Solar Co-ops Support Clean Energy Advances in D.C. — Episode 64 of Local Energy Rules Podcast

How does a growing, national nonprofit organization help homeowners complete the circle between clean energy ownership and policy advocacy? ILSR’s Energy Democracy Initiative director John Farrell talks with Anya Schoolman of Solar United Neighbors (SUN) in this October 2018 recording about two major clean energy policies before the Washington, D.C., city council. SUN’s solar co-op model has spread to 10 states, and builds the constituency for clean energy policy.… Read More

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

On November 1, a few days before the midterm elections, Reverend William Barber II took the stage at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem. He was there to talk about the movement he planned to help lead—the coming fight for “the soul of our nation.”

In an auditorium off the hall where Langston Hughes’ ashes are interred, Barber and Reverend Liz Theoharis—a black male Southerner and a white female Northeasterner, respectively—spoke about class, voting rights, politics, and morality. The two are the co-chairs of the recently launched Poor People’s Campaign, a rekindling of the wider movement that Martin Luther King, Jr. was building shortly before he was assassinated.

“If you are white, or you are black, or you are red, or you are yellow, or you are brown, and you don’t have enough money to pay your light bill, we’re all black in the dark, so we have got to have this conversation,” said Barber, leader of the Moral Mondays campaign in North Carolina (and a newly minted MacArthur “genius” grant awardee). “That is why a true revolution—a mobile poor campaign—cannot just be a black movement. It has to be a black, brown, white movement that takes race and poverty together.”

Fifty years after King’s death in 1968, the Poor People’s Campaign is returning to face the same problems, and with the same principle: that people of all races who are suffering the effects of rampant greed at the hands of oligarchs share common oppression, and thus must make common cause. Theoharis, who is the founder of the Kairos Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice in New York City, joined Barber in Harlem to bring the message that to speak and act in “silos” of identity activist groups—black, poor, Native American, white, LGBT—falls prey to the right wing’s divide-and-conquer tactics.

Poverty, they insisted, does not honor the perceived borders of these silos. Today, a greater percentage of Native Americans live in poverty than people of any other ethnicity; there are more white people who are living in poverty than any of other race; more than a quarter of blacks and nearly a quarter of Latinx are poor.

(Poor People’s Campaign)

This perspective may seem counter to the current narrative of the left in general, and of black activists in particular, with their focus on black poverty and white supremacy. But Barber asked the audience to examine the state of things more closely: “All of the states that have passed voter suppression laws have elected politicians who cut taxes for the wealthy, who are against workers’ rights, who are against insurance and immigrants, against gay people and public education. They all get elected somewhat because of racialized voter suppression. But when they get in office they pass policies that hurt mostly white people.“

Barber pointed out that on June 25, 2013, the Supreme Court removed a key provision of the voting rights act and “threw it to Congress“ to fix. “They have been sitting on fixing the voting rights act for … five years and four months,” he said. “One of the most racist, underreported acts that we have seen.”

The 2018 Poor People’s Campaign was launched on May 14, with 40 days of moral action in more than 40 states following months of training and organizing. The aim is to spark a “moral revolution,” Theoharis said, that is focused on five interlocking themes: racism, systemic poverty, ecological devastation, the war economy, and “the false moral narrative of Christian nationalism.”

Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis and Rev. Dr. William Barber, front, outside of the U.S. Capitol during the culmination of the Poor People’s Campaign 40-day launch on June 23, 2018. (Jose Luis Magana/AP)

Such a fusion movement—one that brings together parties that are often played against each other—is the great fear of oligarchs, said Barber: “Ever since the Constitution was written there were some who said certain people cannot vote. Poor white people and white men without land, Native American, Women and Black people. Ever since the 15th Amendment and the 14th Amendment were written, the deconstructors of democracy have always feared black and poor white people voting together and hooking up.”

At the Schomburg Center, Barber called on those he knew were weary of the current political situation in the U.S. by making a fiery appeal for more historical context. “Folks fought through slavery—don’t you go around talking about this is the worst we’ve ever seen,” he said. “Anybody who’s white or black or brown or Asian or yellow, you have some great, great grandparents who fought for justice and fought for voting rights. Whenever people mess with those voting rights, that’s like going down to your grandmama’s grave and digging up her bones and desecrating them.You ought to not act nice about that.”

