Get ready Arlington! Amazon is officially moving in.
Amazon is a really strong brand. It’s evolved from an online bookseller to an entity that sells everything – literally – from A-Z. Now that brand will be an integral part of the Crystal City neighborhood in Arlington, Virginia.
Crystal City (affectionately known as Crystal Shitty to me and a handful of other misplaced souls) is where I consign myself full-time – along with 60,000 other peons. Traffic sucks. Parking sucks more. Offices are filled with fossilized old men who never met an inferior they couldn’t bully. Streets are filled with man-bunned golems glued to their phones. Even the car fumes carry an “I’m-more-important-than-you” stench.
So what’s the impact of Amazon’s news of HQ2 in Crystal City/Arlington, Virginia?
Crystal City’s Cost of Working
- A traffic nightmare. Despite incentives to car pool or use public transportation, most people in Crystal City drive by themselves from wherever they’re commuting. Metro is already above capacity and in dire need of a costly makeover and repair. Just last Friday, Metro shut down 2 stations before Veteran’s Day weekend. Combine that with area construction and rain, and traffic was at a standstill for hours. It’s a no-brainer: more business = more people to overwhelm an already-failing public transport system.
- Daytime robbery. Amazon changed the food scene in Seattle ($18 salads are apparently a “thing” there), so what’s to stop that from happening in Crystal City? Time to start packing (our lunches).
- An influx of talent. Amazon’s top priority was access to a sizeable pool of highly skills employees, so it’s no surprise that Arlington – one of the most educated counties in the US – was chosen. HQ2 employees are expected to earn an average of $150K/year. And the lure of fatter pockets brings more competition to an already highly competitive market. Furthermore, the proximity of the federal government makes the DC Metro area fairly recession-proof. This makes employers highly selective, and leads to many competent job seekers being eliminated through no fault of their own. To further exacerbate this issue, unemployment is already extremely low in Arlington, and it’s therefore quite likely that the jobs Amazon does bring will go to people who don’t live here now. This brings us back to the already burdened transportation system – not to mention the already overcrowded schools.
Crystal City’s Cost of Living
- An increase in home prices – and taxes. Half of all renters in the DC Metro area are already enormously burdened financially, paying more than one-third of their incomes for housing. We homeowners may see our property values jump – but so will our property taxes. The median cost of a home in Arlington is $664,400. A person needs to make about $178,000 per year to afford a median-priced house in Arlington, according to the Washington Business Journal. Homeowners in Arlington and the vicinity – like me – are thrilled that Amazon HQ2 is moving in. Renters, first-time home buyers, and low-income residents…not so much.
- More pronounced income disparity. We also need to keep in mind that the tech and retail giant’s mere presence will raise our cost of living, and their workers will overwhelm an already overwhelmed transportation system and infrastructure. This will intensify the profound inequality in the DC Metropolitan area, as lower-income residents are forced to move to far-off suburbs. Let’s face it: educated, highly-paid workers will need maids, catering, plumbers and the like – and they need to live somewhere too. Then there are those triple-digit salary earners who don’t want to overspend on housing – such as the ones who already commute from Fredericksburg and Winchester. Who can blame them for preferring a 4-bedroom house with a garage to a 1000 square foot box for the same price?
Now – there may be some bright spots in this news:
- The fact is that pressure forces action to improve – Metro, roads, and the rest of the infrastructure. These improvements are already in the works.
- If history is a lesson, Amazon’s arrival will likely further transform our area into another “tech hub”, providing more and better jobs. This doesn’t mean, however, that tech-based growth will be a way to allow wealth to “trickle down” to lower-income residents. Instead, this could be an opportunity for Crystal City and surrounding areas to focus on providing skills training and education for lower-income residents.
- HQ2 is also an opportunity for Amazon to have a fresh start, forging a new path as a community-conscious entity that will support local, sustainable development.
- And… who doesn’t like a selection of restaurants and entertainment venues? Crystal City may well become the DC Metro’s next walkable, mixed-use community, driving a more appealing, diverse, and sustainable neighborhood. In turn, this should help the entire region become more competitive, economically productive, and accessible.
But the increase in 6-figure jobs, real estate development, hip meeting spots, and infrastructure improvements will come at a cost: displacement, over-burdened schools, homelessness, congestion, and increased prices.
Amazon in Arlington. Only time will tell if it’s worth it.