business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

There are a lot of issues that retailers have to deal with, but here's one that could challenge a commonality to a lot of business models - the ability of people to drive to their local store. (And, if you think about, the growing need for retailers to deliver products to customers via cars and trucks.)

Let me explain…

Fast Company is a terrific source of interesting and provocative information, such as the story currently online about how "the automobile is such an important part of American culture, life, and commerce that it can be hard to really grasp all the negative externalities of our driving habits: Commuters in Los Angeles now spend 119 hours each year stuck in unmoving traffic … There are as many as 2 billion parking spaces in the U.S. (eight times more than there are cars), often on valuable urban land that could otherwise be used—along with excess road space—for housing or parks. Pollution from tailpipes is linked to hundreds of thousands of deaths globally each year. SUVs, alone, now emit more than 700 megatons of greenhouse gases annually, more than the total emissions of the U.K. and the Netherlands. More than 1.25 million people are killed in road crashes each year."


But, the story points out, even the most vexing and entrenched problems have solutions … if communities are willing to invest in them. (Investments, one should point out, that have to be cultural as well as economic.)

Which is why "some cities and neighborhoods are beginning to rethink where cars can go—and redesigning streets to prioritize other uses, from public transportation to parks. It’s happening around the world, including on major streets in cities like San Francisco and New York, but happening at the largest scale in several European cities. Here are a few of the most interesting examples."

In cities such as Paris, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Brussels and Helsinki, officials are testing various approaches to developing car-free spaces and times. (You can get more specifics here.)

But the point is that if cars are choking a wide variety of communities, those same communities are beginning to respond. And not just cities. There are also are suburbs where we are beginning to see urban-style, multi-use campuses emerging, where people will be encouraged to walk or ride their bikes, as opposed to drive their cars.

Is the car going away? Of course not. Certainly not anytime soon.

But it seems likely that the trend is going to grow, and every retailer - from the single-store operator to behemoths like Amazon, Walmart and Kroger - probably needs to start thinking and planning for such a world.

Just considering the possibilities could be an Eye-Opener.
KC's View: