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2019 Best of Design Awards winners for Urban Design
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Announcing the winners of the 2019 AN Best of Design Awards
Perhaps this signals something larger about architecture in 2019, or even the end of the 2010s. Is U.S. architecture becoming more formally muted? Or is 2019 just a quiet year? Is this phenomenon an ongoing reaction to something in the media that has promoted design that is flashier and more figurally exuberant? Or is this just a one-year trend? Our jury this year was a very savvy group that included old AN friends and some new faces as well. By provoking discussions and offering up new ideas, the jury is essential to the mission of AN. We hope you enjoy this selection of winners, honorable mentions, and editor’s picks, and we look forward to hearing from you again next year with new projects! We will be updating this list over the next few days with winner and honorable mention profiles. To see the complete feature, don't miss our 2019 Best of Design Awards Annual issue, out now! 2019 AN Best of Design Awards Building of the Year Winner TWA Hotel Beyer Blinder Belle Planners LLP LUBRANO CIAVARRA Architects New York City Finalists Cottonwood Canyon Experience Center Signal Architecture + Research Wasco, Oregon Anita May Rosenstein Campus, Los Angeles LGBT Center Leong Leong Killefer Flammang Architects Los Angeles Public Winner Anita May Rosenstein Campus, Los Angeles LGBT Center Leong Leong Killefer Flammang Architects Los Angeles Honorable Mentions Discovery Center, Îles-de-Boucherville National Park Smith Vigeant Architectes Hunters Point Community Library Steven Holl Architects Editors' Picks Tsleil-Waututh Administration and Health Centre Lubor Trubka Associates Architects Louis Armstrong Stadium ROSSETTI Urban Design Winner Brooklyn Army Terminal Public Realm WXY Brooklyn, NY Honorable Mention City Thread SPORTS Cultural Winner Menil Drawing Institute Johnston Marklee Houston Honorable Mentions Ruby City Adjaye Associates New York State Equal Rights Heritage Center nARCHITECTS Editors' Pick The Evans Tree House at Garvan Woodland Gardens modus studio Saint Mary Mercy Chapel PLY+ Exhibition Design Winner Calder: Nonspace STEPHANIEGOTO Los Angeles Honorable Mentions Nature—Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial Studio Joseph VENTS TEMPO | Catty Dan Zhang Editors' Picks Model Projections Agency—Agency Common Threads ikd Green Building Winner Galenas Medical Cannabis Cultivation Facility Urban Green Design Akron, Ohio Honorable Mentions Tree Pittsburgh Headquarters GBBN 370 Jay Street, New York University Mitchell Giurgola Editor's Picks Marvin Gaye Recreation Center ISTUDIO Architects Greenport Passive House The Turett Collaborative Adjaye Associates New York City Honorable Mentions CME Center Krueck + Sexton 277 Mott Street Toshiko Mori Architect Editors' Picks University of Cincinnati Gardner Neuroscience Institute Perkins and Will 280 St Marks DXA studio Young Architects Winner bld.us Infrastructure Winner North Chiller Plant, University of Massachusetts Amherst Leers Weinzapfel Associates Amherst, Massachusetts Honorable Mentions Richmond Water Transit Ferry Terminal Marcy Wong Donn Logan Architects BART Market Street Canopies VIA Architecture Editors' Picks Frances Appleton Pedestrian Bridge Rosales + Partners Northeastern University Pedestrian Crossing Payette Commercial — Hospitality Winner Furioso Vineyards Waechter Architecture Dundee, Oregon Honorable Mentions McDonald’s Chicago Flagship Ross Barney Architects The Carpenter Hotel Specht Architects Editors' Picks Heritage Savvy Studio Lumen at Beacon Park Touloukian Touloukian Commercial — Retail Winner Apple Scottsdale Fashion Square Ennead Architects Scottsdale, Arizona Honorable Mentions Sunshine and National Retail Center Dake Wells Architecture Christian Dior Myefski Architects Editors' Pick Grant Gallery Ted Porter Architecture The Culver Steps Ehrlich Yanai Rhee Chaney Architects Commercial — Office Winner 1000 Maine Avenue KPF FOX Architects Washington, D.C. Honorable Mentions 901 East Sixth Thoughtbarn Delineate Studio Solar Carve Studio Gang Editors' Pick American Express Sunrise Corporate Center Perkins and Will Interior — Workplace Winner