Posts tagged with "Amazon":

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Decoding the colonial history behind Blue Origin's space settlements

In May 2019, Jeff Bezos made his case for why and how humans will occupy space, in a presentation titled “Going to Space to Benefit Earth.” The original presentation was made to a relatively small audience but is also viewable on the website of Blue Origin, the Bezos-owned spaceflight and rocketry company. In little less than an hour, he made the argument that for humans to continue to evolve and improve their living standards, we will need access to more resources and environments than the earth has to offer us. As part of the presentation, Bezos described his vision for what the off-planet colonies will look like and the short-term goals required to make them a reality. While most of the emphasis was placed on those short-term goals, which are to colonize and extract resources from the moon, the more compelling section of the presentation focused his long term goal for off-planet environments. Using a series of illustrative animations, Bezos explained how humans could inhabit space using O’Neil cylinders. This is technology initially imagined in the 1970s by Princeton University physics professor Gerard O’Neil. There are plenty of other people, such as Fred Scharmen, who have already written about the history behind extraterrestrial colonies and their cultural impacts, so instead, I would like to focus on the even older representational techniques that influenced Blue Origin's vision of the future. Bezos used four images to illustrate and emphasize a set of important points that he makes to re-enforce his vision. The first of these points is that Blue Origin's space habitats would not be made up of larger versions of the international space stations but of manmade environments capable of supporting populations that are the equivalent of small to medium-sized cities. The second is that these orbital landscapes could vary in use (and simulated gravity through the adjustment of their rotational speeds), including recreational, farming, and technical purposes. The third is, that despite being removed from the surface of the Earth, the architecture could be made to be both visionary and familiar, allowing colonizers to maintain their cultural and spatial references while experimenting with novel landscapes. Despite being new natures, the landscapes and ecologies presented by Blue Origin were highly familiar places. This was an important part of the presentation because it allowed the audience to imagine themselves as potentially occupying these places. The representational devices used in the renderings are part of a long tradition of landscape painting: most notably, passive cues that make the occupation of unfamiliar landscapes imaginable and palatable. For comparison, Thomas Cole and other artists of the Hudson River School created paintings that normalized the 19th-century expansion into the Northeastern United States. They celebrated agriculture and other methods of organizing nature to the benefit of European colonizers, "taming" what they saw as a wild place. Nature has been historically used as an adversary to be conquered in the form of weather and difficult-to-traverse topography. An example of this can be seen in the painting View from Mount Holyoke, Northampton, Massachusetts, after a Thunderstorm—The Oxbow by Thomas Cole. The painting illustrates an artist on a hill facing storm clouds and farmland in the distance. The use of perspective and distance used in the Blu Origin images echo the rules used by Cole, with the only significant difference being the threat that the environment poses. One of the animations places a stag on a mountain in the center foreground of the rendering. In the background, there is an expanse of artificial wilderness with a city in the distance. To the right of the stag, an eagle or other large bird of prey flies effortlessly through the cylinder. Adjacent to the settlement in the image, the earth slowly rotates into view from behind the wilderness section. Instead of the thunder clouds seen in Cole's work, the sky has been replaced with the dark void beyond the structure's enclosure and stars, with the explicit understanding that this is an off-planet landscape surrounded by a vacuum. In another animation, a city is present in the background and passenger cars moved along a light rail. The presence of rain seen in Thomas Cole's painting has been replaced with a drone watering crops as it drifts over land designated for agricultural use. Weather in these spaceborne enclosures, specifically rain events, would be fabricated and controlled by necessity. However, using drones to create rain events also speaks towards a need to experience weather to simulate “nature” to the highest degree possible. The drones provide a service, but they also normalize an extremely artificial landscape. The final two animations illustrated two forms of off-world urbanism. In one of the images, the "city" was created by collaging together a series of important architectural constructions and streetscape seen across the world. From one vantage point, a resident would see a blend of Swiss, Italian, and Chinese architecture. Architecture would work as a comforting set of references for the residents, tying them back to the Earth-bound cultural environments perceived as being valuable. This vision was a more densely populated habitat of tall buildings, parks, and athletic fields. As is the case with the landscapes, the city animations sampled a narrow segment of the Earth, and were meant to attract interest from a narrow segment of people. The primary audience is the people that were present in the auditorium, sharing privileged worldviews and experiences, who would recognize the imagery being referenced. The animations shared by Blue Origin represent a complex set of ideas and allowances. They presented a chance to revisit the romantic mythologies that the adults in the audience saw in their college art history courses. At the same time, those renderings validate their commitment to a future where technology is the best means to advance humanity. Like the Cole painting, they justify the presence of people in space habitats through the use of positive pastoral imagery. This leads to what is arguably the real goal of the presentation—building enthusiasm for resource extraction on the moon. Jeff Bezos makes it clear that the moon would need to be mined for the resources that would make these space habitats economically viable. He also stated that space would provide a limitless amount of resources for expansion. This is an argument of expansion and capitalism, one that edges out conservation on Earth. There is an implicit assumption that increased exploration will make the materials cheaper. This is an argument that has been made many times before, including in 1492 when Columbus lobbied for the investments that would allow him to reach the Bahamas.
