Economic Development and the Impact of Amazon’s New Headquarters

Economic development and growth is something that benefits a wide range of people. “Real estate brokers will benefit from an increased number of transactions. Property owners will benefit from increased demand for land and structures. Retailers will benefit from increased sales resulting from increased personal income” (Levy, 270). As one can see from this quote, economic development is of great importance to local residents and municipalities as well as for larger states and federal programs. Most economic development organizations take place at the local level and this seems to be the place that most focuses and is effected by economic development. Communities care about working towards increased economic development for several reasons which include; employment, property tax relief, and because it is good for overall sectors of business. Urban planners and economic developers are linked and must work together in the pursuit of economic development through issues of “public investment in infrastructure, land-use controls, environmental regulations, and anything else that affects the what and where of industrial and commercial development” (Levy, 271).

The planner’s role in economic development within the municipality manifests in a number of ways. They must guide towns and different communities on how to best plan and set themselves up to attract business, including firms looking to plant themselves in a new location. Towns must “sell” themselves to these companies hoping to sway them into settling in their community. They must also be concerned with making themselves visible and known to these firms to get their attention in the first place. Communities can use subsidization for development which helps reduce property tax for commercial or industrial development, thus making themselves attractive to a firm. This though may cause the problem of making themselves a good location choice for one company but not for others, because funds are limited and communities have to have the money to do this in the first place.

Currently this kind of economic development planning can be seen through the real-life example of Amazon. The company, Amazon, is currently on a search for a location to build their second headquarters. Many different cities are vying for Amazon’s attention and trying to persuade Amazon that their city is where they should settle. These cities are putting in bids, for Amazon which include tax breaks and many monetary benefits for the construction and overall being of this company. An article from CNN talks about how Amazon is so much controlling these different states and communities in this race to win them over, that eventually wherever they choose “Amazon doesn’t pay the state. The state pays Amazon.” Amazon is looking for a state that will meet their needs and many requirements which include; “convenient access to mass transit and an international airport, a highly educated labor pool, a strong university system and a diverse population.” Wherever Amazon’s new headquarters end up, will without a doubt, impact the community and the residents of wherever they land in many ways. They will bring with them many new jobs in the thousands, and economic boom, but there will also be impacts of transportation and traffic and other issues that will affect the local surrounding area of this new building and company. These are all factors that the planner must take into consideration when planning for amazon to come into a new municipality and for the town to process when putting in a bid for Amazon.

Check out this article which describes the competition of cities regarding Amazon:

source: Contemporary Urban Planning, by John M. Levy


The State Development and Redevelopment Plan

Although the United States does not have a national plan, it does participate in nationwide planning. This is done through different federal agencies such as the Housing and Urban Development, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Transportation. New Jersey has it’s own history with state planning and dates back to as far as 1917 when the Home Rule Act was created. Throughout the next ten years, many things were enacted like municipalities being able to form their own school districts and the legitimization of zoning. In 1950, the first statewide development plan for New Jersey was announced, and twenty-five years later, we see the Mount Laurel I decision and the Mount Laurel II decision come about. This Mount Laurel doctrine required that municipalities affirmatively use their zoning powers to give realistic opportunities to the production of affordable housing for the lower income households. From this came the State Planning Act. The goals of the act that was in response to Mount Laurel II decision was to coordinate planning between state and local governments, revitalize urban centers, protect the environment, provide affordable housing, and balance private and public investment in infrastructure. This act also created what is now the Office of Planning Advocacy, and gave the responsibility for development and implementation of the Development and Redevelopment Plan to the State Planning Commission. The State Development and Redevelopment Plan was first implemented in 1992 and guaranteed regularity between the plans of the state and the plans of counties.

In 2001, the State Development and Redevelopment Plan was updated with the new objectives being to maintain and revitalize towns and cities, protect natural resources and farmland, and focus growth into mix-used communities. It also divided the land area in New Jersey into “planning areas” (i.e. PA1-urban, PA2-suburban, etc.) and promoted “center-based” growth such as urban centers, villages, and regional centers.

