Fight Global Warming: Support Your Neighborhood Stores

Minneapolis Public Library Collection. See slideshow of posters

There is a lot to be said for shopping locally and walking home; in WWII they did it to save fuel and resources. We have long advocated supporting local businesses as a way of creating jobs and improving our cities, but over at Grist, Stacy Mitchell makes a great point about another benefit: it can fight global warming. She writes that our preoccupation with increasing fuel economy is being completely overwhelmed by the increased miles driven.

Michael Shuman covered many of the reasons to support your local store in the Small-Mart Revolution

So far, the public debate about cars and climate change has been dominated by fuel economy. But driving has been growing at such a rapid pace—total miles driven in the U.S. rose 60 percent between 1987 and 2007—that even a big advance in fuel economy is likely to be wiped out by ever more miles on the road.

But she writes that when people have stores nearby, they drive a lot less.

This is where local stores come in. Academics who study travel behavior say that the presence of neighborhood businesses is a major factor in how much we drive. Dozens of studies have found that people who live near small stores walk more for errands and, when they do drive, their trips are shorter. And that’s not all: a more surprising research finding is that small retailers influence how likely people are to take public transit to work.

She notes that critics say the statistics might be skewed by self-selection: "those who like to walk choose neighborhoods where they can walk." She thinks not, but I am not so sure.

I did a quick search of the area where I live, surrounded by two of the big chains and one of the city's best independents, not to mention a string of smaller specialty stores on the main streets. We picked the area because it was near good transit, good shopping and was affordable because it was near the tracks, the main line through Toronto where a lot of industry used to cluster. All that industry has now turned into a form of urban big box retail so the selection is pretty good.

I certainly self-selected. I think most people do.

Stacy Mitchell also thinks that switching our economy from big box to local store will take major changes.

Right now, everything from federal transportation spending to state economic-development incentives and local land-use policies heavily favor driving over transit, big-box stores over neighborhood businesses, and sprawl over infill.

Here again, I am not so sure. Businesses and government follow the money. If we support our local retailers over the big stores, they will follow the money right into our neighbourhoods.

Again, in Toronto, the big chains are moving into residential neighbourhoods with stores people can walk to. They see the trend and are adapting to it without any changes in zoning and land use policy.

But these are quibbles along the line of the chicken and egg question. Great article in Grist: Neighborhood stores: An overlooked strategy for fighting global warming

Tags: Local Food | Shopping


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