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Amazon will build its tallest office tower ever in Bellevue, Washington

It looks like Amazon is really digging into the whole returning-to-its-roots-thing by adding scores of new jobs to the city Jeff Bezos started the company in 25 years ago. With an incoming 600-foot-tall skyscraper slated to host thousands of employees in Bellevue, Washington, the Seattle-adjacent city will soon become home to one of the largest offices towers in the company's history.  The Seattle Times reported that the giant online retailer and its main architect, NBBJ, recently filed a pre-application for Bellevue 600, a 43-story, one-million-square-foot office tower that could house up to 4,200 employees. Located just 10 miles east from its downtown Seattle headquarters—a mere hop across Lake Washington, the proposed project seems to cement Amazon’s expanding footprint in Bellevue. It already owns a 354,000-square-foot building called Centre 425, which it bought in 2017 and now accommodates 500 positions. It’s also currently renting space from WeWork in another downtown location.  Last summer, Amazon signed a lease for offices in the former Expedia headquarters, which will begin next year. It also just secured square footage in a planned 17-story story building designed by LMN Architects, according to GeekWire. It’s been said that Bellevue 600, the largest of all these office spaces, would be built atop a future transit and light rail station that could easily connect employees with the Seattle home base.  While Seattle is practically synonymous now with Amazon, Bezos actually began the company out of his garage in Bellevue in 1994. It’s a little-recognized fact that, when put in the context of the company’s current clashes with Seattle city government, makes sense for Amazon’s next big move. Belleuve is already emerging as a major tech hub—Google, Facebook, T-Mobile, and even Expedia have leased space in and around downtown Bellevue, according to Geekwire. And local politicians are welcoming them in. But just because it’s gobbling up leases in the Eastside city doesn’t mean Bellevue is the site of HQ2, or that it’s halting expansion in Seattle.  Regardless of the intention behind it, Amazon’s real estate portfolio is rapidly growing. Set for completion in 2024, Bellevue 600 would provide room for the entirety of Amazon’s Worldwide Operations division, according to The Seattle Times. This includes all of the personnel that handle the delivery and logistics of each package that a customer orders, and the operations of the company’s 175 global fulfillment centers.  Details on the design or development of the structure have not been released, but it’s been reported that, based on NBBJ’s proposal, the tower would include 885,000 square feet of office space atop a podium with room for retail, “office amenity” space, and a meeting center. Several pedestrian plazas would envelop the outdoor space as well. There’s even speculation of another tower planned for the site, which Amazon has yet to fully confirm. 
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Amazon reveals first rendering of its HQ2 in Arlington, Virginia

Amazon has released the first visual for its upcoming second home, or HQ2, in "National Landing," featuring a design by ZGF Architects. Located in Arlington, Virginia, HQ2 will include two new energy-efficient office buildings with room for community space and neighborhood retail. Spanning 2.1 million square feet, the ground-up construction is being developed by JBG Smith and will mark phase one of the online retail giant’s plan to construct a large campus fit for its 25,000 incoming employees. The entire project will be placed within Crystal City’s new mixed-use redevelopment zone, Metropolitan Park, which encompasses 16 acres of unused warehouses and empty parking lots. Not much information on the design has been released so far but, according to Amazon, the first pair of buildings at HQ2 will be LEED Gold certified and will include 50,000 square feet of shops, restaurants, and an eventual daycare center, as well as green outdoor terraces. Phase one will also feature the transformation of the Metropolitan Park area with 1.1 acres of new public open space—think a recreational park, room for farmers markets, a dog park, and more. Additionally, HQ2 will house an on-site facility for 600 bikes and an underground parking garage. Amazon says it also has future plans to construct a bike path that would connect to Arlington’s existing bike cycling infrastructure. Located in downtown Cyrstal City, an urban subset of southeast Arlington, the tech hub will also be close to existing public transportation including the D.C. Metro, Virginia’s commuter rail line, and bus lines. Over the next decade, Amazon plans to complete upwards of 6 million square feet of office space for its new Northern Virginia home. Amazon's Crystal City design comes after last year's competition in which hundreds of cities across the U.S. and Canada vied to house the tech giant's second headquarters. After Amazon decided to bring the project to both Arlington and New York City, residents and politicians in the Big Apple protested against the negotiated arrangement between the city and the corporation, leading Amazon to back out of New York and focus on its Virginia plans.