HUSH Office Interior Inaba Williams and Kyle May New York City Honorable Mentions ShareCuse Architecture Office Vrbo Headquarters Rios Clementi Hale Studios Editors' Picks McDonald’s HQ Studio O+A Conga Headquarters DLR Group Interior — Institutional Winner Southeast Raleigh Magnet High School Great Hall Renovation tonic design Raleigh, North Carolina Honorable Mentions The Center for Fiction BKSK Architects The Children’s Library at Concourse House Michael K Chen Architecture Editors' Picks Countryside Community Church Alley Poyner Macchietto Architecture Gordon Chapel Renovation, St. Hilda’s and St. Hugh’s School MBB Interior — Retail Winner maharishi Tribeca Abruzzo Bodziak Architects New York City Honorable Mentions Malin+Goetz San Francisco Bernheimer Architecture Claus Porto New York tacklebox architecture Editors' Picks Notre Norman Kelley R13 Flagship Leong Leong Interior — Hospitality Winner Tamarindo Stayner Architects San Clemente, California Honorable Mentions All Square Architecture Office ROOST East Market Morris Adjmi Architects Editors' Picks Woodlark Hotel OFFICEUNTITLED The Fleur Room Rockwell Group Interior — Healthcare Winner Chelsea District Health Center Stephen Yablon Architecture New York City Honorable Mention Mount Sinai Pediatric Cardiac Intensive Care Unit Perkins Eastman YPMD Pediatric Neurology Clinic Synthesis Design + Architecture Editors' Pick NEXUS Club New York Morris Adjmi Architects Restoration & Preservation Winner Owe'neh Bupingeh Preservation Project Atkin Olshin Schade Architects Ohkay Owingeh, New Mexico Honorable Mentions Brant Foundation Art Building Gluckman Tang Avenue C Multi-Family Thoughtbarn Delineate Studio Editors' Picks Chicago Union Station Great Hall Restoration Goettsch Partners Boston City Hall Public Spaces Renovation Utile Healthcare Winner University of Cincinnati Gardner Neuroscience Institute Perkins and Will Cincinnati Honorable Mention Duke University Student Wellness Center Duda|Paine Architects MSK Nassau EwingCole Editor's Pick Sheila and Eric Samson Pavilion at Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic Foster + Partners Tia Clinic Rockwell Group Interior — Residential Winner Michigan Loft Vladimir Radutny Architects Chicago Honorable Mention Inaba Williamsburg Penthouse Inaba Williams Gallatin House Workstead Editors' Picks Watermark House Barker Associates Architecture Office Lakeview Penthouse Wheeler Kearns Architects Residential — Single Unit Winner Glass Cabin atelierRISTING Iowa Honorable Mentions Bigwin Island Club Cabins MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects Triple Barn House Mork Ulnes Architects Editors' Picks Ephemeral Edge Dean/Wolf Architects Manifold House David Jameson Architect Residential — Multiunit Winner 139 Schultz CPDA arquitectos Mexico City Honorable Mentions XS House ISA Origami Waechter Architecture Editors' Picks Solstice on the Park Studio Gang Bastion OJT Landscape — Residential Winner Malibu Overlook Stephen Billings Landscape Architecture & Michael Goorevich Malibu, California Honorable Mention Musician’s Garden Stephen Billings Landscape Architecture Landscape — Public Winner Josey Lake Park Clark Condon Cypress, Texas Honorable Mentions First Avenue Water Plaza SCAPE Landscape Architecture Pier 35 SHoP Architects Editors' Picks Scottsdale’s Museum of the West Colwell Shelor Landscape Architecture Drexel Square West 8 & SHoP Architects Education Winner Cottonwood Experience Center Signal Architecture + Research Wasco, Oregon Honorable Mentions Club de Niños y Niñas Centro de Colaboración Arquitectónica RISD Student Center WORKac Editors' Picks Santa Monica College Center for Media and Design + KCRW Media Center Clive Wilkinson Architects Cal Poly Pomona Student Services Building CO Architects Lighting — Outdoor Winner Lightweave FUTUREFORMS Washington D.C. Lighting - Indoor Winner TWA Hotel Beyer Blinder Belle Cooley Monato Studio New York City Building Renovation — Commercial Winner Ford Foundation Center for Social Justice Gensler New York City Honorable Mentions Apple Fifth Avenue Foster + Partners Avling Kitchen & Brewery LAMAS Editor's Picks Intelligentsia Bestor Architecture Olympic Tower, 645 Fifth Avenue MdeAS Architects Building Renovation — Civic Winner Keller Center Farr Associates Chicago Honorable