It seems that every time new construction is proposed in an area, residents start screaming “not in my backyard!” And those residents often feel powerless against the behind-the-scenes money exchanges that ultimately launch these projects.
There are about 190,800 people in New York who are unemployed. The 25,000 jobs that would have come with Amazon HQ would have decreased the unemployment rate by about 0.56 percent. After completion, there would be 13 percent less unemployed people in New York City.
What do all those numbers mean? Should we have shunned the opportunity to provide 25,000 people with money to bring food home to their families? Whose decision should that have been?
Shouldn’t they have a say too?
Would HQ2 have been good or bad for New York?
The jobs from Amazon HQ2 would have provided many people with the opportunity to better their lives. Isn’t it the local government’s role to do work to improve the lives of constituents in the area? Those people might constitute a significant percentage of their voting pool.
However, there is a different portion of the voting pool that they have to consider: the Long Island residents who felt that the move would strip away the identity of their community. They felt that the headquarters would force many other people out of their homes and into a housing market that they may not be able to afford.
Long Island residents – and in the case of New York, the city as a whole – would have needed to pay the subsidies associated with luring Amazon into the area. These residents would have had to deal with the loud construction noises at all hours and the influx of traffic once the project launched.
When considered from a gentrification perspective, yes, this headquarters would give 25,000 people access to a better lifestyle, but it may strip a different and possibly larger community of their livelihoods.
Some might argue that the influx of people might have brought much-needed revenue to the small businesses surrounding the headquarters. Others would rebuttal that in anticipation of the grand opening, rent prices in the area would skyrocket, forcing those very small businesses out.
Whose decision is it really?
You can argue that these residents elected the government officials who have the final yay or nay. Unfortunately, money can sway politicians, and constituents aren’t voting so often for politicians to immediately face the consequences of their actions. And sometimes all of the options on the table are equally corrupt.
How do these people gain control?
In the case of Amazon HQ2, the people did take back control. They were loud and vocal in a way Amazon could not ignore. In the month leading up to Amazon’s decision to leave New York, people were active on social media about their distaste for the project.
They made it clear to their politicians that they weren’t happy about the HQ2 deal and politicians actually worked to improve the situation.
Ultimately, people were responsible for Amazon’s decision to leave.
How is Arlington fairing?
After Amazon reconsidered the deal with New York, it seems Arlington has been trepidatious about making any demands that could lead Amazon to view the environment as inhospitable.
Residents are upset that Amazon isn’t required to pay the construction workers building the headquarters with a living wage. They’re also upset that Amazon doesn’t have to pay for Arlington’s affordable housing trust fund.
While it might seem like all the work is in the hands of the government officials and Amazon executives negotiating the deal, New York is a great example of the power the people can have on these decisions.
Can and should Arlington residents follow New York’s lead? Even if Arlington residents don’t want to oust Amazon completely, can they use the strategy that New York residents used to negotiate better terms?
Traditionally, Arlington makes requests for contributions to the housing fund later in the negotiations process. Maybe a big social media push could move Amazon to make a bigger contribution to the fund. Maybe an uproar could cause them to make a statement promising to pay the construction workers a living wage. Maybe a united voice from the people of Arlington can make the new Amazon HQ a cause for celebration for how it will benefit the community instead of a pain point for the people.