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Amazon may have canceled its NYC headquarters, but its footprint is everywhere

For many of the people opposed to Amazon establishing a second headquarters (HQ2) in Queens, New York, casting the company into total exile was never the point. At its heart, opposition lay with the terms of the deal that wooed the company—its massive tax incentives, the process that had created the deal (without input or oversight from the New York City Council or local communities), and the dramatic impact such a real estate development project would have on the city's working class, especially by aggravating its gentrification and displacement crises. Facing a groundswell of local opposition, Amazon announced that it had canceled its plans for a new Queens campus on February 14, just three months after announcing its selection. While HQ2's optics and scale made it a legible enemy to rally against, Amazon's less splashy development projects have already become part of the fabric of many cities, including New York. Taking inventory of Amazon’s existing physical footprint in the city, one begins to perceive a shadow infrastructure at work which reshapes urban environments more through privatized logistics and information systems than through campus construction. In Manhattan, Amazon’s physical presence might best be recognized in retail. It was at the company’s 34th Street bookstore that protestors demonstrated on Cyber Monday following the HQ2 announcement. Indeed, like HQ2, the company’s retail stores serve as useful rallying points. But inside the same Midtown Manhattan building that hosts the bookstore sits a more explicit locus of Amazon’s presence: a 50,000-square-foot warehouse and distribution center for the company’s Prime Now delivery service. It might be helpful to state here what Amazon actually is: a logistics company misrepresented as a retail company misrepresented as a tech company. Over time, the types of products the company sells have expanded beyond books and bassinets into less obviously tangible commodities like data (via Amazon Web Services), labor (via Amazon Mechanical Turk), and “content” (via Twitch and Amazon Studios productions). Ultimately the company’s appeal isn’t so much in the stuff it provides but the efficiency with which it provides stuff. Computation is obviously an important part of running a logistics operation, but Amazon’s logistical ends are frequently obscured by the hype around its technical prowess. And while Amazon is increasingly in the game of making actual things, a lot of them are commodities that, in the long run, enable the movement of other commodities: Amazon Echos aren’t just nice speakers, they’re a means of streamlining the online shopping experience into verbal commands and gathering hundreds of thousands of data points. Producing award-winning films and TV shows gives the company a patina of cultural respectability, but streaming them on Amazon Prime gets more people on Amazon and, in theory, buying things using Amazon Prime accounts. Amazon’s logistical foundation is most blatantly visible in the company's nearly 900 warehouses located around the world. Currently, the company has one fulfillment center (FC) in New York City. The 855,000-square-foot site in Staten Island opened in fall 2018 and had already earned Amazon $18 million in tax credits from the state of New York before the HQ2 deal was announced. Additionally, a month before the HQ2 announcement, Amazon had also signed a ten-year lease for a new fulfillment center in Woodside, Queens. The same day that Amazon vice president Brian Huseman testified before the New York City Council about HQ2, Staten Island warehouse employees and organizers from the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU) announced a plan to form a union at the Staten Island FC, citing exhausting and unsafe working conditions better optimized for warehouse robots than employees. These conditions are far from unique to Staten Island—stories about the grueling pace, unhealthy environment, and precarity of contract workers at fulfillment centers have been reported regularly as far back as 2011. And yet, when the Staten Island FC was first announced in 2017, a small handful of media outlets made note of this record. Unions and community leaders weren’t galvanized against the Staten island FC the way they were by HQ2 or the way they had been when Wal-Mart attempted to come to New York in 2011. In some ways, the HQ2 debacle gave new life and momentum to an organized labor challenge previously hidden in plain sight (or at least in the outer boroughs). Of course, Amazon’s logistics spaces aren’t solely confined to far-flung corners of the New York metro area: There are two Prime Now distribution hubs in New York, one in Brooklyn and the other at the previously mentioned Midtown Manhattan location. Same-day delivery service Prime Now originated from that Midtown warehouse in 2014 and spawned Amazon Flex, an app-based platform for freelance delivery drivers to distribute Prime Now packages. (Ironically, one of the reasons Amazon has been able to become so effectively entrenched in the city is because of this kind of contingent labor force—any car in New York City can become an Amazon Flex delivery vehicle, any apartment a Mechanical Turker workplace.) The art of logistics also depends in part on the art of marketing. To support that marketing endeavor, Amazon has a 40,000-square-foot photo studio in a former glass manufacturing plant in Williamsburg that produces tens of thousands of images for Amazon Fashion, the company's online apparel venture. The company's forays into fashion, while less publicized, may also position it to become one of the largest retailers of clothing in the world. New York is also home to 260 Amazon Lockers: pickup and package return sites for select products typically located in 7-Elevens and other bodega-like environments. Like Prime Now, the Lockers streamline and automate a process that would normally involve lines at the