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NYT Op-Ed Argues Amazon 'Took Seattle's Soul' ( 285

New York Times columnist Timothy Egan was part of the paper's Pulitzer Prize-winning team in 2001. Now he's written an op-ed arguing Amazon "took Seattle's soul." An anonymous reader writes: Since Amazon arrived "we've been overwhelmed by a future we never had any say over," Egan writes, with a message for cities competing to be the site of Amazon's next headquarters. Amazon now owns as much office space as Seattle's next 40 biggest employers combined, according to an analysis by the Seattle Times, "a mind-boggling 19 percent of all prime office space in the city, the most for any employer in a major U.S. city...more than twice as large as any other company in any other big U.S. city."

Egan notes Amazon is offering 50,000 high-paying jobs and $5 billion worth of investments, "a once-in-a-century, destiny-shaping event," but "You think you can shape Amazon? Not a chance. It will shape you... 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... [M]edian 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.

Wages have risen faster in Amazon's Seattle than anywhere else in America, and while Amazon changed the city's character, it also poured $38 billion into the city's economy. (Besides Amazon's own 40,000 employees, it also attracted another 50,000 new jobs.) "To the next Amazon lottery winner I would say, enjoy the boom," Egan concludes, "but be careful what you wish for."
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NYT Op-Ed Argues Amazon 'Took Seattle's Soul'

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  • never had it (Score:4, Insightful)

    by turkeydance ( 1266624 ) on Saturday October 21, 2017 @07:51PM (#55411273)
    can't take it
    • I have proof that Seattle had soul, at least at one time: []

    • Re:never had it (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Dutch Gun ( 899105 ) on Saturday October 21, 2017 @09:17PM (#55411513)

      Rich tech companies aren't new to the Seattle area (hint: Microsoft is just across Lake Washington in Redmond). It's just new to the city of Seattle proper. Far better to deal with the issues that come from a sudden boom than the opposite. Look at a city in decline to see how it *could* be.

      Dramatic change always shakes some people up, even if it's generally positive change. Yes, there are some growing pains, but I think Amazon is going to be a huge long-term net positive for the city.

  • "Not a good thing" (Score:3, Insightful)

    by SuperKendall ( 25149 ) on Saturday October 21, 2017 @07:59PM (#55411297)

    From summary :
    [M]edian home prices have doubled in five years, to $700,000. This is not a good thing

    It's always stunned me that people continue to make this argument. It's not good for incoming cops/teachers, but what about all of the cops and teachers that had been living there already for decades before? It is a massive windfall for them. Growth like that is in essence stoking a huge retirement bonus for everyone living in a city now. How can that possibly be a bad thing?

    Yes new incoming teachers and cops will have to pay more to live, and in smaller spaces. But some of that SHOULD be made up by significantly higher salaries for those positions as well, and if they are not getting said salaries that is a direct fault of the local government, and no-one else.

    Remember kids; any time you argue against general prosperity and growth you come off looking kind of dumb.

    • by Jzanu ( 668651 ) on Saturday October 21, 2017 @08:06PM (#55411317)
      All cities are dependent on complex support services to function, it is incredibly bad strategy to displace the workers who maintain it. Spatial relationships matter, that is what makes cities work. Pushing out the support layer means the city falls apart until budgets rise to cover increased costs from dis-agglomeration and scattering of labor increasing their costs in a vicious circle. The cop-out of blaming local government only works when the companies responsible for the bubble and especially their employees actually pay full and complete taxes, otherwise they only increase the demand on local services without paying for increasing capacity. That means less is available for everyone, if distribution were even. In practice distribution is not remotely even, so this directly means less for everyone else (the older residents), while the new rich few horde everything they can.
      • you just need to lower their quality of life substantially. You can get away with it to by getting each group (teachers, cops, cooks, mechanics) to blame the other group. It's been done this way for thousands of years with minimal side effects (you pay your cops bribes but it's still cheaper than a middle class salary). The system works... for the very wealthy. But the working class has fell for it since there was a working class.

        Oh, this is what government is for, btw. You build a powerful government a
      • it is incredibly bad strategy to displace the workers who maintain it.

        Working people are being pushed out by zoning laws and restrictions on the construction of affordable housing. Blaming that on Amazon is idiotic. If Seattle wants to be affordable to working people, they should approve a lot more building permits.

