Big Box Evaluator is a web-based, interactive resource for citizens and government officials who want to know more about the potential positive and negative impacts of “big box” retail stores on local communities.
The Orton Family Foundation created The Big Box Evaluator in the belief that residents should be active citizens, and that they should have the information they need to engage meaningfully in the communities’ decision-making processes. Citizens can take charge of their own learning and form their own opinions about big box stores by visiting the site, reading general information about the impacts of large-scale retail development, and running through scenarios tailored to the types of communities in which they live. It’s “just the big-box facts,” as a Grist blog post described it—no hyperbole, and as much reliable information as the site authors could find.
To give users a way of navigating the many issues involved with development proposals, the Big Box Evaluator asks users to imagine a local scenario. Users can set their own assumptions and input their values about attributes like store sizes, jobs, and environmental factors as they step through a sequence of screens. Next, a series of issues is presented. In the “Economy” section, for example, one page covers “Municipal Costs and Revenues.” A short explanation of the relevant issues is provided, as are many optional links to further information and studies. In the "Visual" section, photos of different kinds of big box designs are provided. Based on that reading and any other personal opinions, the user can then decide what assumptions to use in his scenario.
After the user has built a scenario, the tool calculates the resulting effects on the community and produces a report explaining them with graphs and figures. If desired, the user can go back into the scenario, make changes to the assumptions and community type, and get new results. And for those issues that don’t lend themselves to numeric analysis, there are checklists that citizens can use to keep track of issues that touch on personal values and public policies.