(Poor People’s Campaign)

After the program, CityLab spoke via phone with Barber, reaching him in Atlanta on the eve of the midterm election as he completed three days of voter exhortation in four Southern states.

At the Schomburg you said we focus too much on Donald Trump—that he’s the symptom, not the disease—and that it has kept the left from focusing on reclaiming the South.  Can you explain that?

The goal of voter suppression is to lock down the 13 former Confederate states, from say, Maryland all the way over to Texas, and then pick up Tennessee, Arkansas, and Kentucky. You get somewhere in the neighborhood of plus 170 votes, which means that you only need another 99 electoral college votes from the other 37 states. [270 electoral college votes are needed to win the presidency.]

You’re gonna give me that? Now to me, that’s a fool’s bet. You’re basically saying to the people against you, “You can have 171—I’m not really going to fight for it. I’m not going to campaign, I’m not going to organize down there. You know, they are red states.”

[But] they’re not red states: They’re unorganized states. States with large numbers of minority people that aren’t registered. They’re states where you have progressive whites, but you never really come in and work them and build them up. And they’re states with a growing Latino population, which I believe is one of the major reasons why Trump and the white nationalists are so against immigrants. They know when folks come across the border, they mostly stay south. And if their children are born here and educated here—Trump said it the other night—they’ll be able to vote.

(Poor People’s Campaign)

One of the things I noticed was that when a work requirement was introduced for Medicaid in Michigan, the media reported on it as an unfair tax on blacks, turning it into a race narrative, when it turned out that more white people in Michigan would be affected by it. But whites living in a couple of counties were excluded. Do you think the media is playing into the right’s hands by focusing on such policies as a burden on blacks primarily?

When we go in these Southern states, we have these audiences of all different races, creeds, and colors when they come in. Many of them are still thinking “silo.” By the end of our training, they say, “Oh, voter suppression is not just a black issue. It’s targeted at black people, but in actuality, all of the people getting elected by voter suppression then turn around and use that power to implement policies that in raw numbers hurt mostly white people.”

If we don’t talk like that and show that, we enable the Trump and the [Mitch] McConnell and the [Paul] Ryan-type of vision, as you say.

You can’t build a fusion movement without the disaggregation of the numbers. There are progressives saying, “Well, we don’t want to disaggregate the numbers, because we don’t want people to think we are dismissing the traumatic reality of black poverty.” I say, “Do you think I’m trying to dismiss the traumatic effects of black poverty?”

What I’m trying to do is beat the poverty. You’re not going to beat it until you show all people that they have been impacted by it. When we started disaggregating the numbers, we would go to audiences and say, “66 percent of black folks are living in poverty, and 37 percent of white people. But watch this: Did you know that that 37 percent of white people is something like 40 million more people than African Americans?” That allows us to get a black mother from the Delta of Mississippi in the same room with a white mother from West Virginia, or to get black inner-city citizens from Louisville in the same room with white coal miners and working people from Eastern Kentucky.

(Poor People’s Campaign)

You said you were working with economists for the Poor People’s Campaign. Can you tell me a bit more about that?

We work with the Institute for Policy Studies and we work with the Urban Institute because they talk to people on both sides of the political aisle, but they have a progressive mindset. Before we ever started the campaign, I had a long conversation with Joseph Stiglitz on the cost of inequality, which is a question that doesn’t often get asked by the media. As soon as somebody like Bernie Sanders comes out talking about Medicaid for all, even the quote-unquote liberal media will say, “Well, what’s the cost of doing this?” They never ask, “What’s the cost of not doing it?”

What are you planning next for the Poor People’s Campaign?

We’re going to be canvassing, deliberately going into poor and impacted communities. We’ve had a major political consultant give us all of the counties where poor and impacted people are and where their votes, if organized, could make a difference. Our movement has just begun.

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CityLab Daily: Amazon HQ2: Just Another Winner-Take-All?

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What We’re Following

Proceed to checkout: Welp, it’s finally here. After 14 months, Amazon officially announced that New York City and Arlington, Virginia, will share the duty of hosting its second (and third?) headquarters. The announcement comes as no surprise after leaks blew HQ2’s cover last week, but the choice to split it across two of America’s most affluent cities has left many of the 238 city participants soured on a bait-and-switch bidding process. “I still feel this entire Amazon process was a big joke just to end up exactly where everyone guessed at the start,” Jersey City mayor Steven Fulop tweeted Monday night.