post office. First appearing in New York in 2011, the 6-foot-tall locker units can range between 6 and 15 feet wide, with the individual lockers in each unit capable of holding packages no larger than 19 x 12 x 14 inches (roughly larger than a shoebox). While early reports indicated that store owners received a small monthly stipend for hosting the lockers, the main sell for store owners is the possibility of luring in more foot traffic. But a 2013 Bloomberg article noted that smaller businesses were frustrated by the limited returns from installing the lockers and increased power bills (lockers use a digital passcode system, requiring electricity and connectivity). There is an irony in the fact that for almost a decade before the HQ2 debacle, small businesses have been ceding physical space to Amazon only to be stuck with monolithic storage spaces serving little direct benefit. Following its acquisition of Whole Foods in 2017, Amazon installed Lockers in all of the supermarket’s locations in the city. Whole Foods was already associated with gentrification and had an anti-union CEO before the Amazon acquisition; if anything, Amazon upped the ante by attempting to bring Whole Foods more in line with Amazon’s logistics-first approach. Reports that Amazon has plans to open a new grocery chain suggest that early speculation about the Whole Foods acquisition was correct: Amazon wasn’t interested in Whole Foods in order to sell produce so much as to gain access to the grocery company’s rich trove of retail data, which Amazon could use to jump-start its own grocery operations. A data-driven approach has been at the core of Amazon’s logistics empire: The company was one of the first to use recommendation algorithms to show consumers other products they might also like, and Prime Now relies extensively on purchasing data to determine what items to stock in hub warehouses. It’s unsurprising, then, that the most profitable wing of Amazon’s empire is Amazon Web Services (AWS), its cloud computing platform. AWS’s physical footprint in New York City is relatively small, with a handful of data centers within city limits. Its most visible presence may be the AWS Loft in Soho, which opened in 2015, part of a small network of similar spots in San Francisco, Tokyo, Johannesburg, and Tel Aviv.  Part coworking space for startups that use AWS and part training center for AWS products and services, the Loft inhabits a kind of in-between space between data services and marketing. The space is free for AWS users and is full of comfy seating and amenities like free coffee and snacks—ironic considering Amazon's reputation for being absent of the kinds of perks expected at tech companies. Belying its small spatial footprint, AWS is a major part of the city’s networked operations. The New York City Department of Transportation and the New York Public Library are both presented as model case studies of successful AWS customers, and AWS has signed contracts with multiple city agencies, including the Departments of Education and Sanitation and the City Council as far back as 2014. AWS is also a major vendor to municipal, state, and federal agencies—and, increasingly, has come under scrutiny for its multimillion-dollar contracts with data mining company Palantir Technologies, which works with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to track and deport migrants, and for peddling its face recognition technology to police departments across the country. Some of the criticism of Amazon's campus deal with NYC came from New York City Council members, apparently unaware their office was paying Amazon for hosting web support. To be fair, New York City’s AWS contracts (including the City Council’s) are a fraction of the kind of revenue Amazon is vying for in federal defense contracts. And at this point, AWS is the industry standard upon which most of the internet runs. The situation reflects the depth to which Amazon has insinuated itself as a fundamental infrastructure provider. New York may have dodged a gentrification bullet with HQ2, but as with so much of Big Tech, Amazon’s impact on cities might look more like death by a thousand paper cuts. A new campus might be more visible than the hidden machinery of a city increasingly reliant on delivery-based services, but both impact local economies, residents, and living conditions. Amazon’s long-standing logistics regime also inspires an infinitude of Amazon-inspired niche delivery startups familiar to New Yorkers as a pastel monoscape of subway ads hawking mattresses, house cleaning services, and roommates, to name just a few, along with the precarious jobs that are their defining characteristic. There have been continued efforts in New York to challenge Amazon’s frictionless logistics regime since the HQ2 withdrawal. Pending City Council legislation banning cashless retail would affect far more businesses than just Amazon’s brick-and-mortar operations (which have automatic app-based checkout), but it would certainly stymie any expansion of its physical retail footprint. State Senator Jessica Ramos has joined labor leaders in calling for a fair union vote at the future Woodside fulfillment center. These sorts of initiatives are often more drawn out and less galvanizing than those to halt a major campus development. But they’re crucial to a larger strategy for making the tech-enabled systems of inequality in cities visible. In 2019, the premise that the digital and physical worlds are mysteriously separate realms has been effectively killed by the tech industry’s measurable impact on urban life, from real estate prices to energy consumption. Comprehending the full impact of companies like Amazon on cities and seeing beyond their efforts to obscure or embellish their presence (glamour shots of data centers, anyone?) requires a full examination of these infrastructures outside of the companies' preferred terms. By demanding public accountability, New York's elected officials and community groups may have demonstrated the beginnings of just how to do that.
