tenant model isn’t even working in suburban areas, where it was first applied and originally thrived.

The addition of big box retail chains in the area could damage the vibrancy, and culture of the local community. “The level of street life outside a long row of Bed, Bath & Beyond or Home Depot windows is nothing like what occurs where you have a different storefront entrance every 20 feet or so, where the owner hangs out and knows what’s going on in the neighborhood,” writes Bergman. “The inside is different, too; the atmosphere in the tiny local pharmacy nearby– where they know us and come out from behind the register to greet our dog — doesn’t compare to the antiseptic and Muzak’ed Rite Aid a few blocks away.”

Big box stores often portray the illusion of more service at lower prices, but Bergman argues not only are the goods usually low quality and generic, they also cause neighborhoods to lose jobs and income. Should a big retail store not make enough profit and close down (a real possibility in the current economy), it would be disastrous for the community, leaving behind empty real estate and no shopping alternatives.

“I’m by no means against change or progress,” wrote Bergman. “And I’m totally in favor of mending the ugly gap in the LES, but the solution is not in bringing in discredited formulas from elsewhere. There’s a reason we love living here; let’s build upon that.”

Many local residents seem to agree. As a local wrote in the comments section of the article, “There’s plenty of hardware stores and building supply stores around, so we don’t need a Home Depot. Essex market covers groceries. […] 
Big box stores over there would also present a traffic nightmare that couldn’t even be described. Maybe they could do something interesting like make it a park for the millions of families on the LES? And please… NO Walmart!”

Via Bowery Boogie