SEATTLE--I live in the city that hit the Amazon jackpot, now the biggest company town in the United States. Long before the mad dash to land the second headquarters for the world's largest online retailer, Amazon found us. Since then, we've been overwhelmed by a future we never had any say over.
With the passing of Thursday's deadline for final bids, it's been strange to watch nearly every city in the United States pimp itself out for the right to become HQ2--and us. Tax breaks. Free land. Champagne in the drinking fountains. Anything!
In this pageant for prosperity, the desperation is understandable. Amazon's offer to create 50,000 high-paying jobs and invest $5 billion in your town is a once-in-a-century, destiny-shaping event.
So, if you're lucky enough to land HQ2--congrats! But be careful, all you urban suitors longing for a hip creative class. You think you can shape Amazon? Not a chance. It will shape you.
At first it was quirky in the Seattle way: Jeff Bezos, an oversize mailbox and his little online startup. His thing was books, remember? How quaint. How retro. Almost any book, delivered to your doorstep, cheap. But soon, publishers came to see Amazon as the evil empire, bringing chaos to an industry that hadn't changed much since Herman Melville's day.
The prosperity bomb, as it's called around here, came when Amazon took over what had been a clutter of parking lots and car dealers near downtown and decided to build a very urban campus. This neighborhood had been proposed as a grand central city park, our own Champs-Elysees, with land gifted by Paul Allen, a Microsoft co-founder. But voters rejected it. I still remember an architect friend telling me that cities should grow "organically," not by design.
What comes with the title of being the fastest growing big city in the country, with having the nation's hottest real estate market, is that the city no longer works for some people. For many others the pace of change, not to mention the traffic, has been disorienting. The character of Seattle, a rain-loving communal shrug, has changed. Now we're a city on amphetamines.
Median home prices have doubled in five years to $700,000. This is not a good thing in a place where teachers and cops used to be able to afford a house with a water view.
As a Seattle native, I miss the old city, the lack of pretense, and dinner parties that didn't turn into discussions of real estate porn. But I'm happy that wages have risen faster here than anywhere else in the country. I like the fresh energy. To the next Amazon lottery winner I would say, enjoy the boom--but be careful what you wish for.
Editorial on 10/21/2017
Print Headline: How Amazon took Seattle