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Faculty Express Mixed Feelings on Boston’s Amazon Bid

Amazon.com packages - a common sight in building managers' offices and mail centers on campus - are easily recognizable by the company's familiar "smile" logo.  University President Drew G. Faust wrote in a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos that she hopes the technology and retail giant will choose Boston as the home of its second headquarters.
Amazon.com packages - a common sight in building managers' offices and mail centers on campus - are easily recognizable by the company's familiar "smile" logo. University President Drew G. Faust wrote in a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos that she hopes the technology and retail giant will choose Boston as the home of its second headquarters. By Megan M. Ross
By Elizabeth H. Yang and Jingyao Zhao, Contributing Writers

As Amazon scours North America for a site for its second headquarters, Harvard experts in urban planning, technology, and sociology say the tech titan's potential landing in Boston would have likely deep ramifications for the city—both good and bad.

Harvard plays a prominent role in Boston's pitch to Amazon, with the city touting its "intellectual infrastructure" and sizable supply of skilled workers. University President Drew G. Faust, in a letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, further entreated the e-commerce giant to select the Boston area for its $5 billion "HQ2."

Some Harvard professors and administrators said they support the city's bid, noting that it could bring many new jobs to the Boston area and spark new collaborations with Harvard's School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. Others, however, worried that the firm’s presence in the area could drive up real estate prices and drive out longtime residents.

SEAS Dean Francis J. Doyle III said he was “without a doubt” excited by the proposal. One of the supplementary sites proposed for Amazon’s new headquarters in Boston is located near Harvard's future science and engineering complex in Allston, set to open in the fall of 2020.

“I’ve had some nice interactions with Jeff [Bezos]’s team and other interactions that really have served to bring us closer to Amazon and more importantly get us on the radar of Amazon as a place to recruit our students for internships, for regular jobs, and to get our faculty connected on research projects,” Doyle said. “So I think we will be doing, independent of where Headquarters 2 lands, we will be doing more in closer collaboration with Amazon.”

Monica G. Tibbits-Nutt, a freshman proctor who sits on the board of the MBTA, said she was optimistic that the arrival of Amazon could bolster the economy of Boston more broadly.

"For Massachussetts, any time you can bring a company of that size headquarters to the city, from an economic development standpoint that’s an amazing opportunity," Tibbits-Nutt said.

But other faculty members were less enthusiastic about the bid. James G. Stockard Jr., a lecturer on urban planning at the Graduate School of Design, argued that the creation of 50,000 jobs from HQ2 could put a major strain on housing in the area.

“I’m quite sure there won’t be 50,000 brand new people, but if it’s only 25,000 people, that’s still a rather huge number of new residents in the Boston area and our state suffers quite dramatically from a shortage of housing that’s affordable in all but the very highest income ranges,” said Stockard.

Stockard said that if Amazon were to locate its offices in Boston, the city would need to overhaul its approach to affordable housing so that Bostonians will not be priced out of their homes.

“It’s simply unhealthy for a metropolitan area like Boston to not provide adequate housing for the people,” he said. “If we don’t supply homes for those people, we create a questionable economy in the long run.”

Amazon has received 238 proposals for its second headquarters, and has said it expects to reach a decision next year. And while Boston faces steep competition from cities like Denver, Colo., Austin, Texas, and Washington, D.C., sociology lecturer David Luberoff said the city has a good shot at landing HQ2 if Amazon prioritizes human capital.

“I’d be very surprised if Boston doesn’t make it through—at least to the very next round,” Luberoff, who teaches a course on Boston, said. “If the major issue for Amazon is access to talent, then this is a very serious bid. If the major issue for Amazon is going be the cheapest cost… then Boston doesn’t have a shot. And Boston knows that."

—Staff writer Joshua J. Florence contributed reporting.

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