What Amazon’s workplace wish list tells us about the future city

As Amazon draws closer to a decision about a new location for its second headquarters in North America, its public declaration of demands has prompted questions about what the future city requires to attract forward-thinking enterprises

Amazon didn’t fight its way to the forefront of the global digital economy without being innovative and taking risks. So we shouldn’t be surprised at how the online retailer and tech giant has gone about deciding in which city to locate its new headquarters, the self-styled Amazon HQ2. In publishing a wish list of requirements for candidate cities, Amazon has laid down a marker for what the future innovation-ready city should look like.

Amazon HQ2 lays down a marker to the US metropolis…

Since Amazon opened its current headquarters in Seattle in 2010, the company claims it has contributed an additional US $38 billion to the city’s economy. So when Amazon publicly declared last year that it was looking for a new home for its second headquarters, a host of urban suitors across North America flocked to the opportunity.

In exchange for an estimated 50,000 high-paid jobs and an initial US $5 billion investment in the local area, Amazon outlined strict criteria to which metropolitan sites must adhere if they want to be considered as a serious host for Amazon’s new home.

So what are these criteria, and what do they tell us about the future direction of cities?

Amazon HQ2 criteria

Amazon has requested metropolitan areas with more than one million people to come forward. The area must harness a stable and business-friendly environment whilst also having the potential to attract and retain strong technical talent. While this criteria narrows down the search to pretty much every city in North America, it is clear Amazon has five clear demands on which it is not willing to compromise.

Talent attraction and retention – Amazon has labelled a highly educated labour pool as critical in its search. With this, a strong university system is required so the company has a diverse spectrum of ‘eligible’ talent to join its growing workforce.

Proximity to population centres and transport hubs – Amazon, like many other growing enterprises, requires a site that is accessible for a diverse workforce. Non-negotiable demands include reasonable travel to major highways linking to population centres, and international airports with daily flights to Seattle, New York and San Francisco.

Community and culture – Culture remains paramount in Amazon’s search. It believes that a ‘compatible cultural and community environment’ is necessary for long-term success, not just for the company but also for its workforce.

Connectivity – As a technology pioneer in the 21st century, it would be worrying if Amazon didn’t put optimal fibre connectivity at the heart of its search. Candidates have to show demonstrable fibre connectivity on all submitted sites, as well as multiple cellular phone coverage maps to ensure optimal service.

Sustainability – Any progressive organisation is aware of the spotlight placed on them to demonstrate corporate responsibility to pressing social issues. Amazon is dedicated to following a strong sustainable narrative, making significant changes in its Seattle HQ to save energy. It wants to continue the effort in its new location, so there is an emphasis on energy efficient buildings and walkability.

Clues to the future

What does signal for the future of urban environments?

Although Amazon is just one technology corporation among many, its special status and public declaration of demands has triggered a wave of new expectations for urban environments. These expectations respond to wider societal and economic issues from environmental stewardship to community and placemaking.

Urban environments need the support of thriving corporates to attract people and progress economically. Culture and community is not a nice-to-have asset, cities are expected to be destinations where people want to be and businesses can have their pick of diverse, eligible talent.

As Amazon draws closer to a decision, 20 shortlisted cities are battling to prove they have the infrastructure, people and culture to earn the residency of the world’s most entrepreneurial tech giant. Once the decision is made, 19 cities will be looking into the distance wondering if they did enough and what more they need to do the next time a big, burgeoning tech employer publicly courts urban bids.

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