BY FROMA HARROP
So Amazon chose Valentine’s Day to announce its breakup with New York City. No, it will not build a new headquarters in Queens as planned. Who is to blame for the split, the tech behemoth or grouchy New Yorkers? If one must choose, I’d say Amazon.
Amazon seemed shocked that the masses were not doing cartwheels in the streets after it selected the Long Island City neighborhood for a new complex to employ 25,000. After all, the company had dozens of other cities groveling for that honor.
The dialogue between Amazon and skeptical Gothamites could have been more enlightened. But at bottom, the problem was a cultural gap of Mideast proportions.
The helipad was the last straw. Let us explain.
Home prices in Long Island City, once a solidly middle- and working-class enclave, were already under pressure as luxury towers sprouted along the waterfront. But established residents and tower dwellers suffer together in a subway system marred by overcrowding and regular breakdowns. Adding tens of thousands of new bodies to the area would not help matters.
The announcement that New York would grant Jeff Bezos and other Amazon brass a helipad enabling them to fly over the discomfort did not sit well, to say the least. Helipads were already controversial in New York, because, you know, helicopters are extremely noisy.
New York City is the crowded heart of a densely populated region. It doesn’t have alfalfa fields at the edge of town on which to build a corporate complex that would little change the lived experience of the locals.
That the city and state offered Amazon $3 billion in incentives and subsidies was a big sticking point, though perhaps not the biggest. Polls showed New Yorkers generally in favor of Amazon’s big arrival [though many no doubt saw only the 25,000 jobs figure and not the taxpayer subsidy].
The argument made by activists that it was immoral to ask the citizenry to help out a company run by the richest man in the world was irrelevant. The bottom line was the bottom line. Was the deal good for the people or not? On that, there was informed opinion on both sides.
Mayor Bill de Blasio was all for the Amazon headquarters, but then, he’s for anything that serves real estate interests. Developers already gunning their bulldozers were most devastated by the news.
Amazon’s decision to build additional headquarters reflected growing discontent in its Seattle home base over the disruption, congestion and rising rents set off by constant expansion. Explosive growth worries elite cities everywhere.
In Manhattan, just across the East River from Long Island City, traffic gridlock approaches Istanbul proportions. At rush hour, sidewalks around Grand Central Terminal are so jammed that pedestrians are forced onto the roads.
Some economists argue that New York must land a big tech company like Amazon to diversify an economy so dependent on finance. Actually, the city is also a national leader in the arts, publishing, entertainment and tourism.
And for the record, New York is already home to 320,000 tech jobs. Google, for one, plans to double its workforce in the city, to nearly 20,000 – without subsidies.
Some tech companies in the Long Island suburbs, meanwhile, are relieved that Amazon is a no-go, Newsday reports. They have trouble competing for tech talent as it is.
In working out the deal, Amazon didn’t have one New Yorker on its team. When unions asked it to be “neutral” on the subject of organized labor, the answer was a flat no. Furthermore, the agreement was structured to give locals almost no say in what would happen.
Face it; Aquarius and Scorpio were just not going to get along.
– Froma Harrop’s columns appear regularly in The Oklahoma Observer