Today’s grand reveal does yield some new details, though. There’s a small consolation prize for Nashville, and we also get an actual glance at the economic incentives offered by each of the three selected cities. For a good subplot, look to Washington, where everyone is perplexed by Northern Virginia’s curious decision to rebrand the newly HQ2-ed area as “National Landing.” (We’re determined to find out more.) CityLab’s Sarah Holder has what you need to know about the announcement, and will have updates as we learn more: Amazon HQ2 Goes to New York City and Northern Virginia.

  • Even if the HQ2 contest followed a familiar winner-take-all pattern, CityLab’s Richard Florida writes it’s not necessarily a sign of where big tech companies are moving overall.

Andrew Small

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Tell your friends about the CityLab Daily! Forward this newsletter to someone who loves cities and encourage them to subscribe. Send your own comments, feedback, and tips to

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HQ2 Is Only Part of the Story of Big-Tech Expansion

When word got out that Amazon is going to split its HQ2 between New York City and greater Washington, D.C., as the company made official today, many saw it as evidence of the widening gap between America’s coastal superstar cities and the heartland. Amazon is expanding from Seattle, a successful tech hub on the West Coast, to the world’s leading global city (New York) and the capital of the most powerful nation on Earth (Washington), both of which sit on the East Coast Acela corridor, equivalent to one of the world’s largest economies. With Google planning yet another expansion in New York, here is another example of winner-take-all urbanism.

While that is certainly true, there are signs that some big tech firms are expanding away from the San Francisco Bay Area, long the dominant player in tech, to smaller and non-coastal places.

The maps below—from a new report by commercial real estate research firm CBRE on recent office expansions of big tech firms outside their home markets—shed light on the complex, evolving geography of big tech.

(All graphics courtesy of CBRE Research)

The first map shows the pattern for Amazon’s home city, Seattle. Big tech firms based there mainly expanded in three other leading tech cities: San Francisco, New York, and Boston. (Interestingly, not greater Washington, D.C., where Amazon will locate a piece of its HQ2.)

Now look at the pattern for big tech firms headquartered in Boston. Their biggest expansions are in San Francisco, followed by New York and Seattle.

Next, consider New York, the nation’s largest headquarters city by far, where half of HQ2 is going. Its big tech firms are expanding in the San Francisco Bay Area, but also in HQ2 losers Austin and Chicago.

The most illuminating map is the one of the San Francisco Bay Area itself. For one thing, there are a lot more expansions outside of home base. Bay Area tech firms are expanding in New York, taking on considerable footprints in Washington, D.C., and Boston, establishing a big presence in L.A. and Southern California, and even more so in the Pacific Northwest.

But San Francisco’s big tech companies are also setting up shop in less obvious cities, such as Phoenix, Chicago, Denver, and Austin. This is likely a reflection of San Francisco’s metastasizing new urban crisis of high housing prices, escalating office rents, increasing competition for talent, and growing inequality.

Big tech may reflect a winner-take-all geography, but some changes are afoot. Take a look at the chart above, which compares high-tech talent to office-market strength in the 30 leading tech hubs in the U.S. and Canada.

The far-right corner shows “Growth Leaders.” Here we find the established tech hubs of Silicon Valley and Seattle, and the smaller hubs of Austin, Raleigh-Durham, Denver, and Portland. None of America’s larger superstar cities make this category. San Francisco is listed in the lower right-hand quadrant labeled “High Potential,” along with Toronto, Montreal, Indianapolis, and St. Louis.

Leading superstar cities (New York, Boston, and D.C.) appear in the bottom-left quadrant, “Lagging,” along with Dallas, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh. In the “Emerging” quadrant above that is Nashville—where Amazon just announced it is opening a center for excellence for operations, with 5,000 jobs.

While it is true that the geography of big tech reflects a winner-take-all pattern, not everything follows the shift of Amazon and Google to East Coast superstar cities. Indeed, tech in San Francisco may be reaching a saturation point as many of its big firms appear to be heading elsewhere, including some smaller, “rise-of-the-rest” locations. I’ll pick up on this theme in a future post where I look at the trend in headquarters locations for Fortune 500 firms.

CityLab editorial fellow Nicole Javorsky contributed research and editorial assistance to this article.

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Stan Lee’s New York City

“New York is a large city… and, in such a vast, sprawling metropolis you’ll find all kinds of characters and kooks!”

