25th Trillium Award

Noticed: Why Wal-Marts Become Libraries (and courts and civic centres)

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Wal-Marts are gigantic stores. They are not simply "robust" or "exhaustive" — they are large in a way that turns their very existence into a challenge. These suburban monoliths call, with the force of gravity due their size, to be filled with not only people, though many people fill them, but also with things, stuff — items whose assorted existences embody the definition of "etc."

But what happens when one closes? What do you do with all of that space?

CBC Books has recently reported on one unique solution:

"[McAllen, Texas] has just won an international design award for its new public library, built on the site of an abandoned Wal-Mart, and this inventive reuse had the internet abuzz. But they're not the only place to convert a big box store into a community space. Julia Christensen is an artist and a professor at Ohio's Oberlin College. For a decade now, she's been looking at how communities reclaim the spaces abandoned by big box retailers, and she chronicled her findings in a book, Big Box Reuse."

The idea works not only because there is so much room in a stripped-down Wal-Mart, but also because that room is so easily accessible. Wal-Marts are built near major roads and population centres, and designed to be open with plenty of hallways.

Of course, McAllen might not have realized any of these things. Instead, they may have followed the same simple rule that has served bibliophiles for centuries: When your house is empty, buy more books.

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