Mention Centennial Planetarium Lemay + Toker Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art Sparano + Mooney Architecture Editors' Picks Oregon Conservation Center LEVER Architecture National Arts Centre Rejuvenation Diamond Schmitt Architects Building Renovation — Residential Winner Phillipsport Church House Architecture in Formation Wurtsboro, New York Honorable Mention 1/2 House NOW HERE Editors' Pick Case Room Geoffrey von Oeyen Design Adaptive Reuse Winner TWA Hotel Beyer Blinder Belle New York City Honorable Mentions Senate of Canada Building D Diamond Schmitt Architects Redfox Commons LEVER Architecture Editors' Picks Fifth Avenue Adaptive Re-use Inaba Williams 10 Jay Street ODA New York Temporary Installation Winner Soft Civic Bryony Roberts Studio Columbus, Indiana Honorable Mention Salvage Swings Somewhere Studio Editors' Picks Lawn for the National Building Museum Summer Block Party Rockwell Group Coshocton Ray Trace Behin Ha Design Studio New Materials Winner Grass House bld.us Washington, D.C. Honorable Mention Walking Assembly Matter Design & CEMEX Global R&D Digital Fabrication Winner Knitcandela Block Research Group, ETH Zürich & ZHCode, Zaha Hadid Architects Mexico City Architectural Representation Winner Support KEVIN HIRTH Co. New York City Honorable Mentions Other Medians Studio Ames Manual of Instructions NEMESTUDIO Editors' Picks Shaped Places of Carroll County New Hampshire EXTENTS Interim Urbanism: Youth, Dwelling, City N H D M Small Spaces Winner Small Wooden Pavilion MQ Architecture Garrison, New York Honorable Mentions Aesop Shaw DC David Jameson Architect Schaefer Residence Duo Dickinson Architect Student Work — Group Winner A Home for MJ Drury University Design-Build Program, Jordan Valley Community Health Center Springfield, Missouri Student Work — Individual Winner Museum/Park Design Alberto Arostegui, Savannah College of Art and Design Unbuilt — Urban Design Winner St. John's Park Ballman Khapalova New York City Honorable Mentions Pensacola Waterfront Framework SCAPE Landscape Architecture Pier 70 SITELAB urban studio Editors' Picks Chicago Transit Authority Damen Green Line Station Perkins and Will Boston Coastal Flood Resilience Design Guidelines & Zoning Overlay District Utile Research Winner Delirious Facade LAMAS Honorable Mentions The Water Alert and Testing Resource (WALTER) Ennead Architects USModernist Masters and Library Databases USModernist Editors' Picks Sound Pavilion UNC Charlotte Buoyant Ecologies Float Lab Architectural Ecologies Lab Unbuilt — Residential Winner Ambrosia Gensler Los Angeles Honorable Mentions Little Berkeley Kevin Daly Architects Stump House PARA Project Editors' Picks Aqualuna 3XN Micro Unit Studio Ames Unbuilt — Interior Winner Life on Mars: From Feces to Food Lydia Kallipoliti Mars Honorable Mention The Renovation and Reuse of a Historic Granite Bank musumanoco Unbuilt - Commercial Winner Aurora Belzberg Architects Mexico City Honorable Mention Surf Entertainment Facility BLUR Workshop Editors' Picks Folded Wings Form4 Architecture Nanotronics Smart Factory Rogers Partners Unbuilt — Cultural Winner Arkansas Arts Center Studio Gang Little Rock, Arkansas Honorable Mentions Richard Gilder Center for Science, Education, and Innovation at the American Museum of Natural History Studio Gang Terminal B Performance Venue Touloukian Touloukian Editors' Pick SynaCondo Studio ST Architects Unbuilt — Education Winner Otto Speech School Charles Rose Architects Chestnut Ridge, New York Honorable Mentions University of Arkansas Center for Farm and Food System Entrepreneurship University of Arkansas Community Design Center Church Hill North O’Neill McVoy Architects Editors' Picks Del Mar College Southside Campus Gensler Tecnano FGP Atelier Unbuilt — Green Building Winner Sendero Verde Handel Architects New York City Honorable Mention Coleridge Street Residences Touloukian Touloukian Unbuilt — Public Winner Adams Street Branch Library NADAAA Boston Honorable Mentions Northeast Bronx YMCA Marvel Architects 7Hills Homeless Day Center University of Arkansas Community Design Center Editors' Picks Memorial Garden for Victims of Gun Violence Svigals + Partners Bus Shelter Design for the City of Miami Beach Pininfarina Unbuilt — Landscape Winner Boston Children's Hospital Green Master