|Part of the picture: A Walmart (like this one in in Oakland, Calif.) would be one store in a shopping center that East New York needs.|
Saturday, December 18, 2010
It's Not About Walmart by Assembly Member Darryl Towns - NYPOST.com
In New York City, few topics spur such polarizing debate as Walmart -- savior of some clamoring for local employment, scourge of others who cite poor labor practices and a detrimental impact on local economies.
I've listened closely to both sides of this argument and taken the time to look at a broader picture that is being drowned out while the Walmart battle rages: the planned Gateway II shopping center with its full spectrum of retailers -- not just Walmart -- effectively doubling the number of merchants in southern East New York.
The Fiscal Policy Institute puts unemployment in East New York at a staggering 19.2 percent. The Community Service Society's recent study shows that only one in four black men ages 16 to 24 had a job from January 2009 to December 2010. A study conducted by my office shows 68 percent of my constituents have trouble making ends meet and 70 percent are concerned about the lack of local employment.
East New York sees most of its workforce commute daily to neighboring communities. We are obliged to seek goods and services elsewhere in the city and beyond: 42 percent of my constituents have trouble finding clothing, household items, fresh meat, produce and dairy products locally, and 40 percent have issues finding quality supermarkets, pharmacies, restaurants and banks.East New York was ravaged by disinvestment and crime during the '70s and '80s. By the '90s and into the last decade, thousands of homes went up while the crime rate, once the city's highest, went down significantly. As terrific as that sounds, rebuilding the local economy hasn't been as successful.
Walmart's own recent study shows two thirds of New Yorkers ready to welcome the store in their community, despite statements to the contrary. That said, it is critical for the sake of the local economy to look beyond any one retailer. Why single out Walmart? It's far from the first big-box store in our community or city. Is there a double standard here?
Most important: Will these debates take into account the specific issues plaguing East New Yorkers? My constituents, through the massive block-by-block study my office conducted, have spoken clearly to me to take action as one of the area's elected public servants.
A healthy exchange that answers these and other questions needs to happen, and East New Yorkers need to play a prominent role in that discussion. One starting point is exploring how Walmart and the other potential merchants of Gateway II can be responsible community partners. Knee-jerk reactions to a single merchant isn't the way to build these partnerships.
The right approach is to learn the unmet needs of our local economy, work with all the new merchants (not just Walmart) to ensure that those needs will be met, build strong partnerships to monitor how they're meeting our needs and use these relationships to evaluate their efforts on a regular basis.
I encourage my fellow elected officials to join me in a constructive dialogue between the big-box retailers and the communities we're entrusted to serve and make sure that the broader discussion of economic development doesn't get overshadowed by Walmart's detractors.
Economic development is the heart of the matter, not a single retailer, and that is what I am in clear support of.
Assembly Member Darryl C. Towns represents the 54th Dis trict in Brooklyn.