Amazon's Coming (Seattle)


Faculty Leaders: Melanie Whitley, Department of Politcal Science

Travel Dates: May 2020

Class Meeting Times: TBD

Course Number: TBD

Program Cost: TBD

Spring 2020 applications open September 15.

Just over a decade ago Amazon moved to Seattle. The move was hailed as a coup for the city, which had high hopes of becoming the next Silicone Valley. Fast-forward to 2019 and many of the city’s dreams have been fulfilled- over the last decade Seattle has grown faster than any other large city in America, multiple tech giants like Facebook and Zillow now call Seattle home, and the city’s unemployment rate is under three percent. At the same time though, this kind of rapid growth has created significant problems for the city, driving up the cost of housing by 93 percent over the last decade, pushing infrastructure to its capacity, and increasing the homeless population so much that the city has declared a state of emergency.

Now, Amazon is planning a second location in Arlington,VA after pushing hundreds of cities to engage in a nation-wide competition for HQ2. While landing Amazon was billed as an economic silver bullet that would include billions in real estate development and tens of thousands of new, high paying jobs- residents, activists and scholars throughout the country have expressed concern that Amazon will turn its new home into next Seattle- pricing out existing residents and driving up the cost of living through the economic transformation that can result from a single corporate move.

In this class we will explore Amazon and its relationship with its host cities, exploring some of the central tensions in urban governance and urban studies- how to balance growth with equity concerns, the appropriate relationship between business and government, and, ultimately, how local governments handle the reality that economic growth often results in private benefits but public costs. This class will explore these complex dynamics, first in classes held in an online format and then through a two-part study away trip.

Throughout the class we will investigate theories of economic development and growth, examples of economic transformation and gentrification, and the case of Amazon in Seattle, Arlington and the HQ2 process. Students will engage in a variety of experiential assignments that require them to develop an understanding of economic development and help build class knowledge about Seattle, Arlington and Amazon.

At the end of the semester we will take a two-part trip. First, traveling to Seattle to investigate how Amazon, and the tech industry that has followed, has transformed the city, paying attention to both costs and benefits and local government’s policy responses. We will visit the Amazon campus, meet with tech start-ups who have located in the area, meet with local economic development officials about their goals, plans etc., speak to activists who have pushed against Amazon, and explore the challenges that have arisen because of growth in a variety of ways. We will end our travel experience by flying to Washington DC, where we will explore Crystal City through the lens of Amazon’s HQ2, investigating what the city has in common with Seattle, what differentiates it, and where both potential strengths and problems might arise.

Program Cost Includes:

  • Airfare
  • Housing
  • International Health Insurance
  • Some Meals and Excursions

Program Cost Does Not Include:

  • Passport Fee (for those without a passport)
  • Airport Entrance or Exit Fees (if applicable)
  • Vaccinations
  • Visa (if applicable)
  • Remaining meals

*Program cost is approximate and subject to change. Program cost is in addition to tuition.