Stan Lee wrote those words in 1964 to set the opening scene for Daredevil #4. When a man strolls into a Manhattan bank dressed head to toe in purple—from his suit to his hair to his skin—nobody bats an eye, Lee’s floating text balloon explains. It was a mood.

“What an odd-looking man!” offers one passerby, her sense of shock still intact, as the villainous Killgrave exits the bank with a bag full of cash. “Hmmph… probably some new type of beatnik!” her companion suggests.

Lee embodied that sardonic everyman New Yorker. Over the past decade, the impresario delighted audiences in that wisecracking role, through cameo appearances in all umpteen Hollywood blockbusters that make up the Marvel cinematic universe. These were always homages to the New York he brought to life in his pages. Marvel’s maestro died on Monday at 95, leaving behind a behemoth engine for pop culture and a conflicted legacy as a creator. Whatever else he was or wasn’t, he was an essential New York storyteller, up there with Lou Reed, Funkmaster Flex, Keith Haring, and Jane Jacobs.

Lee was a creator behind some of the most dynamic figures in the superhero genre. Like Lee himself, a native son of the Bronx, his heroes are all New Yorkers. There’s Daredevil, the acrobat–turned–defense attorney–turned–crimefighter whose charge is Hell’s Kitchen. His appearance in the Marvel universe followed closely behind that of the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, who calls Queens home. The Fantastic Four are more frequently found in the Negative Zone than New York, but they hold the fort in a 35-story tower in Midtown. All of these and many more were Lee’s modern fairy tales of New York.

Lee and his collaborators made characters out of places. When he and artist Bill Everett launched Daredevil in the 1960s, Hell’s Kitchen—which readers may know better today as Clinton—was still a predominantly Irish American neighborhood. Matthew Murdock (that’s Daredevil) was its avatar and protector, the son of a boxer, Jack, who was killed after he refused to throw a fight. Hell’s Kitchen changed, of course, and so did Daredevil, from the pulp crime procedural book of the 1970s to the darker Catholic anti-hero storylines of the 1980s. With the High Line and Hudson Yards encroaching just to the south, Hell’s Kitchen today is so bougie that Daredevil’s Netflix series goes to elaborate ends to explain why the area is still awash in ninjas from The Hand. (Because the trickster god Loki destroyed the city with an army from space, naturally.)  

While Lee stopped writing the books in the early 1970s, the storylines that he and other creators set in motion still swing like a pendulum now. More often than not, for a certain set of Marvel publications, it was New York itself driving the plot. Karen Page—one of Daredevil’s best friends, introduced during his bright early adventures—returns in a 1986 storyline as a strung-out porn star. Back then, who didn’t?

Colorful, dangerous, rude, quippy, and full of heart, Stan Lee’s New York might be his smartest creation. Hot-dog vendors, buskers, patrol cops, and transit operators are Marvel’s supporting cast. While Lee can hardly take credit for every plot, or even for the characters who circulated through them, his vision of a real, lived-in city setting distinguished Marvel from its competitor, DC Comics. Superman’s Metropolis never aged, never suffered through stagflation, never languished under the heavy hand of a political machine (save Lex Luthor’s). Metropolis never had to grapple with its history of redlining, because Metropolis has no history.

Even Batman’s Gotham City, a rich pastiche grounded primarily in Chicago—don’t @ me—can’t compete with Marvel’s New York for its grim, gritty, and granular tales. The Fantastic Four’s Ben Grimm (aka The Thing) reps a single street on the Bowery (Delancey Street, lightly fictionalized as “Yancy Street”). While some authors relish the challenge of DC’s open universe—Batgirl’s Hope Larson has fleshed out a gentrifying Gotham nabe called Burnside, for example—Marvel holds up a mirror to New York.

Tracing how Marvel reflects the city would involve explaining some characters’ whole histories. But there are some highlights. Harlem was the site of Marvel’s 1970s blaxploitation feature, Luke Cage, Hero for Hire, whose title star enjoyed a two-season run on Netflix. Marvel once ran an imprint called “Noir” that told New York stories before their heroes’ time (for example, a Luke Cage story set in Harlem during Prohibition). Peter Parker’s Spider-Man has made way for Miles Morales’s Spider-Man, a black teenager of Latino descent, more in keeping with the demographic reality of Queens today. Ryker’s Island has its own entry on a Marvel wiki site. The list stretches on and on, from the lovingly drawn Pakistani community in Ms. Marvel’s Jersey City, to Clint Barton’s rooftop-barbecue adventures in Hawkeye’s Bed-Stuy, to the fully realized New York City currently wowing gamers on the new Spider-Man video game for Playstation.

