The newest Apple Store is opening up in a historic Washington D.C. library. It looks great and it’s only a few minutes walk from my home, so as an Apple customer for decades I’m super excited. But as someone who thinks about resilient communities and civil rights, I’m also concerned and dissapointed.
The opening of this store in a historic space is another example of rampant gentrification, without any thought being given to the original, and generally less well-off inhabitants of the community in which this store opens. Apple will profit tremendously from this store, which is across the street from the DC Convention Center. Yet far as I can tell, nothing was done to engage and assist the community members that used to thrive here, and some of whom still live only one block away. None of them can afford the Apple iPhones that will now be sold in one of their former public library buildings.
Apple could have done a lot to be a good neighbor. For instance, Apple could have held one section of this store aside as a public reading and meeting space for young people. This would have fit the theme of opening a store in a former public library, provided a community space for local struggling youth, developed good PR for Apple, and also led to greater foot traffic in the stores.
Companies much smaller than Apple have engaged in these kinds of community-building efforts. The best example in DC are Capital One “cafe banks” which also serve as community meeting halls where local organizations and non-profits can organize events for free.
Apple dwarfs Capital One in size and reach with over $250 billion in cash reserves and a valuation of almost a trillion dollars. The interest earned on Apple’s cash reserves equals the annual GDP of many US states. At this scale, corporations have a responsibility to provide at least a little bit for the communities that are displaced by their efforts and fill their coffers. Otherwise, there will eventually be no one left to buy their products.