Also: America really is a nation of suburbs, and why cities need to smack down single-housing zoning.

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What We’re Following

Discount center: As the “retail apocalypse” rolls on, many cities are struggling to make up for the lost tax revenue they’ve come to expect from brick-and-mortar businesses. As it turns out, some surviving big-box retailers—like Walmart and Target—have found a way to trim their own expenses in a way that only amplifies cities’ budgetary pain. And they are focusing their efforts on a forum that few residents might notice: property tax assessments.

It’s called “dark store theory,” and it’s essentially a novel argument that bustling big boxes should be taxed more like vacant “dark” stores. That means tax assessments value these open, functioning outlets as it they were the shuttered “ghost boxes” that have become increasingly common on the fringes of towns and suburbs. With appeal after appeal, retail giants are succeeding in persuading tax assessors and judges to accept these lower valuations.

(Madison McVeigh/CityLab)

CityLab’s Laura Bliss went to the epicenter of this theory, Wisconsin, to meet the mayors, assessors, and lawyers dueling over dark stores. Since 2015, the Badger State has seen 230 appeal cases in 34 counties, many as repeat appeals on the same properties. These appeals can add up to millions in tax refunds across towns. In the wake of yesterday’s Amazon HQ2 news, here’s a different story about the shifting fortunes of the retail landscape, the creative ways big companies avoid taxes, and the handouts towns keep offering to lure them in. Read Laura’s report: After the Retail Apocalypse, Prepare for the Property Tax Meltdown

Andrew Small


More on CityLab

Why Cities Must Tackle Single-Family Zoning

As cities wake up to their housing crises, the problems with single-family-home residential zoning will become too egregious to ignore.

Benjamin Schneider

America Really Is a Nation of Suburbs

Most Americans describe their neighborhoods as suburban. Yet we still lack an official government definition of suburban areas.

Shawn Bucholtz and Jed Kolko

Voting Rights Aren’t Just a Black Issue: They Affect Poor People of All Races

The Poor People’s Campaign is building a multi-ethnic national force to “save the democracy,” and end the cross-racial poverty it sees as born of racialized voter suppression.

K.A. Dilday

Rediscover the Gilded Age’s Most Famous Architects

McKim, Mead & White, Selected Works 1879-1915 highlights the nation’s defining classical structures from the late 19th century.

Karim Doumar

As Beirut’s Trash Crisis Drags on, Children Recycle to Survive

Official waste management in the Lebanese capital is inadequate. Informal scavengers help fill the gap, but many are refugee children.

Kareem Chehayeb


Super City

Spidey looks out over Stan Lee's New York City. (Marvel Comics)

Marvel Comics maven Stan Lee, who died Monday at 95, was an essential New York storyteller. A Bronx native, Lee drew extensively on his city to craft his superheroes—Spiderman, Daredevil, the Fantastic Four, and more—rooting them in real neighborhoods and working the city’s history and politics into his stories. It was this creation of a lived-in metropolis that set the Marvel universe apart from the competition, CityLab’s Kriston Capps writes: “Colorful, dangerous, rude, quippy, and full of heart, Stan Lee’s New York might be his smartest creation.”


What We’re Reading

Can Los Angeles become a tech capital? (Curbed)

Millennials unhappily stuck in their parents’ transportation system (Streetsblog)

Voters want criminal justice reform. Are politicians listening? (The Marshall Project)

Amazon HQ2 take: Dominating retail? Yes. Reviving a city? No thanks. (New York Times)


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