Plan Mikyoung Kim Design Boston Honorable Mentions Tom Lee Park SCAPE Landscape Architecture and Studio Gang The Clearing: Sandy Hook Permanent Memorial SWA Group Editors' Picks Beaubien Woods Action Plan Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture Chicago South Lakefront Framework Plan SmithGroup A special thanks to our 2019 AN Best of Design Awards Jury! Jaffer Kolb, Cofounder, New Affiliates Sara Lopergolo, Partner, Selldorf Architects Carlos Madrid III, Associate Director, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill Anne Rieselbach, Program Director, The Architectural League of New York Oana Stănescu, Founder, Oana Stănescu Studio
One Month of Design
AN rounds up all the must-see events happening this Archtober
In an ongoing effort to reimagine the transit nexus at Broadway Junction in East New York and its surrounding built environment, officials in Brooklyn have released preliminary ideas of what the area could look like. City leaders convened the Broadway Junction Working Group for the first time in October 2017 and, working with WXY Architecture + Urban Design, have since assembled a list of recommendations for improvements to the area in terms of transit equity, economic development, neighborhood amenities, and public space. With a series of interconnected subway stations that services the A, C, J, Z, and L lines, the area presents a significant opportunity to provide, as the recommendations suggest, “more good jobs, new retail and services, and active streets and public spaces—with an improved and accessible transit hub at its core.”
Currently, Broadway Junction suffers from a variety of factors that inhibit its potential as a hub of economic and social activity. Poor lighting under the elevated subway structures, as well as numerous parking lots in the immediate vicinity of the stations, make the surrounding blocks particularly hostile to people. With the integration of seating, greenery, public programming, and new infrastructural elements under the tracks, city officials and WXY hope to open up Broadway Junction’s public spaces for use by residents of the surrounding communities.
Overall, the plan calls for a mixed-use district that responds to the needs of the neighborhood without risking the widespread displacement of small businesses and residents that often accompanies major transit-related development projects. With the resources of the New York City Department of Small Business Services (SBS) and the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) at their disposal, business owners will be able to take advantage of commercial tenant legal services, business training courses, and other services. There will also be an effort to render the streetscape safer for pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists alike. Improvements to road circulation and various traffic-calming measures will ensure that those who drive, take transit, or walk in the area will be able to interact under less dangerous conditions. The subway stations at the junction will also be retrofitted to be more accessible to passengers with disabilities.
The Broadway Junction Working Group is supported by the Department of City Planning (DCP), the New York City Department of Transportation (NYC DOT), the New York City Department of Parks & Recreation (DPR), among other agencies.
Torts, Tech, Towers
Weekend edition: Tech urbanism, liability explained, and more
In most major cities of the world, an urban tech landscape has emerged. One day, we were working on our laptops at Starbucks, and the next, we were renting desks at WeWork. We embedded our small architectural and design firms in low-rent spaces in old factories and warehouses, and then we emerged as “TAMI” (technology, advertising, media, and information) tenants, heating up the commercial real estate market. Friends who could write computer code started businesses in their apartments before moving into tech incubators and accelerators, which then morphed into a “startup ecosystem.” Though a competitive city in the 1990s might only have had one cutely named cluster of startups—New York’s Silicon Alley, San Francisco’s Media Gulch—by the 2010s, many cities were building “innovation districts.” How did this happen? And what does it mean for these cities’ futures?