        • by Imrik ( 148191 ) on Sunday October 22, 2017 @10:14AM (#55412949) Homepage

          Unfortunately, they'd prefer to raise the cost of new housing so they can finance construction of affordable housing. This results in less housing overall but allows the local government to control more of the money while also getting more residents that depend on the government and who will vote to perpetuate it.

        • It's actually crazy easy to get a building permit in Seattle right now. (sic. My brother works as a building inspector in the area.) The fact is that why would anyone buy a crazy expensive piece of land and then build something "affordable" on it. That's insane. You can toss up one of those square box stick houses with 4 bedrooms and a postage stamp yard and sell it in a day for more than $750K. It isn't zoning and restrictions it's just the market working the way it's supposed to.

          Now if you want to bi

      • There was a system in the past that people serving buildings had special living quater accomodations that came with the job.

        It was not a bad system.

    • by xski ( 113281 ) on Saturday October 21, 2017 @08:30PM (#55411381)

      Remember kids; any time you argue against general prosperity and growth you come off looking kind of dumb.

      Ditto making simplistic statements on complex matters.

    • I don't live in SEA, but where I live, over the past 2 years the value of my house has risen about 10% and added about $200 to my mortgage. If their houses have doubled in value, then their property taxes have risen dramatically as well, significantly increasing their monthly payments. Government salaries rise slowly, so houses they could afford only a few years ago now put them in the red every month.
      • "the value of my house has risen about 10% and added about $200 to my mortgage..."

        Then you must be Canadian or British. Our mortgages stay the same as equity rises. But be careful, because they also stay the same if equity drops.

        • by jeff4747 ( 256583 ) on Sunday October 22, 2017 @12:16AM (#55411907)

          hen you must be Canadian or British. Our mortgages stay the same as equity rises.

          When you make your mortgage payment, you're also paying your property tax. The bank collects it from your payments and holds it in escrow until the property taxes are due. Because banks really hate it when the city forecloses on the property for back property taxes (and they like receiving interest-free loans).

          So that poster's mortgage payment likely went up due to the higher property tax payment. While calling the payment "my mortgage" is not pedantically correct, people generally drop "payment" when talking about such issues.

          • Which is why a lot of States limit the taxed value from rising more than a certain percentage each year, even if the assessed value skyrockets.

        • by Megane ( 129182 )

          I'll rephrase what was stated in another reply. In the US, most mortgages pay the property tax and roll it into the monthly interest payments via an escrow account. This ensures that the property doesn't get repossessed for failure to pay the taxes.

          Basically, a sharply increasing property value is only good if you both own the property outright and the property tax does not increase beyond your ability to pay it... or if you were about to sell it and move out of town anyhow.

    • by epine ( 68316 )

      How can that possibly be a bad thing?

      Some people win, therefore no people lose. Nice argument you got there, shame if something should happen to it.

      You don't even seem to realize that families are multi-generational affairs.

      In a free market, anyone can change their location at any time in response to changing economic conditions. But just try to take your spouse or your social network with you at the same time.

      Winner: affluence. Loser: social cohesion.

      There, was that actually so difficult to figure out?

  • by Guppy ( 12314 ) on Saturday October 21, 2017 @08:27PM (#55411367)

    Although Amazon has stated that they plan to establish a "2nd" HQ that is to be equal to their first, I have to wonder if the motivation is to set up an alternative location that could eventually surpass Seattle and become the primary HQ. It's apparent that there is growing resentment over Amazon's impact on the city, and maybe Amazon is planning ahead for a day when the local political environment is too hostile to support its continued growth.

    If that happens, the locals anti-Amazon crowd may end up pondering the wisdom of being careful what you wish for.

    • by guruevi ( 827432 )

      The problem is that they've grown too large to sustain their own growth. It makes more sense to set up second headquarters far away from there if the costs are lower.

      So because of Amazon, costs have gone up for real estate and wages, but Amazon is also paying these costs, basically eating it's own tail.

    • by Sarusa ( 104047 )

      The anti-Amazon crowd wouldn't mind if Amazon left and took half the tech jobs. Just makes it more of a 'hipster'* / counterculture paradise like Portland and Detroit - the inner bit, which is all that counts since that's where the non-brown people are.

      * Provide your own definition since nobody can agree on one.

    • Amazon and Microsoft contribute to making Seattle a MISERABLE place to live. The world, not just Seattle, needs better city management. (Posting this again, with improvements.)