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Amazon backs out of Seattle's Rainier Square after head tax debacle

Long Island City isn’t the only place that Amazon is pulling out of. The tech giant made waves when it threatened to withdraw from its 722,000-square-foot lease in Seattle’s under-construction Rainier Square Tower over a possible $500-per-employee “head tax” last May that applies only to massive businesses like Amazon. The Seattle City Council ultimately passed a scaled-down version of the measure at $275-per-employee—with the proceeds destined for the construction of affordable housing—but even that measure was ultimately rolled back due in part to pressure from the business community. Now, even with its conditions met, Amazon has announced that it would be subleasing its space in Rainier square and looking elsewhere to meet its needs. The lease was enormous by Seattle’s standards and would have provided space for 3,500 to 5,000 Amazon employees and would have cemented the tech company as the tower’s anchor tenant. “We are currently building two million square feet of office space in our South Lake Union campus in Seattle,” said Amazon in a statement released to Geekwire. “We are always evaluating our space requirements and intend to sublease Rainer Square based on current plans. We have more than 9,000 open roles in Seattle and will continue to evaluate future growth.” The NBBJ-designed tower is notable both for its size and novel construction methodology. The 850-foot-tall, 58-story office building will be the second tallest in the Pacific Northwest once complete next year, and will use a core of modular steel plates and concrete “sandwiches” instead of the traditional rebar. A distinctive high-heeled-boot shape massing was used to preserve views of the adjacent Minoru Yamasaki–designed Rainier Tower (affectionately nicknamed “The Beaver” for its gnawed log-like appearance). A shorter glass-clad hotel will also be wedged between the two buildings as part of the Rainier Square Tower project. Despite the setback, Amazon is still on track to grow to 50,000 total employees in Seattle, and construction on the Graphite Design Group–designed Block 18, a 17-story, 388,000-square-foot office building solely for Amazon, is still on track.
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Amazon claims it isn't building a new headquarters in New York City after all

Amazon announced today that it will not be building a new headquarters in New York City after all. The company blames political opposition for the decision, in a statement contrasting the enthusiasm of Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio with the attitudes of "state and local politicians" who have vocally opposed the terms of the project. Many of the opposing politicians argued that the company received benefits from the state and city that the company did not need and the government could not afford. In public hearings, politicians objected to the use of a state process that allowed the company to circumvent the typical land-use review process and the secrecy and lack of public involvement in the deal that brought Amazon's new headquarters to the city. Amazon ran a spectacular public competition for the new headquarters that saw U.S. cities volunteering data and offering special deals to attract the company. This latest step displays the sort of public relations brinkmanship that won the company a favorable deal in New York City last year. Mayor de Blasio responded to the news with a statement:
You have to be tough to make it in New York City. We gave Amazon the opportunity to be a good neighbor and do business in the greatest city in the world. Instead of working with the community, Amazon threw away that opportunity. We have the best talent in the world and every day we are growing a stronger and fairer economy for everyone. If Amazon can’t recognize what that’s worth, its competitors will.
Amazon's full, original announcement is as follows:
After much thought and deliberation, we’ve decided not to move forward with our plans to build a headquarters for Amazon in Long Island City, Queens. For Amazon, the commitment to build a new headquarters requires positive, collaborative relationships with state and local elected officials who will be supportive over the long-term. While polls show that 70% of New Yorkers support our plans and investment, a number of state and local politicians have made it clear that they oppose our presence and will not work with us to build the type of relationships that are required to go forward with the project we and many others envisioned in Long Island City. We are disappointed to have reached this conclusion—we love New York, its incomparable dynamism, people, and culture—and particularly the community of Long Island City, where we have gotten to know so many optimistic, forward-leaning community leaders, small business owners, and residents. There are currently over 5,000 Amazon employees in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Staten Island, and we plan to continue growing these teams. We are deeply grateful to Governor Cuomo, Mayor de Blasio, and their staffs, who so enthusiastically and graciously invited us to build in New York City and supported us during the process. Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio have worked tirelessly on behalf of New Yorkers to encourage local investment and job creation, and we can’t speak positively enough about all their efforts. The steadfast commitment and dedication that these leaders have demonstrated to the communities they represent inspired us from the very beginning and is one of the big reasons our decision was so difficult. We do not intend to reopen the HQ2 search at this time. We will proceed as planned in Northern Virginia and Nashville, and we will continue to hire and grow across our 17 corporate offices and tech hubs in the U.S. and Canada. Thank you again to Governor Cuomo, Mayor de Blasio, and the many other community leaders and residents who welcomed our plans and supported us along the way. We hope to have future chances to collaborate as we continue to build our presence in New York over time.
