The recent decision by the Knoxville City Council to provide $1.5 million in financial assistance to help underwrite the construction of the proposed Walmart complex on Cumberland Avenue, adjacent to the University of Tennessee, is just one more example of how economically disjointed and unbalanced this community remains. ["Build, Baby, Build," Citybeat by Cari Wade Gervin, Oct. 4, 2012] Most Knoxvillians hail this decision as progressive, and a boon to the fledgling economy.
Please allow me to register my discontent and opposition to this investment, which is misplaced and unwarranted. The presence of Walmart on the Strip will most likely have deleterious consequences for Walgreens, and perhaps a number of other smaller enterprises within the UTK/downtown area. Walmart is no panacea for economic progress. Walmart, like McDonald's, Apple, Microsoft, and multibillionaire companies, serve to stifle smaller, fledgling enterprises that cannot compete with these gargantuan monopoly behemoths. Pure, unbridled capitalism ultimately devours everything in its way, and only pays lip service to the "general welfare of the community at large."
Consider the relative neglect and economic isolation that exists in the eastern portion of Knoxville. City leaders should devote their time to finding a way to stimulate economic investment in East Knoxville. While national chain restaurants proliferate in West Knoxville, the east side remains a vast wasteland. Even modestly priced establishments like Panera, Starbucks, and Chick-Fil-A have little or no presence in East Knoxville. There is not once decent hotel/motel on the east side. Why must east-side taxpayers continue to travel west to enjoy a full measure of the bounty of this great city? How can a city ever prosper with this kind of disparity? How can the political leaders, business Solons, and religious clergy stand by and continue to support initiatives that only serve to exacerbate the "have and have not" divide?
There is no doubt that the Cumberland Strip needs an economic boost, and some kind of facelift, but in the grand scheme of things, its needs pale in comparison to the repeatedly neglected and ignored east side.
Ronald B. McFadden, Director
Educational Advancement Program, Ronald McNair Program
University of Tennessee Knoxville