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Nine years later, in 2010, Governor Chris Christie was elected and threw away the State Development and Redevelopment Plan. Many people had criticized the State Development and Redevelopment Plan, saying it was bureaucratic, used a top-down planning system, and was overall ineffective. I find that the plan itself sounded like a smart plan in building up New Jersey, but wasn’t executed properly. Top-down planning isn’t the most strategic method and does not have the advantages that planning from the bottom-up would have. Therefore, the State Development and Redevelopment Plan had some good goals, but was ultimately seen as a failure.

Economic Development

Economic Development Programs are economic programs that help the community by addressing the economic needs of the people through the creation of sustainable business development and employment opportunities. They are important for the improvement of cities and the improvement of citizen’s lives that are living in those cities.

After the Great Recession, New Jersey had a much worse recovery compared to other states. There was an increase in business needs, transportation and energy costs, and global competiveness therefore shifting the economic dynamics. The New Jersey Economic Development Programs are essential to the economic growth of New Jersey. These include programs such as: The Business Employment Inventive Program, The Business Retention and Relocation Assistance Grant Program, and The Economic Redevelopment and Growth Program.

The Business Employment Incentive Program diverts the employee’s income taxes, up to eighty percent, to the employer for up to ten years. The Business Retention and Relocation Assistance Grant Program allows an annual corporate income tax credit of three thousand dollars per employee and includes any business that is considering leaving the state or considering expanding. Both these programs are aimed at job retention and creation. Other projects are focused on the encouragement of developing and redeveloping such as the Economic Redevelopment and Growth Program.  As of 2013, the Economic Redevelopment and Growth Program was consolidated with GROW NJ due to the Economic Opportunity Act that New Jersey passed.

Cities are constantly being developed and improved to help further the good of the economy. Essentially, the goal is to drive cities to be more entrepreneurial and to increase the competition between cities. Some plans that cities use for these developments are places such as pedestrian malls, arenas and stadiums, marketplaces, and casinos. My personal favorite of these difference schemes are the pedestrian malls such as Faneuil Hall located in Boston, Massachusetts.

Quincy Market

There, merchants and artisans can sell their products in places such as Quincy Market. It is the most successful marketplace in America. After visiting there, it was clear that Faneuil Hall was a beautiful place for the city to come together to experience different cultures and support one another’s businesses. It helps the economy in a unique way that is enjoyable for everyone. There are many ways to help the economy, and through these different schemes, the economy benefits as well as the citizens living in that city.

Mass Public Transportation

Of the images above the left is of students on one of the Rutgers buses and the right is of a subway car in the city; can you see any major differences? No? Well, that’s because there really are none. Any student at Rutgers who has used public transportation in the city during rush hour can compare it to the daily transportation on the Rutgers Bus System.


Rutgers University has the second largest public transportation system in the state and the largest campus bus system in the county which comes as no surprise due to the fact the university currently has roughly 69,000 students! But even with the current amount of buses Rutgers has to offer its students, it’s clearly not enough. On any given day while waiting at a campus bus stop you can see 3 of the same bus line pass within minutes of each other, but can find yourself waiting 10-20 minutes for the bus you need to show up.

The current bus system in place has many flaws. First of all, when using the buses students are strategically planning out their bus schedules due to transfers and odd timing at stops. Furthermore, if your bus is one-two minutes late you can end up getting to where you needed to go 30 minutes later than you should have due to just a one minute delay; making the system extremely inconvenient as well. But due to the high price of parking passes and lack of parking many students rely on these buses to get around campus.

Student Center Rendering_0

Last spring semester a remodel of College Ave to make it safer for students was done. It featured bike lanes with protective fencing towards the road along with separate bus lanes as well.  There were a few flaws in this plan though, with the major one being the size of the bus lanes. They were implemented to help reduce traffic and improve the safety of students while entering and exiting the buses, however, the lanes are too small. The buses don’t fit well enough into the lanes and they still end up driving and pulling over on the regular roads more often than not.

With such a large campus and so many students, a better system needs to be put into place. Although most technology is still being tested and developed there are many concept theories that could benefit Rutgers Transportation; my favorite being the elevated bus system, or straddle bus system, by Craig Hodgetts and Lester Walker.

