--John Kenneth Galbraith, economist
Get primed for Amazon because it just might be showing up on Boston's front stoop very soon and this smiling package contains within it growth unimaginable.
For Amazon might choose our fair city of Boston as the site for its future second headquarters. The Hub is one of twenty North American finalist cities in Amazon's competition to build one behemoth of a project. Imagine this: 50,000 new jobs, $5 billion in construction spending, and $38 billion dollars in direct and indirect investment in our metropolitan area.
Ka-ching! Wowsa! Talk about growth!
The even better news is that our little slice of paradise is more than ready to absorb such gargantuan growth. Land is plentiful and cheap. Housing is readily available and modestly priced. Our roads and bridges and transportation infrastructure can absorb all of those tens of thousands of extra people and cars and subway and train riders. Our state and city governments have plenty of extra cash to offer Amazon generous tax breaks and incentives.
Oops. Correction. I was thinking of Hartford or Worcester or Springfield, not Boston.
I know that's a bad joke. But what's not so funny is the notion that the city and the rest of us in the greater Boston area could actually digest such an Amazonian growth shock and not pay for it in a diminished quality of shared life if the Amazon juggernaut rolls into town.
To be anti-growth is not a real popular stance these days. Not with scores of cranes dotting the city skyline. Not with unemployment in the Bay State standing at 3.5 percent, the lowest rate in eighteen years. Not with house values skyrocketing at a pace unheard of since the boom of fifteen years ago. Homes go on the market one day and immediately frenzied buyers desperately jockey to outbid and overbid each other.
To not be in favor of growth is positively un-American. Both political parties in D.C. and Boston instead scramble to build, to drill, to develop, to cut taxes, to expand, and to always grow, grow, GROW. Do whatever it takes to push an already healthy economy to even greater heights. But what's never talked about in such fevered fantasies about infinite economic growth is the huge price to pay in the quality of communal life when growth is gospel; when growth trumps all else; when growth is the sacred golden calf we all worship.
If you are one of hundreds of thousands of folks who drive or "T" or train into the city daily, you know what a disaster it already is, the hours, the days you spend in wall to wall traffic or waiting for non-existent subway cars to arrive. If you are middle or lower class or poor, you know how expensive it already is to try and find a decent affordable place to call home anywhere inside the Route 495 belt. According to a recent Inc. magazine article, Boston is the seventh most expensive area in the United States. To live "comfortably" a Bostonian needs an income of at least $89,000. To rent costs on average almost $2,900 a month. Where are folks coming up with all of this money? Or not?
Here's an economic heresy to consider. Growth is not always good. Growth not managed smartly and wisely harms the place being grown, and can easily change it for the worse, not the better. Growth unfettered can cause the basic systems of life--schools, infrastructure, housing, health care--to break down, even collapse under the weight of overgrowth.
So count me among the tiny minority of folks who aren't excitedly jumping on the Amazon bandwagon. Instead Amazon: why not build in Detroit or Cleveland or any other struggling place in the United States, a city and region that could actually use an economic boost? That would actually prosper and grow smartly with the delivery of such an unprecedented influx of jobs and money and hope? I've no doubt that such metropolitan areas would embrace you with wide open arms.
But in Boston? Send back the Amazon parcel. Return to sender. This is one delivery we just can't afford to accept.