Finally, the fight to win Amazon’s second headquarters has entered the Thunderdome.
On Wednesday, a day before bids are due, New Hampshire released its pitch for HQ2, and Massachusetts’ neighbors to the north took a novel approach: Insult comedy. The plan offers up a piece of real estate in Londonderry. But instead of doing much to tout that idea, it devoted an awful lot of space to nasty little nuggets about Boston.
“Boston is known for congested, decaying roads, and overcrowded subways,” the Granite State alleged, “what does New Hampshire offer to mitigate this?”
I’m stumped. Is it survivalist weirdos and cheap booze right off the interstate?
Boston, the bid declares, “has grown beyond capacity to the point where Boston actually had to withdraw from Olympic consideration because of the citizen’s [sic] fury over current untenable traffic congestion.”
Never mind that “traffic” isn’t why the Olympic bid died and that’s not how apostrophes work. Birthplace of American democracy? Finest array of higher education institutions the world over? No, in New Hampshire’s telling, this city is actually a burned-out hellscape in which people pay $4,000 a month for a tiny apartment before fighting their way down Fury Road for two hours every morning.
“Commuting into downtown Boston has become a congestion nightmare,” according to the bid, and … OK, well, this is mostly true, and truth is the ultimate defense against slander. But you know what else is a nightmare? Every half-baked presidential candidate taking up residence in your tiny state for six months every four years. And anyway, making hay on our bad traffic while simultaneously pitching a headquarters 45 miles away and only accessible by car is quite the bold gambit. This makes Worcester’s bid — “please take all our money” — seem dignified.
Maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that New Hampshire went this route. Taking random potshots at Massachusetts is kind of a cottage industry just over the border, where anybody who moved there more than 10 or 15 years ago despises anybody who moved there after them. Earlier this year, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu, without evidence, pinned his state’s devastating fentanyl problem on Lawrence. After the allegation turned out to be unprovable, he went back to pardoning bears or whatever.
Of course, the very same bid that repeatedly rags on Boston also boasts about New Hampshire’s proximity to our centers of culture and commerce. “All the benefits of Boston without all the headaches,” it says — we’re not a dystopian nightmare city, but we’re conveniently close to one! Taken together, this all veers dangerously close to old white-flight dog whistles about “congestion” and “decay” and “quality of life.”
The bid also includes a map of places you can get to by car from Londonderry in under an hour. This map either assumes that cars can now fly like helicopters, or some sort of separate traffic-free highway system that has not yet been invented. Maybe Amazon’s employees will deliver themselves to Londonderry by drone like packages?
To gaze upon this map is to enter some sort of alternate dimension where a “shovel ready” lot off some highway in New Hampshire has become the hub of the universe. Imagine drawing a map that boasts of how easy it is to get to Laconia, but leaves Providence and Hartford outside the circle of importance. In this magical place, driving to Logan is as simple and straightforward as taking a ride out to Keene. And apparently, moving to southern New Hampshire means “having dinner before a concert in Boston’s Italian North End.”
The second page of the document is a list of all of New Hampshire’s rankings on lists of varying dubiousness. It’s the second-best state, according to US News & World Report! (First best? Massachusetts). I’m not sure I would have included Manchester’s illustrious 37th “best city for outdoor activities” award from something called Niche.com, but you go with what you’ve got.
Maybe Amazon wants a big suburban office park headquarters, but that’s sure not what they seem to be doing in Seattle. There, the company has embraced the many benefits of cities and leaned on that appeal to lure young, talented workers by the thousands.
Through all its Boston-bashing, the New Hampshire bid seems to misunderstand this entirely. Instead, it has emerged from another era, where workers left suburban manses and drove open highways long distances to secluded, self-contained corporate motherships. The New Hampshire bid makes much of the state’s famous motto, but that vision of car-bound commutes doesn’t sound much like living free.
Besides, Amazon already tried the “Live Free” thing. Now it collects sales tax.