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Released documents detail elements of Chicago's bid for Amazon HQ2

After perennially sitting as a top contender for Amazon’s HQ2 bid, Chicago received the news that it would not be the site of the company's second headquarters like everyone else did, via stories from The Washington PostThe New York Times, and Amazon itself on November 13. Amazon’s decision to build its second headquarters in Long Island City, Queens, New York, and Arlington, Virginia, laid out the national assumption that Chicago was crestfallen, particularly after being narrowed down to one of the top twenty contenders in January 2018. Despite the rejection of Chicago’s massive corporate recruitment efforts, the city continues to carry on as it did before Amazon began courting the 238 cities it originally targeted for HQ2 in September 2017, building new, preserving old and eagerly anticipating what a new mayor will mean for upcoming and ongoing projects like the restoration of the Uptown Theatre, the construction of The Paseo, and The 78. According to responses to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests obtained by Crain’s Chicago Business on December 14, the city laid out an impressive set of perks to entice Amazon to build its HQ2 headquarters. Some communications show Chicago offering Amazon naming rights to airports. With the bid still active, an Illinois judge ruled in August that the City of Chicago could keep the details of the offer under wraps. Chicago, Illinois, and Cook County collectively offered Amazon $2.253 billion in tax breaks, extensions, and incentives, as well as five possible sites in varying stages of planning and development. Ultimately Amazon only wanted to look at The 78.  The company liked the location of the still-developing 62-acre mixed-use site, near the Loop as well as the University of Illinois at Chicago, as an educational incubator for computer science and technology. Despite the rumor that Amazon visited three times to check out the city's offer, Amazon actually only made only two trips to Chicago, reviewing neighborhoods and amenities, and bringing together both Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Governor Bruce Rauner for a series of bipartisan lunches. In order to expedite Amazon’s architectural and spatial needs, Chicago also offered a specialized lien to allow Amazon to obtain building permits for the $5 billion construction of HQ2, as well as homes for the associated 50,000 workers and executives. In March, Chicago sank money into a slick bid video released on Rahm Emanuel’s Twitter account. The video took poetic aim at Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, comparing Amazon’s humble beginnings in a garage in 1994 to Chicago’s triumphant reconstruction after the Great Fire of 1871, with narration provided by Star Trek alumnus William Shatner. Bezos is a known Star Trek fan.
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This British parrot shops for tasty treats with owner's Alexa

A British pet parrot has forged a bond with his owner's Alexa, playing music and ordering tasty treats from the virtual assistant developed by tech giant Amazon.
Rocco, a rescue African Grey, made international headlines when The Times of London reported that he's bought ice cream and strawberries from Alexa (though the device's parental lock feature prevents these items from actually showing up at the door). Owner Marion Wischnewski adopted Rocco from the animal sanctuary she volunteers with after the bird's frequent cussing scared away potential adoptive parrot parents. African Greys are known for their ability to precisely mimic sounds, natural and mechanical, often very loudly. While Rocco's now famous, YouTube offers plenty of looks into greys and their relationships with voice-activated devices. Below is a 2017 clip of Petra making fart sounds at Alexa then asking her for a peanut: While Alexa might be the perfect machine companion for birds like Rocco, (this author, a former African Grey fosterer, speaks from personal experience), the future of smart home technology almost demands that we'll see more pet-machine bonds in years to come.
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New York's proposal for Amazon's HQ2 is much worse than we thought

While the nationwide application process for Amazon's HQ2 was largely shrouded in secrecy, New York City residents are finally starting to get some answers about the closed-doors deal. The city's Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) released the city's proposal to the public on Tuesday, along with a promotional website dedicated to HQ2. Some of what it reveals is expected—boasts about the city's transit, talent pool, and local amenities—but it's the concessions from the city that have raised eyebrows and triggered a trio of City Council hearings on the terms of the deal, the first of which was held yesterday. On Wednesday morning, the city council committee on economic development hosted Amazon's vice president of public policy, Brian Huseman, and the NYC EDC President James Patchett. In a three-hour-long hearing, the two were given the chance to defend their decision to bypass the city's traditional land use review process (ULURP) that would have lawfully determined how the new HQ2 will affect Long Island City, Queens, its projected home. We now know the deal was secured through a state-controlled process known as a general project plan (GPP), where large-scale and dense developments are scrutinized at a different