Amazon isn't just getting blame as a brutal place to work, but as a monster that devoured a fair and dearly loved city, writes Jon Talton.
This is the verdict of a writer whose nom de plume (de guerre?) is CML, in a widely circulated Gawker article entitled “How Amazon swallowed Seattle.”
He writes, “Seattle is dead and Amazon killed it.” He goes on to compare the company with climate change.
Then, “As Amazon’s ranks swell, it will break its banks and submerge all that was dear about life in the Northwest. The rising tide will lift the yachts of the software gods, while the rest of us sift through the wreckage for memories of how life once was here. The more recollections I dredge up in Jeff Bezos’ Seattle, the more I yearn to bring back the Seattle in my memory.”
In another passage, he recalls how, “My city was a gentle, easygoing place, a salad of cultural influences: citizens of the outdoors, of grunge and high art, with a dash of software among its bluebloods. Here I reveled in mild weather and glorious views; here I played in the best high-school orchestra in the nation (at a public school), and surrounded myself with brilliant people who understood me and made me better. Nowhere else was life so good.”
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And it has all apparently been annihilated by Amazon.
He was born, he tells us, in 1988.
With all due respect, and our age pays the most respect to so-called millennials, this is hardly someone writing with historical sweep or experience. To go from youth to angry old codger so quickly, not stopping for all the life-stations in between. Who says there’s gridlock here?
Seattle has always been a place of spectacular booms and busts. Even our writer tips his hat to the Klondike gold rush. But that was another day at the office, albeit a humdinger as the codgers would say, for Seattle. This was always a city on the make, always a city of commerce, always seeking the big time.
That prosperity underwrote the culture, high and low.
At this point it would be safe to retreat to the posture of, “I’m new here, not from here, and I am just learning…” But I’ve been writing for The Seattle Times for eight years, longer than any other newspaper in my career. And, as it happens, I’ve been watching Seattle close-up almost since 1988. I’m not a mossback, I have plenty to learn, but no hiding from an opinion here.
First, I have been outspoken in criticizing Amazon for being a tax dodger while profiting from something created by tax dollars, the Internet; for its lack of philanthropy in the city and care for the commons, and for being a monopsony — among other things.
I don’t pine for the inert blight of South Lake Union. Far from being a copycat of the Silicon Valley fortress campus, Amazon’s urban form is revolutionary and beneficial. Far-flung office “parks” destroy rural areas and create sprawl and carbon emissions.
Amazon didn’t set back Seattle’s transportation options. Voters did, when they voted down the subway system 45 years ago, and dallied for decades.
Amazon didn’t take away Seattle’s “central park” in SLU. Voters did, seeing the Seattle Commons project as a taxpayer giveaway to Paul Allen.
Amazon is only part of the problem afflicting the middle class. Lack of antitrust enforcement, industry consolidation, the strangle-hold on suppliers, anti-competitive mergers, financialization, Citizens United and big business money in politics, bad trade deals and offshoring of jobs…all this and more has hollowed out the middle class and hurt mobility.
The above problems have been exacerbated by the aftermath of the Great Recession, where inequality has become more stark everywhere. Amazon’s not to blame for that, either. Endless tax cuts, tax dodges, lack of a progressive tax system, failure to invest in job- and productivity-enhancing infrastructure, and union busting are.
Amazon does have a big footprint here and there’s a legitimate argument over who should pay for what. But I’d rather have it here than out in a suburb or in Austin while Seattle struggles. I miss some of Seattle’s old vibe. I do not long for what would get our mind right: another bad recession.
Yes, Seattle has lost some of its authenticity. This is a wide phenomenon, even in Portland. It’s more expensive, but not for a technopolis. Many suburbs and Tacoma are not expensive. There needs to be a quick-step effort to build and enhance transit that will better connect these areas with employment centers in Seattle.
And don’t forget the blame that rests with the city, developers and architects for all the lookalike glass slabs, lack of design standards and historical overlays. This isn’t necessary — but few are talking about it.
For all that, Seattle remains one of the most appealing cities in America. That’s a big reason it is attracting growth, in people and industry, in slow-growth America.
We all mourn the cities of our youth. My Phoenix was an imperfect Eden that has been totally destroyed — and to build mostly cheap subdivisions connected by wide highways called “city streets.” The temperature has gone up 10 degrees in my lifetime. Worst of all, it is mostly inhabited by people who don’t love it.
The country of my youth, with a growing middle class and abundant jobs, has been badly degraded, too.
So, in my way, CML, I feel your pain.