Marvel books also reflected the politics of New York. Ed Koch—the popular three-time mayor who rode the subway and whose slogan was “How’m I doin’?”—was a topical reference and frequent guest star in the Marvel universe. A lot of Marvel comics, and maybe superheroes in general, reflected his politics: socially liberal and adamantly pro-cop. Superheroes enjoyed full employment during a high-crime era, but they were often more reactionary. Lee and Kirby’s broodier figures, like the Punisher, led the way during the broken-windows administration of Mayor Rudy Giuliani. But other properties co-created by Lee balanced out the conservative inclination of Marvel’s vigilantes, from the racially progressive utopianism of the X-Men to the militant liberation ideology of Magneto to the technocratic pan-Africanism of Black Panther.   

Fans and critics will argue endlessly over who’s responsible for this multibillion-dollar juggernaut today. Jack Kirby, the legendary artist behind countless creations at both major comic-book houses, never got the credit he deserved before his death in 1994. Steve Ditko, who died earlier this year, deserves far greater fanfare as the person who gave Spider-Man his relatable character. Assigning credit for all the glory is the company’s most heated battle. But if there is one facet of the Marvel mythos that might belong to Lee alone, it’s that familiar, heyyy-I’m-walkin’-here character of the city that Lee brought to life through his dialog. Spider-Man works as a talkative hero because New York talks back.

My favorite story from Marvel’s New York might be 1994’s Marvels. It’s a loving look at the the origins of the Marvel universe, told from the perspective of an on-the-ground news photographer, featuring richly painted illustration by Alex Ross. His realist urban landscapes bring the Avengers to life; the effect is all the more pronounced because it captures magic among the mundane. That was Lee’s vision all along.

Lee will be remembered for his part in creating the pantheon of the modern era, including titans like Iron Man, Doctor Strange, and the Incredible Hulk. But he had no use for Mount Olympus. New York has always been Marvel’s secret weapon, its ultimate amplifier. If superhero stories could happen all around us, in regular places, then maybe regular people could be heroes. And if heroes would fight to protect their neighborhoods, maybe the rest of us could, too. Stan Lee raised the stakes by bringing them back to earth—with excelsior stories of everyday gods and monsters.

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Amazon HQ2 Goes to New York City and Northern Virginia

Updated: 2018-11-13

Amazon announced today that Long Island City, Queens, and Arlington, Virginia, will be sister hosts to its second and third headquarters. In Nashville, Tennessee, Amazon will put a smaller “Operations Center of Excellence.” The decision—which was already partly spoiled by leakers last week—closed the final chapter in a contentious, 14-month-long selection process that pitted cities across the U.S. (and Canada) against one another in what might be the most high-profile public bidding war in modern history.

Amazon will bring more than 25,000 full-time jobs to each partner region; along with 4 million square feet of office space (that might eventually expand to $8 million), and a projected $2.5 billion in investment. “These two locations will allow us to attract world-class talent that will help us to continue inventing for customers for years to come,” said Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, in a statement. In Nashville, it will hire 5,000 full-time workers, occupy 1 million square feet of office space, and inject about $230 million in investment, according to Amazon’s statement. Hiring for all three sites will begin in 2019.

For the chance to win high-paying tech jobs, cities and states offered as much as $8.5 billion in tax incentives, revamped their transit plans, and staged elaborate marketing campaigns to lure the company.

Arlington and New York seemingly did not issue the very highest bids. But they, too, offered hefty sums, according to Amazon. Between the three sites, the company will be given more than $2 billion in incentives. Some of the funds will be contingent on the number of jobs with salaries over $150,000 they create: $1.2 billion from New York State; $550 million from Virginia; and $102 million from Tennessee. It will also receive $23 million in cash grants from Arlington, which will come from a slow increase to a local hotel room tax; and $325 million from Empire State Development in New York, based on how much square footage Amazon ends up occupying. This is all according to agreements released by Amazon, and may be subject to local changes or approvals.

