People may have many irritations and grievances to lay at the door of Amazon.com. But hurting the Seattle economy is not one of them.
From my seat at the economy desk, I feel no Amazon angst. Having a headquarters of this size for a company of this stature — and in the heart of the city! — is the kind of crown jewel that other cities would kill for.
The result is tens of thousands of high-paid jobs, not only at Amazon itself but employed by its vendors, professional services partners and tech companies drawn to its orbit here. These jobs don’t keep other people poor. Studies actually show places with good tech jobs raise all wage levels.
The headquarters attracts capital and is the place where decisions are made for one of the most important companies on the planet. It draws worldwide talent. Some of that talent will leave and use their Amazon skills to create new companies in the Seattle area, adding still more good jobs.
In creating an urban technology campus in what was an inert part of the center city, Jeff Bezos has set a standard for sustainability, creative collaboration and the spin-off of a walkable live-work-play neighborhood that is transformative. Bezos and Paul Allen didn’t take away a potential central park — the voters did, thinking, to paraphrase my colleague Ron Judd, they were sticking it to the man.
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Some people would like to keep Seattle as a museum piece of memory, some of that memory real and some amped up by the passage of time. But Seattle is a big city in demand, and not merely by Amazon. It is a player in the global economy. The alternative is not pleasant in the stark layout of winners and losers today.
Amazon isn’t to blame for the lookalike buildings going up all over — developers and architects are, plus a city government that apparently has no design standards. If anything, Amazon’s headquarters buildings will be more interesting. Amazon isn’t to blame for losing bungalows — the city is, for failing to put historic districts in place. That, and your neighbor who tore down the house across the street and built a post-modernist “edgy” (in 1910) bunker.
Amazon isn’t to blame for traffic. People are choosing to drive in single-occupancy vehicle trips. It’s not a birthright — not if we want to avoid a planetary disaster and the localized sprawl that destroys farmland, wilderness and small towns for office “parks.” We were fools to send our subway to Atlanta (apparently thinking if we didn’t accept it, Seattle wouldn’t grow). Maybe we can be smarter now. Quality cities are the future.
I’ve lost most of the view from my Belltown condo because of Amazon. That’s fine. The neighborhood is more lively and the city is healthy. Virgin land that might have been bladed to make an Amazon office “park” is still safe. Anyway, I moved here for a big city with quality, not a view of faded car lots that stays that way for decades.
Most of the cities where I’ve lived have changed for the better — San Diego, Denver, Cincinnati and Charlotte. Dayton has not. It lost all its headquarters companies and whites fled to car-dependent suburbs. Phoenix has six-plus lane highways called “city streets” that connect its real-estate enterprises and most of the economy has shifted out to the fringes, all served by freeways. The magical old Phoenix of citrus groves, the Japanese flower gardens and a truly local economy is gone. But replaced by a branch-office town (the nation’s sixth-largest city) where the temperature has risen 10 degrees in my lifetime.
I’ll take Seattle, thanks.
And as to why we have to grow at all to have a successful economy — that’s for another column. But Seattle is experiencing what the Sun Belt would call baby growth.
What’s not to like? Amazon and Bezos are not civic stewards in the Seattle mold. The urban campus is a great gift. But the company is not involved in philanthropy or preservation of the commons to the degree it should be, especially given its size.
Also, Amazon is the kind of monopsony that undermines a competitive economy, all the while whining about the taxes upon which was built its foundation, the Internet. Theodore Roosevelt would take a big stick to the company — but also to the Too Big to Jail Banks, Wal-Mart and much of the mammoth corporatocracy.
But while we live in that world of bigness, far better to have the headquarters of one of the winners in the city.