These buses would be able to carry around the same number of passengers as 40 regular buses could. Not only will this help with pollution, but by going over and around traffic it will make transportation faster and decrease the number of vehicles on road creating less traffic as well. Although this is a very high-cost plan and is still being developed it is a great idea for high-density cities. Ideas and technology like this are the types of innovative ideas needed to help shape healthy and well designed future cities.


Importance of Green Space and Art in Urban Design


(V-J Day Mural near High Line Park; taken in May 2014 around completion of park)

Studies have shown that there are more cases of anxiety, substance abuse, and depression in urban city areas than in rural suburban spreads. Due to the noise, tension, aggression, and other unappealing surroundings this comes as no surprise. Negative places generate emotional reactions such as hopelessness, anger, stress, disgust, fear, laziness and many more. Because of these, and many more reasons, the importance of incorporating green spaces, art, and public parks into urban areas can be seen. Positive places such as those generate the opposite emotional reactions; such as happiness, calm & peaceful, inspiration, safety, appreciation, and pride.

Green spaces do not only improve the visual quality of an area, but help to reduce stress, promote healthy and active living, and have also been found to improve cognitive functioning as well. In combination with art, which can serve as a form of therapy, the addition of these to any urban space can be nothing but beneficial. And that is just what the Highline in NYC does for the Chelsea community.

(Promenade Plantee in Paris)

The Highline in NYC began construction in 2006 and was completed in three phases by 2014, with one more additional phase projected to be completed in 2018 after the Hudson Yards Redevelopment Project is finished. Also known as High Line Park, it was built on a 1.45 mile long abandoned rail line along the west side of New York inspired by the Promenade Plantee in Paris.

(Highline Park Photos)

Not only as High Line Park proven to increase the spirits and mental well-being of visitors, but has helped to increase real estate values as well. Along with this, it has also inspired the plans of over 30 purposed projects in New York City alone.  By combining art and green space New York has created a fantastic space for people of the community and tourist to go and relax while looking at beautiful art installations as well as taking in the fascinating view of New York City that this elevated park has to offer.



Port Authority Political Games

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was created in 1921 by New York and New Jersey legislatures originally as a way to refine the transportation of rail and freight in the region. However, this mission was short-lived as the mission became that of creating a bridge between New York and New Jersey to give access to people, business, and their automobiles to the regions most dominant metropolitan area. This fostered a ground breaking project called, the George Washington Bridge.

The George Washington Bridge was administered by one of the greatests civil engineers of the twentieth century, Othmer H. Ammann, a Swiss immigrant whom migrated to the United States. He was fully persuaded that he would be the mastermind behind the infrastructure that we change the face of New York and New Jersey. The project was record breaking during the 1920s as a suspended center span of over 3,000 feet was considered almost impossible. Ammann pushed these oppositions to their max as he was convinced that not only would he build this bridge, but he would also build it in a relatively short period of time and on budget. He proved himself right as the bridge came to be within 2 years and under budget. The talent behind this bridge and its beauty even caused renown planner Le Corbusier to comment,


The George Washington Bridge over the Hudson is the most beautiful bridge in the world. Made of cables and steel, it gleams in the sky like an arch upturned, blest. It is the only seat of grace in a disheveled city.

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Eventually along with the George Washington Bridge came the Lincoln Tunnel which connected New Jersey with midtown Manhattan, and other major transit operations came eventually such as, bus terminals, rail services, the Port Newark-Elizabeth Marine Terminal, and Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, providing New Jersey residents access to mid and lower Manhattan, and freight workers with a port away from the New York City congested streets. By 2012 the Port Authority had revenue of $4.1 billion and made $3.3 billion in capital expenditures. It also had a workforce of 7,000 including its own police force of 1,800.

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The Port Authority is an economic powerhouse, making way for major business transactions between New York and New Jersey. However, with such great power comes politics. Since the beginning of the Port Authority, it has caused rivalry. First with commercial establishments rivaling to possible political payback. In the summer of 2013, the term “bridgegate” was coined by media journalists after inquiries received information that Chris Christie administration had been playing political payback. Story has it that in the summer of 2013, two entry lanes to the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, NJ were closed for four days supposedly to traffic studies resulting in major traffic jams in Fort Lee. But this claim was falsified and a new story said that staff within Governor Christie’s staff ordered this closure due to grievance between Governor Christie and Democratic Fort Lee Mayor, Mark Sokolich, because Mayor Sokolich had failed to endorse Republican Governor Christie and his initiative to have the $1 billion raising of the Bayonne Bridge and the Pulaski Skyway in return for the Port Authority’s funding of the rebuilding of the World Trade Centers.

