By: Edythe Kelleher
The Jewish High Holidays are upon us, making me think of what next year will hold. One prayer points out how much easier it would be to repeat the previous year. Even if it was a very bad year, facing an unknown future is much more difficult. Humans have a hard time dealing with change, positive or negative. But we need to try to make the best of it and act to help the changes work for us.
Technology is changing our world. One of the most difficult impacts of technology is on employment. Who could have predicted that every office would need a full-time Communications Director? The United States has gone from having 80% of its population employed in agriculture to only 1% today. (This week’s 60 Minutes segment on how analysis of satellite images helps farmers maximize yields and minimize expenses was fascinating.) Advances in transportation first allowed manufacturing to seek cheaper labor by moving from cities to rural areas (the interstate highway system), and then to other countries (shipping containers).
In the Richmond Highway Corridor and other communities, we especially notice technology’s impacts on shopping. Increasing numbers of purchases made online reduces those made in stores. The number of retail jobs has fallen precipitously nationwide. Both old and new retailers are struggling: Sears, Dress Barn, Forever 21. Shopping malls are closing. Even grocery stores have been affected: Safeway lost business to the new Wegman’s, and Shoppers Food Warehouse’s new owner decided to exit the retail business entirely.
To keep the retailers we have and attract new ones will take more customers. Stores cannot remain in business if no one shops there; they need to make money to pay their employees, rent and utilities. The intent of the EMBARK Plan is to provide transit and make the corridor more attractive to new residents and new businesses. Encouraging mixed-use redevelopment of the commercial areas will add more living and working opportunities. The increased economic activity will generate more demand for retail, which will give everyone more options.
Changing attitudes will help: People now want to have the option of walking to shopping and transit. This is different from the car-centric culture that mandated keeping residential far from commercial. Convenience is overriding the desire to isolate residential development.
Full disclosure: I have drunk the mixed-use Kool-Aid. We sold our detached house and moved to a townhouse in the Mosaic District. It is very convenient, and no more yard work!