We didn’t get Amazon’s new headquarters, but we should act as if we did
Word that Boston hadn’t landed Amazon’s second headquarters didn’t come as much of a surprise Tuesday, because the local bid had seemed to be on life support for ages. And in this booming city, it doesn’t feel like a huge loss either.
Boston lost out to Arlington, Va., and Long Island City, in Queens, in the big competition. Depending on whom you ask, the city fell short because of a shortage of office space or a mediocre transit system or because it wouldn’t agree to cough up billions of dollars in tax breaks.
Major heartbreak or minor inconvenience, the loss is another data point in the argument that Boston isn’t quite the world-class city we’d like to believe we are. It joins the ill-fated bid for the 2024 Summer Olympics as an example of municipal overreach.
The Amazon bid always made me uneasy. I worried about what a successful bid would do to a housing market that is already driving working-class people out of the city in droves. Losing Amazon may not do anything to slow that trend, but winning it would surely have exacerbated it.
As soon as the decision was announced, grumbling ensued that it would worsen income inequality in both of the winning cities. That had been a concern here as well. “Honestly, I’m relieved,” said City Councilor Lydia Edwards, whose district includes Suffolk Downs, which would have been an Amazon site in one version of the Boston bid. “We’re in the middle of an economic boom that we’re still struggling to get our arms around. I think we dodged a bullet.”
The key now is not missing the opportunity this presents.
Winning the Amazon bid would have forced the state to address some of its biggest issues, including housing and transportation. Why do we need Amazon to deal with those problems?
Through the recent campaign season, we were treated to a lot of rhetoric about how far the state has come in terms of addressing our infrastructure problems. But if you drive anywhere during rush hour — which now feels like 16 hours a day — you know that we have plenty of work to do. If you ride the T every day, as I do, you probably chuckle at the notion that it has been “fixed.” Or maybe you swear.
Our housing woes are even worse. This is, of course, a great time for people with a ton of money. Or those with the wherewithal, or luck, to buy in places that have since exploded in value.
But for other people, millions of other people, the boom is simply forcing them out — farther from the city, farther from schools, farther from work. This is not, in the long term, a healthy development.
If Amazon were coming to East Boston, the T really would get fixed, no matter what it took. The challenges of building more affordable housing wouldn’t evaporate, but the effort would have suddenly gained a powerful new constituency. Suburban communities that have considered this a city problem would have been under heavy pressure to do better.
What Amazon might have gotten from the city and state to come here has always been shrouded in mystery, but it’s safe to say it would have been substantial.
We should take every dime that would have gone to the company and spend it, now, on ourselves. And instead of waiting for a powerful corporation to push us to fix problems, we should, instead, do what we know we need to do.
Boston 2024 fell apart, in part, because of a sustained and persuasive argument by opponents that we could do better things with the money that would have been spent to host the Games. That was the right decision.
Likewise, Boston doesn’t need Amazon to be a world-class city. With the chase over, we can get back to the business of making Boston even better for the people who are already here.