Cities have also been making targeted investments for months, in part with Amazon in mind: Long Island just announced $180 million in planned expenditures targeted at transit, infrastructure, and housing; and in March, the D.C. metro area made $500 million in investments to its metro. Based on the agreements released today, Virginia will invest another $195 million in neighborhood infrastructure, according to Amazon; and put $28 million in future property tax revenues towards developing on-site infrastructure for Amazon’s future headquarters, which will be located in the newly-named National Landing neighborhood.

The agreements also outlined some community benefits—though both Amazon and the regions are on the hook for funding them. In New York City, Amazon won’t pay property taxes on a portion of its development site, instead funding “community infrastructure improvements developed through input from residents during the planning process.” They’ll also donate space for a tech startup incubator, and a new public school. And together, the state, city, and company will fund a $15 million workforce development program.

Besides the physical and economic shockwaves an Amazon headquarters will likely set off in Northern Virginia and New York City, the selection process could also signal a paradigm shift for these kinds of economic development deals. By publicly releasing a North America-wide Request for Proposals last September, Amazon breathed drama into the once-obscure site selection process. In Hunger Games-style elimination rounds, Amazon whittled down a pool of 238 competing regions to 20 in December, and has spent almost a year bring that down to two.

To gain a competitive advantage, some cities and states altered their tax codes or introduced new legislative measures to free up more funding. Others unearthed little-used economic development plans (like one in Illinois that returns some of employees’ income taxes back to the corporation), or considered letting Amazon control what social programs their tax dollars would fund. Newark’s $7 billion and Maryland’s $8.5 billion offers were the flashiest numbers, but many more cities’ proposals were redacted or entirely secret.

“Citizens have no idea what their elected officials have promised to a company headed by the richest person on earth,” said Greg Leroy, the executive director of corporation accountability non-profit Good Jobs First, in a statement.

Throughout this whole ordeal, cities were under the impression there would be one lucky winning city that would reap all the reward of a coveted HQ2, and that was worth the price. When it emerged just a few days ago that Amazon might award two cities second headquarters, many participants in this process felt a bait-and-switch had soured their trust in the bidding process.

“Of course #jerseycity would benefit if it’s in NY,” wrote Jersey City mayor Steven Fulop on Twitter Monday night. “But I still feel this entire Amazon process was a big joke just to end up exactly where everyone guessed at the start.”

“It’s highly unlikely that this was a decision only recently arrived at,” added Roshan Abraham, who leads the Steering Committee for activist group Our Revolution Arlington. “Which only further begs the question of how other municipalities have been manipulated by Amazon to give them endless amounts of information about their communities paid completely by taxpayer dollars.”

With all this bad press, other companies might be deterred from copying Amazon’s negotiation strategy. “The way they conducted the process, I don’t think companies are going to mimic at all, in fact they’ll turn away from it,” said Tom Stringer, a site selection expert. “From the get-go, a lot of state officials wasted money, time and effort [on their bids]. They squandered tax payer resources.” And, leaders now may be asking themselves, for what?

For Amazon, the benefits of picking two sites—especially these two—are a bit clearer. In Northern Virginia, Amazon will have the Pentagon, the Department of Defense, and the White House at its fingertips. Bezos will be able to spend weekends courting lobbyists at his house, the most valuable property in the city, and weekdays visiting data farms in Loudoun County. In Long Island City, employees will have easy access to the joys of New York, along with access to the highly-trained products of the New England university belt. As for tax breaks, Amazon won’t get double: Since most of the incentives the two jurisdictions offered will be performance-based, they’ll shrink with the size of Amazon’s investment, Leroy told CityLab last week—but the company might have used its leverage over both to make them offer more.

What’s more, finding just one host with the right infrastructure and the number of tech workers Amazon sought was always going to be a challenge, says Stringer. “It would have been hard to find that number of people and get that space with all the requirements they have,” he said. “It’s a volume problem.” By choosing two sites, the company is hedging its bets.

For the sites in question, Amazon’s decision to split HQ2 in two could prove a blessing in disguise. In its original Request for Proposals, the company said it would employ 50,000 workers total, paid an average of $100,000. To the region itself, the company promised an investment of $5 billion, and a physical footprint that would eventually swell to 8.1 million square feet in office space. HQ2 would be “a full equal” to the company’s Seattle home base, the company said.