      Amazon: Worse than Wal-Mart: Amazon's sick brutality and secret history of ruthlessly intimidating workers [] (February 23, 2014)

      Amazon: Inside Amazon: Wrestling Big Ideas in a Bruising Workplace [] (August 15, 2015) Quote: "The company is conducting an experiment in how far it can push white-collar workers..."

      Amazon: Amazon Under Fire Over Alleged Worker Abuse in Germany [] (February 19, 2013)

      Microsoft: Microsoft Is Filled With Abusive Managers And Overworked Employees, Says Tell-All Book [] (May 23, 2012) The Microsoft headquarters is in Redmond, part of the Seattle metropolitan area.

      Seattle: Together with Amazon, Microsoft, and inadequate city management, Seattle is an extremely miserable place:

      Traffic: Seattle one of the worst U.S. cities for traffic congestion, tied with NYC [] (March 31, 2015) Quote: "An additional 23 minutes a day spent in traffic may not sound like much, but when it adds up over a year it becomes 89 hours." (Whoever wrote that must be accustomed to Seattle misery. An additional 23 minutes a day spent in traffic sounds HORRIBLE.)

      Slow internet: Many areas of Seattle have poor internet connections. See the article, These places have the slowest Internet in the country []. (June 25, 2015) Quote: "... Seattle ... CenturyLink (CTL) customers trying to access particular sites from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. will have unbearably slow speeds."

      Important questions for city managers and residents of Amazon's new city: 1) Do you want to invite a company to your city that has a history of abusiveness? 2) Could the managers of Amazon's new city manage Amazon's growth, or would it be almost completely out of their control?
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by KC0A ( 307773 )

        The August 15, 2015 article was a hatchet job. The Times reporters interviewed a handful of unhappy ex-employees and gave Amazon no opportunity to respond in the article. Amazon did respond later ( and anyone who quotes the article should also mention the Amazon's response. Around Amazon HQ the article was considered laughable to the point that someone created a "desk-crying-interest" mailing list. Seriously, I've never seen

    • by Frosty Piss ( 770223 ) * on Saturday October 21, 2017 @09:37PM (#55411569)

      It's apparent that there is growing resentment over Amazon's impact on the city, and maybe Amazon is planning ahead for a day when the local political environment is too hostile to support its continued growth.

      The net effect of Amazon leaving Seattle would be like the auto industry leaving Detroit. There would be a mass exodus of hipsters, and in a sense the Amazon Bubble would pop leaving a significant number of losers.

      And I'm all for it.

    • So the First Amazon, on the farthest reaches of the American continent, was based on technology and engineering. The Second Amazon, its location kept secret but as far from the First Amazon as possible in the oldest American city, was based on persuasion and manipulating customers' minds?

      And when the First Amazon fails/falls, the Second Amazon will already have taken over without anyone knowing about it. But then the whole thing will be proved a sham as everything was a scheme hatched by the first inte

    • Great idea. I would piggyback on that and ask whether it will be used as a bargaining chip instead of just an eventual move.

    • Shop around for a better deal on taxes. Moving the HQ to Pittsburgh makes sense because of how low the wages and cost of living is. All that money goes right back into the company's pocket.

  • When costs for housing rises, the city gets more property tax income, criminal activity goes down and the city can give police officers and teachers their much needed raises while the schools get better. If Amazon built outside the city, like many companies at one point did (eg. the Google and Apple campus), then you complain about companies destroying the small towns with zero-tax deals and using land that was once grasslands and wildlife while not giving back to the community.

    It doesn't stop the teachers and police officers that live there from continuing to live there and if they want to, they can sell the house for a tidy profit, get themselves into a better position, go live in the suburbs, get better educated or retire early.

    We're also very sad the fish mongers no longer occupy the houses near the river or the horse buggy makers near the city gates.

    • by zzyzx ( 15139 )

      Property tax doesn't work like that in King County. The amount collected is fixed and it's divvied up by figuring out your ratio of appraised value to the county as a whole. As my house has gone up in value, my taxes have gone up some years and down others, depending on how the year went.

      • Property tax doesn't work like that in King County. The amount collected is fixed and it's divvied up by figuring out your ratio of appraised value to the county as a whole. As my house has gone up in value, my taxes have gone up some years and down others, depending on how the year went.

