Amazon and Crystal City deserve each other
Congratulations are in order for the proud, self-reliant peoples of Arkansas, Hawaii, Iowa, Montana, North and South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming. These are the only states in the country that did not submit a formal proposal to Amazon explaining why one or more of their cities should play host to whatever they're calling their proposed second headquarters now, the bidding for which was announced in September 2017.
Elsewhere things got silly very quickly. How silly? Chicago offered Amazon $2 billion worth of her people's money for the privilege. Not to be outdone, the state of New Jersey pitched a $7 billion figure. Some marketing idiots in Tucson sent Amazon a giant cactus, which, unlike the billions of dollars on offer, was rejected out of hand by our woke capitalist overlords on the grounds that it violated their corporate gifts policy. Ethics! The mayor of Kansas City, Missouri, made a thousand Amazon purchases and wrote five-star reviews for each of them in which he extolled the numerous (very real) virtues of his city. Finally, and, I think, unimprovably, the city council of Stone Crest, Georgia, voted to de-annex nearly 250 acres of its own land in order to create a land-locked sister city, which they proposed to name "Amazon." There is a metaphor in there somewhere.
In the end none of it mattered: The 21-foot tall cactus went to a museum, along with Tucson's dignity. Amazon is splitting the HQ2 project between New York and the Crystal City neighborhood of Arlington, Virginia, and getting billions for nothing.
Did I say "nothing"? Excuse me. What I meant to write is that that they expect to receive billions of dollars in tax incentives in exchange for driving up the price of real estate, overwhelming local transit infrastructure, and turning dive bars into beetroot burger emporiums and yoga studios and bars where dogs are welcome but children are not.
This is why I also wish to extend my congratulations to the locales that did get chosen, Crystal City in particular. Our nation's largest retailer of hideous, Earth-destroying things and the ugliest neighborhood in the ugliest city certainly deserve one another.
For those of you who are not familiar with the geography of greater Arlington, let me explain. Living in Crystal City is nice enough if you don't mind paying $2,500 a month for a modest apartment in a giant steel cube that looks like a space-age nursing home where George's grandmother might eke out her bleak final years in a live-action Jetsons reboot. There are a lot of chain shops around. But there are also a number of wonderfully shabby immigrant-owned restaurants hiding in the side streets. I do not expect most of the latter to survive more than a year or two of Amazon-inflated rents. Besides: One California Pizza Kitchen is not enough!
A few years ago I found myself spending roughly two hours of my day just south of Crystal City staring at the condos being built in Potomac Yard while I waited for altruistic liberals to take turns pulling out in front of each other while completing a simple merge that should have taken us all five minutes. This heavily trafficked section of Route 1 was moving down to one lane to facilitate the construction of a bus route built by the local transit authority for the benefit of whatever gazillionaire developer was putting up the condos. No one had any say in the matter, just as no member of the public was invited to participate in the secret negotiations process that brought Amazon to Arlington. I had a lot of time to look at the buildings. The brick was a fake veneer made of goodness knows what. The little black porches jutting out of the fake brick were fake — you couldn't actually stand on them. The little roads leading between and behind the endless rows of fake buildings all had fake-sounding names. As far as I know most of those condos remain empty to this day and no one takes the bus. The only person I ever knew who lived there was, typically, a libertarian. This will be changing soon, I suspect.
I mention all this by way of explaining why I am sanguine about the fact that my home state of Michigan appears never to have been seriously considered by Amazon, despite the best efforts of our outgoing Republican governor, himself something of a techbro. So-called economic development benefits the developers, not ordinary people.
The appalling inequality and greed of modern American life is matched only by its physical repulsiveness. There is nothing we can do about it.