The simplest explanation is that cities are catching up to the digital economy. If computers and the web are one of the primary means of production for the 21st century, all cities need the infrastructure—broadband, connectivity, flexible office space—to support them. Companies that control the means of production also need raw material—the data that newly “smart” cities can provide—to develop concepts, test prototypes, and market their wares. Local governments and business leaders have always reshaped cities around the businesses that profit from new technology; In the 19th century, they built railroad stations, dug subway tunnels, and laid sewage pipes; in the 20th century, they wired for electricity and erected office towers. Maybe we should ask why it has taken cities so long to rebuild for digital technology.
Inertia is one answer, and money is another. Entrenched elites don’t readily change course, especially if a new economy would challenge their influence on local politics and labor markets. Think about the long dominance of the auto industry in Detroit and the financial industry in New York, both late converts to digital technologies like self-driving cars and electronic banking, respectively.
Another reason for cities’ slow awakening to the tech economy is the post–World War II prominence of suburban office parks and research centers, part of the mass suburbanization of American society. On the East Coast, tech talent began to migrate from cities in the early 1940s, when Bell Labs, the 20th-century engineering powerhouse, moved from Lower Manhattan to a large tract of land in suburban New Jersey. A few years later, on the West Coast, Stanford University and the technology company Varian Associates spearheaded the construction of an electronics research park on a university-owned site of orange groves that later became known as Silicon Valley.
Silicon Valley got the lion’s share of postwar federal government grants and contracts from the military for microwave electronics innovation, missile research, and satellite communications. Venture capital (VC) soon followed. Although VC firms began in New York and Boston, by the 1960s and ’70s they were setting up shop in the San Francisco Bay Area.
The Valley’s hegemony was solidified in the 1980s by the rise of the personal computer industry and the VCs who got rich by investing in it. The suburban tech landscape so artfully represented in popular mythology by Silicon Valley’s DIY garages and in physical reality by its expansive corporate campuses was both pragmatically persuasive and culturally pervasive. Its success rested on a triple helix of government, business, and university partnerships, defining an era from Fairchild, Intel, and Hewlett-Packard (the first wave of major digital technology companies) to Apple, Google, and Facebook.
In contrast to the suburban postwar growth of Silicon Valley, the urban tech landscape was propelled by the rise of software in the early 2000s and gained ground after the economic crisis of 2008. Software was easier and cheaper to develop than computers and silicon chips—it wasn’t tied to equipment or talent in big research universities. It was made for consumers. Most important, with the development of the iPhone and the subsequent explosion of social media platforms after 2007, software increasingly took the form of apps for mobile devices. This meant that software startups could be scaled, a crucial point for venture capital. For cities, however, the critical point was that anyone, anywhere, could be both an innovator and an entrepreneur.
The 2008 economic crisis plunged cities into a cascade of problems. Subprime mortgages cratered, leaving severely leveraged households and financial institutions adrift. Banks failed if they didn’t get United States government lifelines. Financial jobs at all levels disappeared; local tax revenues plummeted. While mayors understood that they had to end their dependence on the financial sector—a realization most keenly felt in New York—they also faced long-term shrinkage in manufacturing sectors and office vacancies.
London had already tried to counter deindustrialization with the Docklands solution: Waterfront land was redeveloped for new media and finance, and unused piers and warehouses were converted for cultural activities. In Spain, this strategy was taken further in the 1990s by the construction of the Guggenheim Bilbao museum and the clearing of old industrial plants from that city’s waterfront. By the early 2000s, Barcelona’s city government was building both a new cultural district and an “innovation district” for digital media, efforts that bore a striking resemblance to the 1990s market-led development of the new media district in Manhattan’s Silicon Alley and the growth of tech and creative offices in Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood.
