Stopping Big-Boxes in Orlando

Community Organizing Ideas and Issues WalMart

Tampa    WARN, the Wal-Mart Alliance for Reform Now, spent some time over the last year building a powerful coalition in Orlando — churches, unions, environmentalists, ACORN, civil rights groups, and others — and then did the work to figure out how Wal-Mart would expand over the next 10 years in their saturation strategy to fill the market.  It started with a fight we almost walked away from completely in an upscale neighborhood.  One store stopped.  Gradually we figured it out.  WARN needed to fight every new big box store initiative by Wal-Mart and expand to look at the rest of the pack as well.  Then we stopped more stores to get a string of victories going.

Orange County politicians started to get it.  Orlando was going to end up as a parking lot on I-4 with unbearable traffic busting at the seams trying to move into acres of parking lots paving over the sun-baked city to shop at big box stores over and over again.  We kept pressing the point with people — filling the chairs with hundreds and hundreds again and again at public hearings on site selection, with experts, with maps and graphs, crime statistics, traffic numbers, and scores of meetings behind the scene with one message:  is Orlando going to be nothing more than a parking lot for retailers or are we willing to still make a plan for the city and stick to it?

WARN’s answer was to push a big box ordinance to regulate the market and force adherence to a city planning process for retail that focused on corporate citizenship and responsible development, rather than making Orlando nothing more than a truck stop depot for Wal-Mart.  Council people started to wave the banner and take up the cause.  They could count the votes.  Wal-Mart 1 vs. everybody else.

Mayor Crotty finally answered the question with a memo on March 1st to the council and others proposing a 1-year moratorium on all big box construction while the details of the big box ordinance were heard in public hearings and hammered out.  Cha-ching!  Victory for the people of Orange County!

Was there a magic bullet?  No.  Just a full-court campaign at every level engaging the company at every venue toe to toe, head to head, in order to prove that even in the heartland of Wal-Mart expansion, central Florida, people want — and expect — something better than to be just checkbooks in front of a cashier’s counter when they think about where they live and work. 

Here’s what’s more.  We could win this anywhere the same way, but it would take the same amount of sweat, tears, resources, capacity, and popular engagement. 

But, it’s worth it to win back our communities from the retailers.  Isn’t it?

Here’s to Mayor Crotty, our friends on the County council, and hundreds of others including all the hard working warriors of WARN!

March 3, 2006

Orange County Mayor Richard Crotty