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Energy Planning for a Sustainable Future

One of the many duties that Urban Planners have, and probably the most significant, is to create healthy and sustainable communities. In order for the modern world to progress, the promotion of new energy strategies is a necessity. Therefore, Energy Planning must be factored into all decisions involving transportation, industry, agriculture, and electricity. Although “peak oil” seems afar off, that does not mean that we should right it off as if it were not a present danger. Peak oil is still a matter of major concern and should start being addressed as if it were a problem today, now. Future generations are relying on us to be altruistic. Thus, “Contemporary Urban Planning”, lists strategies that can be taken to conserve energy and lists them into four general categories: Land-use planning, changes in building characteristics, changes in transportation, and community energy sources. I will be addressing the following: land use planning, changes in transportation and building characteristics.

A land-use planning strategy that can be used is encouraging mixed-use development. Probably the greatest fueler to global climate change and oil depletion has to be suburban sprawl. Suburban sprawl has caused people to fill up their gas tanks time and time again to sustain their long distance travelings between residential and commercial destinations. The best way to combat suburban sprawl is to limit distances travels via automobile. This can be done through mixed-use development. For example, the merging of residential and commercial can decrease commuting and shopping distances, by making the destinations, such as, residential and commercial, accessible by foot, elevator and/or stairs. It also allows shoppers to live and play conveniently within walking distance, which is ecologically friendly and free.Image result for mixed-use developments

Transportation is the largest single user of petroleum, consuming more than half of petroleum quads in the United States. This is the reason why Levy lists changes in transportation as a category. One of the strategies that he explains can be utilized by planners to conserve energy is separating light rails, bicycle lanes, and automobile lanes. This therefore makes other forms of transportation more safe therefore encouraging people to leave their cars at home and take the light rail or bicycle. Davis, California, is a prime example of this. Davis, CA, has designated 25 percent of all passenger miles to bicycle lanes.Image result for davis california

Levy also lists Changing Building Characteristics as a category. The strategy listed with this category is encouraging row housing, rather than free standing single-family units. The way that this strategy conserves energy is by reducing the amount of energy used in heating buildings — it reduces the amount of surface exposure to the elements outside. Connecting houses together leaves no room for heat to escape to the outside, instead it confines heat to only the inside of that home. Another is making buildings that face the south on streets that run east and west so that buildings can retain the maximum amount of solar exposure. A “green code” could be mandate solar panels in such neighborhoods so that such solar exposure can be captured and used.Related image

Comprehensive Planning

My inspiration for planning and design comes from my family. My father is a home builder and my mother used to be an interior designer and is now a real estate agent. Growing up my sister and I have always been on their job sites as well as watching and helping our parents pick designs and other elements for the homes.

When a new job site was starting we were used to seeing so many different plans before one was finally built. My sister and I always assumed they had just been different options our parents were considering, but as we grew older our parents explained to us how they were all different versions of the same plan. They told us how each town had their own set of rules and what was and wasn’t allowed to be built.

As I got even older and more interested in the field my father further explained to me about how the changes and such were due to rejections from the planning board due to violations with zoning or other town ordinances; like we learned about in chapter 8.


Recently my father has started building a new home. His original plan was for a home that was 3,500 square feet on a 100 x 100-foot lot. The town rejected it due to the fact that the towns FAR ratio only allowed for 30% of the lot to have the home on it; meaning it could only be 3,000 square feet. However, the town told my father of an environmental clause (as he worded it) that would allow for the home to be 3,300 square feet instead of the normal 3,000. If he was to bring back a plan that had a porch with columns and stone detail instead of a basic square porch, used concrete siding instead of vinyl, and a few other changes, he would be approved for the 3,300 square foot home.