Until the economic crisis hit, both spontaneous and planned types of urban redevelopment were connected to the popular “creative city” model promoted by Charles Landry in London and Richard Florida in Pittsburgh (later, Toronto). In 2009, however, economic development officials wanted a model that could create more jobs. They seized on the trope of “Innovation and Entrepreneurship” that had been circulating around business schools since the 1980s, channeling the spirit of the economic historian Joseph Schumpeter and popularized in a best-selling book by that title by the management guru Peter Drucker. Adopted by researchers at the Brookings Institution, urban innovation districts would use public-private partnerships to create strategic concentrations of workspaces for digital industries. It seemed like a brilliant masterstroke to simultaneously address three crucial issues that kept mayors awake at night: investments, jobs, and unused, low-value buildings, and land.
In the absence of federal government funding, real estate developers would have to be creative. They built new projects with money from the city and state governments, the federal EB-5 Immigrant Investor Visa Program for foreign investors, and urban impact funding that flowed through investment banks like Goldman Sachs. Federal tax credits for renovating historic buildings and investing in high-poverty areas were important.
Though all major cities moved toward an “innovation economy” after 2009, New York’s 180-degree turn from finance to tech was the most dramatic. The bursting of the dot-com bubble in 2000 and 2001, followed by the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center and an economic recession, initially kept the city from endorsing the uncertainty of tech again. Michael Bloomberg, mayor from 2001 to 2013, was a billionaire whose personal fortune and namesake company came from a fusion of finance and tech, most notably the Bloomberg terminal, a specially configured computer that brings real-time data to stock brokers’ and analysts’ desks. Yet, as late as 2007, Mayor Bloomberg, joined by New York’s senior senator Chuck Schumer, promoted New York as the self-styled financial capital of the world, a city that would surely triumph over its only serious rival, London. The 2008 financial crisis crumpled this narrative and turned the Bloomberg administration toward tech.
By 2009, the city’s business elites believed that New York’s salvation depended on producing more software engineers. This consensus motivated the mayor and his economic development officials to build big, organizing a global competition for a university that could create a dynamic, postgraduate engineering campus in New York. Cornell Tech emerged as the winner, a partnership between Cornell University and the Israel Institute of Technology. Between 2014 and 2017, the new school recruited high-profile professors with experience in government research programs, university classrooms, and corporate labs. They created a slew of partnerships with the city’s major tech companies, and the resulting corporate-academic campus made Roosevelt Island New York’s only greenfield innovation district. Not coincidentally, the founding dean was elected to Amazon’s board of directors in 2016.
The Bloomberg administration also partnered with the city’s public and private universities, mainly the aggressively expanding New York University (NYU), to open incubators and accelerators for tech startups. After NYU merged with Polytechnic University, a historic engineering school in downtown Brooklyn, the Bloomberg administration made sure the new engineering school could lease the vacant former headquarters of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority nearby, where NYU’s gut renovation created a giant tech center.
Meanwhile, the Brooklyn waterfront was booming. The Brooklyn Navy Yard added advanced manufacturing tenants and art studios to its traditional mix of woodworking and metalworking shops, food processors, and suppliers of electronics parts, construction material, and office equipment, and began to both retrofit old machine shops for “green” manufacturing and build new office space. While tech and creative offices were running out of space in DUMBO, the heads of the downtown Brooklyn and DUMBO business improvement districts came up with the idea of marketing the whole area, with the Navy Yard, as “the Brooklyn Tech Triangle.” With rezoning, media buzz, and a strategic design plan, what began as a ploy to fill vacant downtown office buildings moved toward reality.
Established tech companies from Silicon Valley and elsewhere also inserted themselves into the urban landscape. Google opened a New York office for marketing and advertising in 2003 but expanded its engineering staff a few years later, buying first one, then two big buildings in Chelsea: an old Nabisco bakery and the massive former headquarters of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Facebook took AOL’s old offices in Greenwich Village. On the next block, IBM Watson occupied a new office building designed by Fumihiko Maki.
Jared Kushner’s brother, the tech investor Jonathan Kushner, joined two other developers to buy the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ former headquarters and printing plant on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. The developers converted the buildings into tech and creative offices and called the little district Dumbo Heights. By 2015, the growth of both venture capital investments and startups made New York the second-largest “startup ecosystem” in the world after Silicon Valley. Within the next three years, WeWork (now the We Company) surpassed Chase Bank branches as Manhattan’s largest commercial tenant.