        Tax revenue goes up when business boom, due to the increased income that companies like Amazon are being taxed on, while rates should more or less stay the same or fluctuate only slightly. In my neck of the woods, some communities offer far superior services such as schools, police and fire, recreation facilities, roads, etc., because they have large corporate tax bases, and often a lot of wealthy residents. In some cases, they are also able to keep rates lower because the per capita income they are taxing

        • uvajed_ekil, note that zzyzx said that net property taxes for the county are fixed. As a resident of Seattle's host county, King, I can attest to that. I live in rural King county and as the Urban core's property values went way up mine remained relatively fixed despite a increase in the county tax due to new levies. My rural property valuation has just started to increase post recession so I am now seeing my bill go up. I don't know if Washington state is unique or not, but yes, property levies are in
    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      Costs rise because demand rises. Demand rises due to a growing economy. Another time Seattle's economy grew this fast was during the Alaska gold rush. Seattle was the outfitter and jumping off point for the prospectors. And often where the wealthy ones brought their money back to.

      This boom also attracted large numbers of unemployed people looking for opportunities that never materialized. These people ended up living along what was known as Skid road []. Now they arrive, hoping for some of that Amazon gold, o

    • by Imrik ( 148191 )

      Re do the calculation with the increased money going towards subsidizing homelessness.

  • I never knew Seattle before Microsoft, but through the 90's and 00's, Microsoft (and maybe a bit of Intel, both of whom I was a customer of through this time) was a dominant force there.

    Isn't this a case of one artificial culture replacing another?

    • I grew up about 40 miles to the south of Seattle, then lived in the city from 1978 to 1990. My wife and I decided to move out of Seattle at that point, after we decided to start a family (we weren’t fans of the schools). This was well before Amazon existed, but even back then locals were lamenting the loss of the Seattle we’d known. You can track down episodes of Almost Live from that time period (an iconic local comedy sketch show) and find others who grew up here expressing similar sentiments.

  • when Frazier was cancelled.

  • So does the submitter suggest Amazon set up in the middle of a desert where there's no Impact? Does the desert have highly educated workers? A diverse environment and pool of talent to select from? Infrastructure? Proximity to Colleges?

    The first rule of starting off or making expansions to any business to minimize the self cost by getting partners or investors. Amazon isn't going to set up in the middle of nowhere to build up from nothing like los vegas for the good of all, nor should it expect to.
  • by boudie2 ( 1134233 ) on Saturday October 21, 2017 @10:00PM (#55411625)
    Earthquake insurance in a seismically active state like Washington is expensive. For a brick home, worth $500,000 the NW Insurance Council estimates rates could be as low as $3 for each $1,000 of the home's value to as much as $15. That works out to an annual premium of between $1,500 to $7,500 per year.
  • The NY Times seems oddly obsessed with Seattle. I did a search on the NYT web site to see if I am imagining things, but there were a lot of stories there on events and trends in Seattle that I would think only matter to people who live in Seattle.

  • It's a good thing Chicken Little didn't get paid for clicks. I'm sure that more than the sky would have been falling.

    So what about the Boeing collapse of the early 70's? []

    What about Seattle being named "Most Livable City" in the early 90's after which the Californication occurred?

    The lack of perspective and knowledge from journalists does more damage than anything Amazon could ever do.

  • by PixetaledPikachu ( 1007305 ) on Sunday October 22, 2017 @03:49AM (#55412309)
    Absolutely! Instead of Seattle, they should have taken their money and job opportunity to Bangalore
  • There are so many medium sized cities across the US that would love to have the problems that Seattle has. Growth? Check! Great jobs that aren't going away any time soon? Check! Rising income? Check!

    Someone is going to complain no matter what happens. If nobody invests in your city (see Detroit), then it's been abandoned by the high tech economy. If they do, then it's taking away the soul of the city. Ridiculous.

  • I live in Cleveland. They can have the soul.

  • Put it in Dallas. Great transportation hub and it's trying really hard to buy itself a soul.
  • You don't get to control other people. If a company and its employees want to move into a city, as long as they are making mutually agreeable free market transactions with private land owners to achieve that, tough luck!

    If you have a problem, move. No one owns a city. You own your own property (so don't sell it/rent it to a corporation). If you rent, you own nothing, and are free to move when you want to.

The greatest productive force is human selfishness. -- Robert Heinlein