What will Amazon’s HQ2 mean for future cities?

16 : 10 : 2017 Amazon : Branding : Future Cities
Amazon Go, Seattle Amazon Go, Seattle

There is no denying that a future filled with branded cities feels dystopian, but perhaps, alongside that sentiment, the thought of Amazon taking ownership of Stonecrest offers a little hope.

Josh Walker, journalist, The Future Laboratory

In September 2017, Amazon announced that it plans to open another headquarters in North America. Aptly named HQ2, it is expected to be the full equal to the brand’s current Seattle headquarters, will have £3.8bn ($5bn, €4.2bn) investment behind it and promises to include as many as 50,000 high-paying jobs.

Rather than confirm where this new HQ will be, however, the brand instead announced that it would select its next location from proposals submitted from different North American cities.

While several have naturally jumped at the opportunity of being chosen to become Amazon’s next home, the most interesting proposal comes from the city of Stonecrest in Georgia. Instead of offering tax credits, fee reductions and relocation grants, like other cities have done, Stonecrest’s city council has voted four to two in favour of changing its name to Amazon, Georgia, if the brand selects the city as its new HQ. As a branding opportunity, it poses several questions. What does something like this mean for our future cities and, equally, what will this mean for the brand should it decide to make the move?

There is no denying that a future filled with branded cities feels dystopian, and the idea of living in an Amazon-branded community feels unsettling. But perhaps, alongside those sentiments, the thought of Amazon taking ownership of Stonecrest offers a little hope.

Consumers are increasingly adopting a distrustful, disconnected mindset typical of a Dislocated World and, as a result, they are looking to brands to step in where government institutions are failing

Amazon says that in Seattle, the current location of its headquarters, it has already donated to hundreds of charities across the city, has added almost £30bn ($40bn, €33.7bn) to the city’s economy and earlier this year, decided to incorporate a permanent homeless shelter in one of its office buildings. The six-storey building, expected to open in 2020, will provide private rooms for up to 65 families or 200 people.

Take the Samsung Digital City in Seoul. Spread over 390 acres and home to almost 35,000 people, it offers residents free healthcare, provides teachers for families with children and serves up to 72,000 free meals every day. Although it is only employees of the company that live there at present, think of the impact this could make if expanded beyond its current reach.

As we outlined in our Civic Brands macrotrend, consumers are increasingly adopting a distrustful, disconnected mindset typical of a Dislocated World and, as a result, they are looking to brands to step in where government institutions are failing. Future city initiatives and placemaking within tomorrow’s metropolises offer the perfect opportunity to prove that.

When it comes to a situation such as Stonecrest, however, where an entire city is named after a brand, that civic responsibility is only going to be more powerful. If Amazon does decide, after the 19 October proposal deadline, to set up HQ2 in Stonecrest and accept the branding opportunity, it will also be accepting responsibility for its residents. With the safety, wellbeing and overall standard of living for Stonecrest’s population now under the Amazon name, a lot more than just its retail reputation would be on the line.

For more on how brands are stepping in where governments are failing, and acting as forces for good in society, see our Civic Brands macrotrend.