level if they're being constructed in a low-income area. Among the more controversial promises in the 2017 proposal is the offer to use eminent domain to gather more parcels for the campus and "override local zoning" to speed up and develop the campus in ways that the retail giant might want. Of the potential sites listed in the proposal for an Amazon extension beyond One Court Square, Long Island City's formerly tallest tower, about 20 are privately owned and only a handful belong to the city. One of the private sites in contention is held by plastics company Plaxall, where a potential apartment building or office tower will be constructed. Because this property is included in the GPP, it means that Plaxall and Amazon will altogether avoid ULURP approval through the city council. In yesterday's meeting, led by Council Speaker Corey Johnson, council members questioned Huseman and Patchett in a series of fiery turns, each expressing serious concern over not only the physical development of Amazon's campus, but also the company's assistance to ICE, its employees' rights to unionize, and whether it would help nurture local young talent in the area and promote diversity within its headquarters. Johnson, alongside Western Queens' representative Jimmy Van Bramer, pointedly asked Huseman if Amazon would be willing to redirect New York's planned $500 million capital grant to the four public housing developments near the site. Like many of the companies' responses, Amazon tiptoed around the questions by citing its projected job creation numbers.   What's even more troubling about this deal is the city's Non-Disclosure Agreement with Amazon that stipulated that the EDC would notify the corporation of all public records requests related to the bid in order to "give Amazon prior written notice sufficient to allow Amazon to seek a protective order or other remedy." While the EDC's promise is not unusual, explicitly stating why is. As the director of a good government nonprofit told Politico, “They don’t normally spell it out so the business can run to court." Yesterday's economic development hearing was fueled with anger over the off-the-record deal to lure the retail giant to New York. City Hall allowed a portion of the public to attend the meeting, where frequent outbursts by protesters disrupted the proceedings. In January, the city council committee on finance will focus on the city and state subsidies provided to Amazon, while a meeting in February will zero in on the potential impact the deal could have on Long Island City's infrastructure, housing, and transportation. Once that's over, the project plan will still have to be reviewed by the local community board and go through an environmental review. The mayor also announced a new 45-member Community Advisory Committee tasked with sharing information and gathering feedback on a number of issues, including public amenities, training, and hiring programs, as well as community benefits. The committee will begin meeting in January.
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Amazon's new Queens campus might displace 1,500 affordable units

Amazon’s confirmation earlier this month that it would be dropping one half of its future campus in Long Island City (LIC), Queens, immediately drew condemnation from state representatives and a group of New York City’s elected officials. As the furor grew over Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan to rezone a portion of LIC for the tech giant’s campus, Cuomo released an op-ed today where he hit back at critics of the plan and touted the economic growth that Amazon would bring to New York. Housing affordability had been a point of contention among critics of the $3 billion in subsidies that Amazon will be receiving, and a new report from Politico shows that Amazon’s campus will preclude the creation of 1,500 affordable housing units. Amazon’s investment in the city won’t be insignificant. According to the Office of the Mayor, the online retail behemoth is expected to create 25,000 new jobs by 2029, going up to 40,000 in 2034. In 2019, Amazon will take half-a-million square feet of office space at One Court Square (the Citigroup Building) while their 4-million-square-foot headquarters on the LIC waterfront is under construction. Once work wraps up in 2029, Amazon is expecting to potentially add another 4 million square feet to their campus by 2034. The site of this future development? Anable Basin, an industrial enclave currently owned by the plastic company Plaxall. Plaxall had been gearing up to enact a WXY-master-planned redevelopment of their 15-acre site that would have created 5,000 new residential units, 1,250 of them affordable. Developer TF Cornerstone was also set to build their own 250 affordable apartments on an adjacent site owned by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), but that project has also been subsumed. An Amazon spokesperson has confirmed to Politico that the no housing will be built on their Queens campus. Long Island City is home to the Queensbridge Houses, the largest public housing development in the Western Hemisphere, but the official line from the de Blasio administration is that the Amazon campus will only be a net positive for the area. A spokesperson for the NYCEDC told Politico that HQ2 will buoy the neighborhood economically, and Mayor de Blasio seemed to agree. “One of the biggest companies on earth next to the biggest public housing development in the United States—the synergy is going to be extraordinary,” said de Blasio.
