Amazon’s HQ2 Will Benefit From New York City. But What Does New York Get?

Not that young tech workers, more and more of them immigrants, wanted to live in suburbia, anyway. Increasingly they demanded the diversity and benefits of city life. And so did successful innovation companies, following the lead of workers.

Another way to put it is that companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon became attracted to cities like New York, Los Angeles, Seattle and Washington because these cities had already made transformative public investments in assets like culture, parks, universities and transit.

The question for city residents is what these companies give back. I’m not saying companies move, or should be expected to move, for any other reason than to make money. Amazon promises tens of thousands of new jobs in New York, with all sorts of ripple effects beyond employing more coders, sales executives, baristas, nannies and yoga instructors. In one fell swoop, it bids to make good on 20 years of the whole post-Manhattan, cool-outer-borough narrative.

But that isn’t the only balance sheet. “Urban life is built around a social compact,” as Vishaan Chakrabarti, a Columbia professor and founder of the architecture firm PAU, put it. Economic value creation in superstar cities like New York fuels a feedback loop that companies and cities both want to lean into.

What does this mean? For starters, it means that the city and state now have even more reason to funnel money into subways, buses and a new tunnel under the Hudson River and to pony up for the stalled BQX streetcar project linking Brooklyn and Queens, all of which would serve Amazon.

In turn, Amazon, which dominates the book market, could, up front, make self-interested commitments in local school programs and, as Eric Klinenberg, the New York University sociologist, advocates, in public libraries, our most vibrant, multipurpose community hubs.