For my project, I traveled all around the United States in an RV to document urban sprawl and its relationship to big-box retail (inspired by the 2002 documentary, This is Nowhere). My research and discussions prior to traveling formed an approach that I feel is most effective in documenting sprawl. My mediums are digital video and sound as well as photographs and writing. My hope is that by interviewing local residents, I can get a better understanding of the circumstances surrounding big-box retail.
I’ve noticed in my conversations with colleagues, that my bias toward Walmart and other big-box retailers seems less ruthless. (My focus on Walmart is due to the fact that it is the largest employer in this country as well as the number one Fortune 500 company. Walmart simply couldn’t be left out of a discussion on urban sprawl.) I think most critics of Walmart see the retailer as simply bad and seek to remove it completely. Today we are at a point where this country can no longer afford to wipe out what is perhaps the backbone of the working class. Critics must rethink Sam Walton’s vision, which seemed full of potential in the name of the common people. His vision to help communities and small business has somehow reshaped our landscape into strip malls and parking lots. I think it is easy to say his vision didn’t carry through, although his legacy of providing more for less has certainly remained.
What’s next for Walmart? As the population of anti–big-box shoppers grows, corporations like Walmart can’t afford to turn a blind eye to its critics. Retail as it exists today won’t remain forever, so it is up to us, the younger generation, to recreate the landscape as we choose to live in it.