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Governor Cuomo proposes rezoning in Long Island City as Amazon confirms HQ2 locations

Now that Amazon has officially confirmed that it will split its second headquarters between Long Island City, Queens, and Crystal City in Arlington, Virginia, each city is gearing up to address the logistical concerns of dropping in 25,000 new tech employees. To that end, New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo is reportedly planning to rezone the 20-acre Anable Basin site in Long Island City (LIC) using a General Project Plan (GPP) to accommodate the online retail giant. Though the area is currently zoned as a light manufacturing district, its owner, the plastic container company Plaxall, had previously tapped WXY for a master plan that would redevelop the industrial zone into a mixed-use redevelopment. Using a GPP, the same process used to rezone Brooklyn’s Pacific Park (neé Atlantic Yards), the state would potentially be able to initiate a rezoning of Anable Basin without the approval of New York’s City Council. As a result, the basin and two adjacent city-owned sites that Amazon has been eyeing could potentially become a mixed-use campus and series of office buildings, zoned at a much higher density than New York’s zoning code would typically allow. The Plaxall draft plan had previously angled to build 5,000 residential units, but as Crain’s noted, the GPP would allow for millions of square feet of office, residential, and mixed-use space. Although the GPP would still require an environmental review and is subject to community input during that phase, all of the recommendations received from the local community board and City Planning Commission would be non-binding. The pushback from New Yorkers against Amazon’s decision was nearly immediate. The backlash was built on a number of factors, including concerns over affordable housing in Queens, transportation issues, fears that Amazon’s influence would price out the borough’s diverse residents, and anger over the amount of state and city money being handed to the company. In Amazon’s official HQ2 press release this morning, the company disclosed that New York State would be giving away $1.525 billion in tax credits. Most of that, $1.2 billion, would be returned through New York State’s Excelsior Program over 10 years, subsidizing each employee to the tune of $48,000. The remaining $325 million will be given to Amazon in the form of a direct grant from Empire State Development, based on the amount of square footage it’s expected to occupy. In return, Amazon has pledged to invest $2.5 billion in each portion of its dual headquarters. A portion of the property taxes from the new Amazon campus will go toward funding transportation improvements in Long Island City, and the tech company has also promised to carve out space for a tech incubator and public primary school. Still, those concessions haven’t mollified critics. As soon as Amazon’s decision to settle in Queens was leaked last week, New York’s incoming, newly-democrat controlled state senate and assembly pledged to stop the flow of taxpayer money to Amazon. Democratic Assemblyman Ron Kim told Capital & Main that he would look into rerouting the state’s economic development money (mainly corporate subsidies) into student debt relief, and called the correlation between tax breaks and corporate incentives unhealthy. On Twitter, western Queens representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez let loose with a thread blasting Albany for giving away over a billion dollars in tax breaks when Amazon hasn’t initiated hiring quotas, protection for workers, or any promise to avoid displacing long-time LIC residents. State Senator Michael Gianaris and Queens Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer also released a joint statement outlining their problems with what they described as a “massive corporate welfare” giveaway. In the release, both offices went on record as calling the Amazon deal a giveaway from the 99 percent to prop up the 1 percent. It remains to be seen how effective these protests will be, or whether state-level legislators will be able to wring any concessions out of either Amazon or the Cuomo administration. In related news, Amazon also announced their intention to bring an “East Coast hub” to Nashville that would employ up to 5,000. The company will be building out one million square feet of energy-efficient efficient office space while investing $230 million in the city and expects to pay $1 billion in taxes over the next ten years. In return, Nashville has promised up to $102 million in tax incentives depending on whether Amazon hits its hiring targets. Amazon will begin hiring for all three of the newly revealed locations sometime in 2019, though it may take up to 15 years for the LIC and Crystal City locations to fully integrate their 25,000 employees.
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Amazon to split HQ2 between New York and Virginia, but can they handle it?

Only hours after the news leaked that Amazon was considering Crystal City, a suburb in Arlington, Virginia, that bounds D.C. for the site of its second headquarters, sources are reporting that two cities will actually be taking home a shiny new HQ2. Long Island City in Queens and Crystal City in Northern Virginia will both be getting a mini-HQ2 of sorts and the accompanying 25,000 employees, raising concerns that both neighborhoods will soon face an influx of wealthier residents that will further strain already stressed housing and transportation systems. Although the Chicago Tribune noted that Amazon’s decision to split up its headquarters may have been to head off criticism that it would overburden any city that HQ2 landed in (echoing complaints of Seattle residents), it may not be enough. Over the last year, 1,436 new residential units were built in Long Island City during a time when New York is already struggling—and using increasingly novel means—to hit affordable housing goals. The decision appears to have been weeks, if not months, in the making. Both Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio have met with representatives of Amazon in the past few weeks, with the mayor’s office leading tours of the Queens neighborhood. Just last week, the city announced that it would be infusing the waterfront neighborhood with $180 million in investments toward improving schools, infrastructure, transportation, and open space; it now appears that the announcement’s timing was more than coincidental. The city may also be banking on the future development of Sunnyside Yard, the 180-acre active rail yard situated between Long Island City and Sunnyside, to soak up some of the expected influx of new residents. Although Long Island City, directly across the East River from Midtown Manhattan, is served by eight subway lines, the Long Island Railroad, and easy connections to both John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia airports, New York’s subway and bus systems are already in the middle of a crisis. Sky-high ridership in recent years, overcrowding, cascading mechanical failures, and struggles to find the funding necessary to fix the subways’ most pressing issues have all contributed to a decrease in the quality of New York’s transportation network. Governor Cuomo, for his part, has been quiet on whether the incentives offered to Amazon include money to improve, or at least fortify, the subway system, though to this point, the administration has already pledged hundreds of millions of dollars in tax incentives. Yesterday, the governor joked that he’d go as far as to “change my name to Amazon Cuomo if that's what it takes." We’ll see if he follows through.