Apple headquarters in Cupertino, California.

When Apple decided to build a new corporate headquarters, it designed a massive structure that resembled a flying saucer. The facility was an architectural marvel but it was entirely self contained, permitting no interaction with the surrounding community. It was impossible for employees to walk to work from home, and the campus was located far from public transit. For all practical purposes, the only commuting options were riding in cars, vans, and corporate buses.

Amazon might compete with Apple for the title of world’s most valuable company, but Amazon has a very different philosophy regarding real estate and facilities. Think of Amazon’s East Coast headquarters in Arlington and Alexandria as the un-Apple. Amazon does not regard itself as a company apart. To the contrary, the company wants to embed itself into the urban fabric. Here’s how the Washington Business Journal described Amazon’s thinking: Inc.’s second home in the D.C. region will be a neighborhood — not a campus — of largely locally hired employees who eat at local restaurants and maybe bring their dogs to work, according to Holly Sullivan, who was among the leaders of the e-commerce giant’s HQ2 search.

Local activists have expressed concerns that the arrival of 25,000 Amazon employees will drive up housing costs in Northern Virginia, displacing poor people. But an important metric Amazon used in rating possible locations was how the region would address affordable housing. Virginia and the local governments put forward some of the best plans in the country, Sullivan said. 

Arlington and Alexandria will invest $150 million in affordable housing in the next decade, local officials have said, although details have been scarce on what that investment would look like.

I have high hopes that Amazon, Arlington, and Alexandria will get this right. We will see a lot of mixed-use development with office space, housing, and retail in close proximity and built at higher densities than current land uses, which are already among the most dense in Virginia. Loads of new housing will be built. Poor people will not be displaced; rather, they will enjoy more and better job opportunities than before, which will increase their buying power in local housing markets. We’ll have to see what the final plans look like before we know for sure, but I’m optimistic. One thing for sure: The redeveloped area won’t look like a flying saucer. It will be very down to earth.

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One response to “Amazon as Un-Apple”

  1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    “Amazon does not regard itself as a company apart. To the contrary, the company wants to embed itself into the urban fabric.”

    The way Amazon operates in this fashion is an enormous compliment to Amazon as a company, and to its leader Jeff Bezos.

    A very large and successful company that operates within its home this way by definition values being part of a healthy, welcoming, and respectful community of reliable neighbors. This philosophy will compound the benefits that Northern Virginia, and likely all of Virginia, will reap from Amazon moving its HQ2 to Virginia. Likely too this philosophy helps explain why Amazon pulled out of NYC.

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