Does Maslow’s Hierarchy Apply to Communities?

There’s an excellent article in the Boston Globe which has philosophical and sociological relevance to Northfield. The article was written in response to a July 25 decision by the Chicago Board of Aldermen (Alderpersons?), which passed an ordinance requiring large-scale retailers to pay their employees a “living wage”. Apparently this has been a very controversial decision, and many are squawking as if some basic constitutional right is being violated. What about “economic development”? And how will we get access to all that cheap stuff from China if we force the retailers to pay their employees enough to keep them off public assistance?

The article says, in part:

“…Do we really want our. . . cities to continue to act as if they must cede their public powers in order to attract private business?

“…With demand for urban locations higher, cities — as free marketers should be the first to realize — are no longer willing to sell themselves at any price. The Chicago Sun-Times, in the process of condemning the aldermen’s action, hit on just this point: “[They] think the dense Chicago market is too attractive for the retailers to pass up, especially since most suburban areas already are saturated. They’re taking a risk that Wal-Mart and Target are bluffing.” Exactly right. …after all, the new measure does not bar big-box retailers from doing business in the city. It just requires that they provide employees high enough wages and benefits so that the city won’t have to make up the difference through the social services it provides.

“…Big-box retailers also bring burdens along with benefits. Some studies show they may depress wages in related businesses or threaten small, usually family-owned retailers. In many cities … it is the growing immigrant neighborhoods, chock-full of such small family-run establishments, that are re-knitting the urban fabric and producing significant amounts of social capital. A law restricting big-box companies from using low wages to support price cuts that might force these important community retailers to close is arguably a tailored response to a reasonable concern.

“The Chicago debate is not really just about Wal-Mart, nor is it even about how big-box retailers should be regulated. It’s also about our cities–both how we should think about them and how they should think about themselves.” (emphasis mine)

The idea of cities being self-actualized shouldn’t be a new one. I get frustrated when Northfield seems to roll over and play dead when commercial and (more frequently) residential developers want to plunk their Legoland buildings and ersatz “communities” down in our fair city without regard for what we, the residents, want our community to be.


  1. Griff Wigley said:


    What’s your recollection of how Walgreens got here? I thought they tried for the QBlock, were rejected because they didn’t fit with the Comp Plan, and then bought Hardees in order to move there.

    I’m not sure of the details, so help from anyone would be appreciated. I’d just like to have more examples to help get a better understanding of your most excellent post!

    September 22, 2006
  2. Well, I think it could be very liberating to live in a country that allowed local governments to set their own wage policies, but, as described in the article, that could turn the whole country into a sort of Darwinian soup of conflicting policies. It would be instructive to see where jobs went, how well the various experiments worked (New York City vs. Buffalo), and to watch as the workers drifted to where the best jobs were. Of course, it could also exacerbate the drive to the bottom that already occurs when cities compete to attract businesses in the mistaken belief that they can recoup the welfare they give to the companies through improved tax base.
    From my perspective, I have argued that if a big box wants to come to Dundas, I’d like to see them be required to include one or two floors of apartments over their stores as a form of “give-back” to the community. I am perfectly willing to have them run to “softer” nearby communities that they might see as easier targets.

    September 24, 2006
  3. Griff Wigley said:


    I’m not sure you want to turn this discussion into an “income inequality” topic but Ray Cox blogged a little about the Chicago story:

    He references the David Brooks column in the NY Times titled “The Populist Myths on Income Inequality”. It’s only available to Times Select subscribers but I found a pdf of it on the website of the The Intelligent Community Forum (ICF) which “is a nonprofit think tank that focuses on job creation and economic development in the broadband economy. Our area of interest is the local community, both large and small, in the developing and developed economies of the world.”

    September 25, 2006

Leave a Reply