What’s the opposite of privatization? Publicization? In McAllen, Texas, an abandoned Wal Mart the size of more than two football fields has been converted into the country’s largest single story public library. The project won the 2012 Library Interior Design Awards.
Unlike Wal Mart the library is a public institution. It won’t move or close without the community’s consent. It won’t drive independent retailers out of business. Its personnel are paid a living wage and receive benefits. And they’re extremely knowledgeable about the merchandise.
Wal Mart celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. For a number of years its slogan was “Save money. Live better.” Stacy Mitchell, my colleague at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance recently described how it has actually become a powerful engine for making our lives worse. Check out her terrific research here.
A few years after Wal Mart comes to town it often moves on, leaving behind not only a devastated local business community but a huge empty building. Perhaps other communities can make public lemonade out of this private lemon.