Now, that equal partner will be halved, with Northern Virginia and New York City getting 25,000 jobs each. Nashville will get 5,000. While breaking the company into smaller chunks will likely soften the shock to either region’s system, a project of Amazon’s size in either location is projected to compel a cosmic urban shift—raising rents, straining traffic, and shifting demographics by bringing thousands of highly-educated, highly-paid workers in. “Even at half the projected HQ2 size, each of these projects will induce enormous growth,” wrote Leroy. “If Amazon gets tax breaks and doesn’t pay the full costs of this induced growth, existing residents and small business owners will get stuck with higher taxes and more-stressed public services.” Still, says Stringer, it’s a “generationally transformative project.”

Amazon’s relationship with its first home base, Seattle, could offer a hint at what that transformation could look like. In the years since it opened there in 2011, Amazon has created more than 40,000 jobs, and spread to occupy almost 20 percent of the city’s prime office space. It’s been a catalyst for Seattle’s identity shift into a major tech hub. But the economic boon has been a double-edged sword: Seattle’s rate of homelessness is third-highest in the U.S.; and the median housing price has grown to $770,000.

Activists and policy experts are worried that in Queens and Northern Virginia, even a smaller Amazon will compel more of the same. But these regions’ recent rapid growth may better equip them to adopt 25,000 employees over the next ten years, as Amazon plans. In Queens, housing sales prices rose more than 7 percent over the last year, and the Long Island City area has the largest number of apartments under current and planned construction in the city, according to, a catalog of NYC building data.

“[I]f any area in New York is poised for a major influx in residents, it’s Long Island City,” urban planner Stephen Albonesi said in an email. “… where a building boom is already remaking much of the area and where residents have been grappling with how to meet the demands of thousands of new people.”

The entrance will also be gradual. “It’s not like tomorrow, UFOs are coming in and dumping all of these jobs and people,” says Elizabeth Lusskin, the president of The Long Island Partnership, an economic development non-profit. “Whether or not one large company comes in, there is going to be a lot of growth in the area, and there are other companies that are interested.” Just this week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Google has plans to bring more than 12,000 new workers into New York City. The property is in the West Village, but the boost could impact all five boroughs. “It’s incumbent on everybody to continue the process of thinking holistically and proactively about how the neighborhood continues to evolve,” said Lusskin.

Arlington, too, has climbing median home values, reaching $664,000 this year; and the D.C. metro area is increasingly squeezed for housing supply. Lower income residents have for years been pushed to the periphery, says Yesim Sayin Taylor, executive director of the D.C. Policy Center. With an Amazon, migration to the exurbs will only continue—and even without it, more building is necessary. “We are a region that’s growing and expanding very rapidly, and our housing markets have been changing for a long time,” she said. “All the things people say about what Amazon did to Seattle or San Francisco—it’s already happening in our region.”

It’s this reality—that, in the end, Amazon chose two of the sites most similar to Seattle and the Bay Area of the hundreds it had proposals from—that might sting for losing cities. Amazon already employs more people in New York City and the Northern Virginia/D.C. area than anywhere else in the country, according to the New York Times, save Seattle and the Bay: “About 1,800 people in advertising, fashion, and publishing already work for Amazon in New York, and roughly 2,500 corporate and technical employees work in Northern Virginia and Washington.” Amazon has slowly been pouring more money into its lobbying army in D.C.

“For the many that haven’t been chosen, I think there is a whiff of hopelessness,” said Mark Muro, a Senior Fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings. “Because many of these places put forward very impressive and very plausible proposals—and this particular outcome makes it seem almost inevitable that they would ever site there.”

Today’s winners may not be surprising, then, on their merits. But Amazon’s tri-state investment is almost without precedent. “We don’t know what it means for a company to have three headquarters,” said Stringer. “That just doesn’t happen.”

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan says she sees the downgraded HQs as a good omen for Seattle, at least. After Amazon threatened to slow investment downtown if the council moved forward with a measure taxing businesses to fund affordable housing, the city-company relationship has faltered. For Durkan, this announcement is affirmation that Amazon’s first HQ won’t be eclipsed by a bigger upgrade, and that employees won’t flee her city for another coast. “I call those branch offices,” she said.

But it could also be a sign that Amazon is looking far beyond its original home town, says Stringer. Now that Amazon has a Rolodex of over 200 minutely detailed insights into the infrastructure and tax policy of major North American cities, it could find it much easier to open satellites in even more strategic locations.

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