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For three months between November 2018 and February 2019, the entire world, it seemed, was watching Long Island City, Queens. On November 12, 2018, nearly two years after Amazon announced that the company would be holding a contest for its second corporate headquarters (Amazon HQ2), New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo jointly announced that Amazon had selected Long Island City as one of its two HQ2 locations. The project, outlined in a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Amazon and New York City and State, would provide up to $3 billion in public (state and city) subsidies to Amazon in exchange for building 4–8 million square feet of office space on the East River waterfront and creating 25,000 jobs averaging $150,000 per year (over ten years).
However, fierce opposition to the plan quickly emerged. As the buzz (and controversy) concerning Amazon HQ2 continued to grow, the next two months witnessed a series of public events dedicated to the Amazon plan—including meetings, discussions, teach-ins, city council hearings, canvassing operations, Internet discussion forums, and protests. Then suddenly, on Valentine’s Day, in a tersely worded statement Amazon announced that it was no longer planning to build its second headquarters in Long Island City.
The shock waves from this second surprise decision emerged immediately and continue to reverberate today. But while we may never know the true reason(s) for this decision, the struggle over the project and Amazon’s attempt to control and manage community engagement in the planning process are instructive in their own right. From the arguments that emerged both for and against the Amazon plan we can discern the contours of the emerging struggles over urban space between big tech, the state, and immigrant and working-class communities in global cities such as New York City. The Amazon experience in Long Island City also sheds light on the power of organizing across multiple issue areas in struggles against big tech’s designs on the contemporary city.