All this development was both crystallized and crucified by Amazon’s decision to open half of a “second” North American headquarters (HQ2) in the Long Island City neighborhood of Queens, New York, in 2018. Amazon organized a competition similar to the Bloomberg contest that resulted in Cornell Tech, but in this case, the contest was a bidding war between 238 cities that offered tax credits, help with land assemblage, and zoning dispensations in return for 50,000 tech jobs that the company promised to create. But in announcing its selection, Amazon divided the new headquarters in two, supposedly placing half the jobs in New York and the other half in Crystal City, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C. Many New Yorkers erupted in protest rather than celebration.
The amount of tax credits offered to the very highly valued tech titan, almost $3 billion in total, appeared to rob the city of funding for its drastic needs: fixing the antiquated subway system, repairing the aging public housing stock, and building affordable housing. The decision-making process, tightly controlled by Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, enraged New York City Council members, none of whom had been given a role in either negotiating or modifying the deal. The deal itself was closely supervised by New York State’s Economic Development Corporation behind closed doors, without any provision for public input or approval.
Housing prices in Long Island City rose as soon as the deal was announced. A city economic development representative admitted that perhaps half of the jobs at HQ2 would not be high-paying tech jobs, but in human resources and support services. In a final, painful blow, Amazon promised to create only 30 jobs for nearly 7,000 residents of Queensbridge Houses, the nearby public housing project that is the largest in the nation.
Amazon representatives fanned their opponents’ fury at public hearings held by the New York City Council. They said the company would not remain neutral if employees wanted to unionize, and they refused to offer to renegotiate any part of the deal. Opponents also protested the company’s other business practices, especially the sale of facial recognition technology to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE). Yet surveys showed that most registered New York City voters supported the Amazon deal, with an even higher percentage of supporters among Blacks and Latinos. Reflecting the prospect of job opportunities, construction workers championed the deal while retail workers opposed it. The governor and mayor defended the subsidies as an investment in jobs. Not coincidentally, Amazon planned to rent one million square feet of vacant space in One Court Square, the former Citigroup Building in Long Island City, before building a new campus on the waterfront that would be connected by ferry to Cornell Tech.
After two months of relentless, vocal criticism, in a mounting wave of national resentment against Big Tech, Amazon withdrew from the deal. Elected officials blamed each other, as well as a misinformed, misguided public for losing the economic development opportunity of a lifetime.
Yet it wasn’t clear that landing a tech titan like Amazon would spread benefits broadly in New York City. A big tech company could suck talent and capital from the local ecosystem, deny homegrown startups room to expand, and employ only a small number of “natives.”
From San Francisco to Seattle to New York, complaints about tech companies’ effect on cities center on privatization and gentrification. In San Francisco, private buses ferry highly paid Google workers from their homes in the city to the company’s headquarters in Silicon Valley, green space and cafes in the Mid-Market neighborhood proliferate to serve Twitter employees and other members of the technorati, low-income Latinos from the Mission district are displaced by astronomical rents—all of these factors stir resentment about Big Tech taking over. In Seattle, Amazon’s pressure on the city council to rescind a tax on big businesses to help pay for homeless shelters also aroused critics’ ire. Until recently, moreover, tech titans have been unwilling to support affordable housing in the very markets their high incomes roil: East Palo Alto and Menlo Park in California, and Redmond, Washington.
It remains to be seen whether urban innovation districts will all be viable, and whether they will spread wealth or instead create highly localized, unsustainable bubbles. Venture capital is already concentrated in a small number of cities and in a very few ZIP codes within these cities. According to the MIT economist David Autor, although the best “work of the future” is expanding, it is concentrated in only a few superstar cities and only represents 5 percent of all U.S. jobs.
Yet urban tech landscapes emerge from a powerful triple helix reminiscent of Silicon Valley. Elected officials promise jobs, venture capitalists and big companies make investments, and real estate developers get paid. Though these landscapes glitter brightly compared to the dead spaces they replace, they don’t offer broad participation in planning change or the equitable sharing of rewards.
Sharon Zukin is a Professor of Sociology at the City University of New York, Brooklyn College, and is author of the forthcoming book The Innovation Complex: Cities, Tech, and the New Economy.