My takeaway from all of this has been that as a contractor, or anyone in the building and development profession, it is very important to know all of the town’s ordinances that you are working in. By knowing and understanding everything the municipality has in place will allow you the quickest and easiest route to a finished project.

Environmental Planning, The tragedy of the commons

When planners, engineers, designers, economists, politicians and scientists look to the future and what it will bring us, environmental protection historically has been at the bottom of the list.  With twenty first century advances and technology comes problems stemming from neglect of the natural environment and the systems that we rely so heavily on.

When we look at environmental protection the theme of “the tragedy of the commons: arises.  imagine a village field where anyone can graze his animals for free.  Ultimately the commons here being the field are destroyed because of its overuse.  If we blow up this analogy to a greater scale we would see that atmosphere and the worlds oceans as the commons.  We see that the organizations that commits the environmental damage either faces a fraction of the cost of damages or faces no costs at all.  Acting out of self interest mainly for profits results in the over use of certain resources we take for granted.

This tradition can go on no further and measures must be taken to insure a better, more sustainable tomorrow.  Planners are adopting LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental design) practices for new development projects.  It is a rating system devised by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) to evaluate the environmental performance of a building and encourage market transformation towards sustainable design.  I personally like this a lot because of its point calculating method. Imagine getting a scorecard or a grade for that matter based on your proposed development. 

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New Jersey has adopted these practices more and more over the years and has the capacity to become a leader across the United States when it comes to more sustainable design.    LEED As New Jersey’s leading authoritative resource for environmental, economic and high-performance elements of sustainable green buildings and communities, USGBC-NJ is proud to be home to so many LEED projects. As of March 2015, New Jersey has nearly 430 LEED certified projects and almost 1,500 LEED registered projects on tap. There are also over 2,500 certified LEED For Homes right here in NJ.

Implementing these practices as standard will assure that the future of how our communities are built will coincide with our values for protecting the natural world.  Adopting these methods are not enough to solve the problems society is facing with global climate change but, it does provide a massive stepping stone in the right direction for how ready New Jersey will be facing these problems.

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Local economic development, unemployment and migration

Economic development is integral for cities, counties, states, regions, and countries. To put it in simplest terms, more economic development means better wages, less unemployment, better quality of life, better for markets to grow.  But, according to Levy author of Contemporary Urban planning, economic development decreases unemployment far less than people theoretically perceive.  Spurring economic development in a city will indeed lower unemployment for local populations but, also the immigration of people looking to get these new jobs also increases.  The immigration of people to a new area may be a detriment to locals seeking to apply themselves to a new business in town.  Also getting these often large companies and corporations to stay in a city may be a daunting task as well.

Here we examine historical economic development efforts and how they play out in reality.  Boeing the aircraft manufacturer based out of Seattle, Washington came into trouble with its workers union back in February 2014, the Boeing company employs nearly 60,000 workers in Seattle.  Boeing wanted to switch to a 401K retirement plan from their traditional pension plan.  The dispute was so acrimonious that the company threatened to pack up and relocate to a “right to work state.” The results of the tension between workers and Boeing was a 8.7 billion dollar tax break to Boeing from now until 2040 contingent on the fact that they keep manufacturing of certain aircraft in Seattle.   The tax breaks given helped to secure the jobs of 60,000 employees, a noble move by the state looking out for its workers.

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If we examine the city of Newark and its current bid to attract Amazon to come to the garden state, can we expect similar types of deals to be made?  I believe so, The positives out weight the negatives for these situations. A city like Seattle can’t afford for 60,000 jobs to over night disappear.   The immediate and long term impacts of such a move has the capacity to disrupt local economies and send them into a downward spiral of unemployment and depression.  In the case of Newark, if amazon was to start construction of its facility I would imagine a huge revitalization of the surrounding area of development.  A better downtown, improved education, and better infrastructure.  It would be evident that unemployment would decrease in the area but how much?  Newark being location in the greater New York metropolitan area we would for sure see an increased migration of people seeking to be hired from internet Giant Amazon.   Ultimately it would depend if Amazon chooses Newark to base a headquarters but regardless if it does or not these issues will exist wherever they decide to set up camp.


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