Amazon May Not Be Serious at All about Boston -- and that's a Good Thing

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

If a guest columnist for a major national newspaper is to be believed – and I hope he is – Boston is out of the running to be Amazon’s second headquarters city (HQ2).

This would mean that the old, seldom-used Suffolk Downs horse racing track, the prime intended Boston location for Amazon’s HQ2, can be redeveloped in a better, less intense way for East Boston and Revere, and for the state as a whole.
The proposal by the state, city and a private developer to build Amazon’s H2Q at Suffolk Downs includes housing, hotels and open space, but it is primarily about eight million square feet of new office space and a technology-driven business operation requiring the services of approximately 50,000 employees.

Creating jobs is, as it should be, a governmental priority in all times and seasons. 
As enticing as H2Q at Suffolk Downs seems, however, there’s something scary about having so many jobs materialize in one swoop at a 161-acre site amidst densely populated neighborhoods and busy industrial/commercial enterprises -- a site in the figurative shadows of a booming Logan International Airport and a built-up/heavily used Revere Beach. 

How are all those workers going to get to work on time every day when the roads in the area are already often at capacity or over capacity?  What will happen to the already high (and constantly climbing) price of a home in Revere, East Boston and nearby Winthrop when so many of those employees start looking for homes there?
If you share such worries, you may be encouraged by an op-ed piece that appeared this past Monday, January 29, in the Wall Street Journal, “Mayors, Say No to Amazon,” by Richard Florida, a professor at the University of Toronto, a distinguished fellow at New York University, and editor at large for the Atlantic Magazine’s City-Lab.

Florida contends that Amazon’s HQ2 quest, conducted as a nationwide competition among cities, has never been completely on the level and that Amazon basically has its sights set on two metropolitan areas on the East Coast, neither of which is Boston.
“At heart the HQ2 competition is a ruse.  Amazon without a doubt already has a very good idea of where it wants to put its new headquarters,” Florida wrote.  “The map of the 20 cities on the short list has clusters that give away the game.  New York City and Newark are next to each other.  So are the District of Columbia, Northern Virginia and Montgomery County, Md.  Clearly, Amazon wants to be in either the New York metro region or Greater Washington.  (Jeff Bezos [Amazon founder], not coincidentally, has homes in both.)  Those five options are in four separate states, plus the capital – and states are the entities likely to contribute the most money to incentive packages.”

You may find Florida’s column, behind a pay wall, at:
Appearing before the legislature’s Joint Housing Committee yesterday, Governor Charlie Baker said that the gap between housing demand and supply in Massachusetts “poses the most serious long-term hurdle to continued economic growth.”   

Testifying for a bill that would allow municipalities, by simple majority votes of their governing bodies, to change zoning laws to facilitate construction of new housing, Baker said, “It has been decades since this state produced enough housing to keep up with demand.  The result has been predictable.  A limited supply creates overheated demand and rising prices.  Young people, seniors, young, working and middle class families can’t afford to rent or buy a home here in the Commonwealth.” 
Baker’s right:  We need much, much new housing –homes, apartment buildings and condos – throughout eastern Massachusetts.

It’s a no-brainer to make a redeveloped Suffolk Downs a part of the Commonwealth’s housing solution as quickly as possible. 
Do it organically, with first-class design and construction. Have it complement aesthetically, rather than overwhelm, its adjoining neighborhoods and business uses.  Exploit to the fullest the race track’s contiguity to two very walkable stops on the MBTA’s Blue Line, which provides, on most days, the easiest and quickest rapid transit link to downtown Boston.

With a sigh of relief, abandon the dream of our singular Hub as one hub of Amazon.




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