Having Feelings About Amazon HQ2 in NYC

I have some strong feelings about Amazon moving into my old city.  Not necessarily opinions, but feelings.  My 17 year stay in New York started on the border of Long Island City and Astoria, Queens, around the corner from Parisi’s Bakery and just off the N train’s Broadway stop. I lived there for seven months before venturing into Manhattan and then, Brooklyn.  I shared a new-ish apartment with a lovely woman named Rosa (a good roommate for a new city girl) and lived in the loft space above the kitchen for $700/month–a steal even with my curtain-not-door and sole point of entry being a skinny ladder (my dad was appalled).

I loved it. It felt comfortable when nothing else in the city did (also, it’s worth noting, I moved September 22, 2001) .

I shopped on Steinway, had a quick trip into midtown Manhattan (15 minutes tops, back in those days when the MTA worked), and fit right in with the mostly Greek residents who inevitably thought I was Greek and spoke to me in Greek which initiated the, “No, I’m Armenian,” conversation, that opened up way more conversation than I wanted to have most days.

Screen Shot 2018-11-17 at 7.31.00 AM
Top floor balcony (on the leftish side of the photo) was my first apartment in Astoria, Queens. 

So now that I live in Seattle, the place that birthed Amazon and struggles to reconcile the tech culture with the PNW laid back lifestyle, I am simultaneously excited and anxious at the changes that are inevitably coming to LIC.

This addition of Amazon will be a marker on the timeline of New York – </BA> and </AA> (that’s my nod to code, deal with it).  Yes, there are benefits like increased tax revenues which hopefully De Blasio/Cuomo and whoever else takes office in the future will use wisely. Yes, there are new job opportunities for those in LIC, Manhattan or the burbs (that is, if they don’t import too much staff from Seattle HQ or other global offices). Yes, it will offer small businesses in that area potential increases in visibility, foot traffic and ultimately income. But, what else is going to happen?

As long as I lived in NY, the dominant industry was (is) finance. Over time, and with shutterings of institutions like Lehman Bros, the finance culture has become blended with that of additional industries (tech, smattering of fashion, PR, media), but it hasn’t been diluted, entirely. The finance bro culture still shows itself to be holding out strong.  Midtown and Wall Street, starting at 4:45 pm, are flooded with light blue shirts, loosened ties, and branded fleece vests. The attitude, energy, arrogance, and exclusivity was palpable and often disgusted me, even when I was 23 and my humble Elk Grove beginnings didn’t allow me to know what I was looking at.

Now being here in Seattle and with my co-working space being in South Lake Union (SLU), home of Amazon HQ1, the Amazon blue and orange tags (a sign of tenure at the company) flood the streets at lunch time and happy hour with a very similar attitude, energy, arrogance, and exclusivity that I felt as a newbie in New York.  Except it’s tech-y instead of finance-y. Still the same, though. I don’t belong (and that’s okay) but I’m fascinated to watch. It’s a fascinating look at the us/them behavior model (psych major, deal with that too).

I didn’t live here <BA> or at the onset of Amazon’s growth spurt(s) and SLU dominance, but I can see, hear and feel how it has changed Seattle’s existence. You don’t have to be a genius to sense that. There’s a defined line between those who were here pre-tech and those who have arrived because of or on the heels of tech. I don’t fall neatly into either grouping, so I observe and pontificate on how it impacts my ability to make friends and integrate myself into my new city (and it DOES).  There is a very defined line between those who lament the old days, “Seattle wasn’t like this before,” and those who defend Amazon’s right to exist and smother (and are proud to make very public to each other and the outside world the level of tenure they hold simply by the color of their badge–seriously, read up, it’s super interesting).

So I sit here and read the articles about HQ2 in LIC and wonder when the shifts will start to make themselves known, how the infrastructure of LIC and Manhattan will be able to handle the onslaught of tech-y people riding the subways, how it will impact housing prices and the years of construction about to ensue (even after the launch because they’ll keep building condos and co-ops years after HQ2 has moved in).  I want to see it and it makes me miss New York so hard because I know how pivotal it will be. But,I am so happy that I am not there to feel the squeeze.  It’s a weird tight rope to walk on emotionally–missing it but relieved I am not there.

The impacts I find really myself curious over are the cultural,  emotional, energetic, and intellectual ones that this move will create for New York and its BA and AA residents. Mark my words (I’ve never said that phrase before), the impacts are going to be big. Big in a good way and big in not so good ways because nothing is ever one or the other.

How will it shift who lives where, what gentrification looks like, the decades of families and cultures who live in Queens, arguably the most diverse borough of NYC. Will it vanilla-ize things or embrace the diversity? Will it shove out those who have been there for decades and decades or will it partner with long-standing residents and businesses to create something new and special?

I feel so invested in watching the company of my new city become the new company of my old city. I hope it’s good but it will be rough going for some time. I hope it’s not a cliched tech-takeover. Will skinny jeans become the new light blue shirts? Will bringing dogs to work (Amazon allows dogs in the office) and streets crawling with casually clad innovators swallow the Parisi’s Bakeries of LIC?

The best I can hope for from over here on the west coast is a non-hostile takeover and peaceful co-existence. <crossing fingers for you LIC, NYC>

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