Architect, the magazine of the American Institute of Architects, sent a writer to Bentonville to plumb the “paradox” that the same family that has planted big box stores across America’s “car-centric” suburbs is also behind the Northwest Arkansas Design Excellence Program. She passes by undistinguished and enormous Walmart distribution centers on her way to the new, hip Bentonville downtown and observes:
I felt like I was deep in a symbiotic landscape, eating artisanal fare in a perfectly calibrated, pleasantly walkable downtown that, in a stroke of irony, largely owes its existence to a major producer of hideous, car-centric sprawl. Everything around me was willed into being by either Walmart or its founding family, now the wealthiest in America.
In an interview with Karen Minkel of the Walton Family Foundation’s Northwest Arkansas Design Excellence Program, writer Karrie Jacobs learns about the Walton approach to place-making that has helped build the Razorback Regional Greenway and the off-road bike trails, Theatre Squared in Fayetteville and the still-in-the-works Thaden School. There’s a nod, of course, to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Jacobs notes that not all is Camelot — she stayed in a chain hotel on the interstate, not at 21C Museum Hotel, for instance — but then she found the bike trail and concludes:
Snaking through pastoral landscapes and past housing complexes and malls, the trail was a small, insistent miracle. And, like the placemaking efforts of the Walton Family Foundation, it doesn’t make the asphalt desert willed into existence by the likes of Walmart disappear, but it does offer an alternative path, a respite from an otherwise intractable set of problems.