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Cities against Tech Giants

– This article is part of the graduate seminar series The Right to the City 2018-2019 –

The recent debates concerning the big technology establishments within the major cities such as New York and Berlin caused a clash between big technology companies aiming to establish headquarters, business venues within the strategic locations of cities, and the opposing local people, and local leaders. Evgeny Morozov at a talk in 2018 remarked: “In the last few years I have noticed from my own work that cities have become a magnet for big technology investments and platforms increasingly; wherever you look in the globe you probably see some technology companies trying to make inroads into some big city.” (DomusForum, 2018) Alphabet, Google’s parent company, attempts to build a smart city in Toronto with taking a share of the city’s property taxes and development fees. The company with the claimed aim of making the city more sustainable and affordable, intending to start Sidewalks Lab project, which recently has received reactions of the local people due to a perceived lack of transparency of the company. (CNBC 2019)

Similarly, other recent developments like Amazon’s retreat from its plans to open headquarters in Long Island area and Google’s attempted Campus project in Kreuzberg- Berlin show distrust and backlash by locals on the expansion of the big technology companies within cities. The spreading of giant companies with claiming the places within cities intrinsically linked with the desire of expansion of the capital. The oppositions to such instances should be understood as defending the right to the city, which entails for the citizens to be part of the creation of the city, the right to be part of the decision-making processes shaping the lives of city inhabitants. (de Lange, 2019)

Recently, as a result of the opposition from the local government and people, Amazon has decided to withdraw from its plans of establishing a headquarter in Long Island City, Queens. The news has announced to the public with a statement made by the company on social media. The statement indicates that despite the demand of most New Yorkers and tech leaders, Amazon has decided to give up from its plans of establishing a headquarter in the area. The decision to retreat while was concerning for some has received positive reactions by the local people. The location of the building claimed by Amazon has already been set aside for schools, affordable housing, and parks along with smaller commercial space. Thus, the establishment of a headquarter would mean to give up on this space that reserved for the local community. Community organizations such as the Queens Neighbourhood United, Make the Road, Voices of Community Activists and Leaders (VOCAL), the Queens Anti-Gentrification Project, New York labor unions arranged public meetings, marches, and protests, as a part of a right to the city movement.

Only over some months ago, Google, due to the “Google Go Home” campaign gave up its plans to open a Google campus in Berlin Kreuzberg. Space which used as an event venue was going transform into a Google building. The local initiatives and organizations have arranged protests against gentrification, underlining the changes that happened after Google acquired places within other cities such as London, Madrid, Warsaw. (Deutsche Welle 2017) Areas, where the big companies acquire, change excessively members of the local initiatives say while mentioning their discontentedness. “The rents get very expensive; the retail spaces get very expensive. In principle, the complete area that was there before simply gets replaced by other people and other businesses.”(Deutsche Welle 2017)

These events highlight the many tensions among the different stakeholders and bear the right of citizens in terms of their struggle for the right to the city. On the one hand, there are politicians, tech leaders, and companies and their supporters on the other there are local people, communities, local initiatives and organizations. The tensions between the two parts reveal significant issues concerning the future and the making of the cities concerning big companies trying to manage the urban space. Despite the claims of new job opportunities that the big companies will offer once they acquire the places within the city, it is vital to remember the revealed harsh working conditions of companies, such as Amazon, also the issues of managing the data acquired from citizens, users, urban spaces which will be collected by the companies and governments. This situation bears the potential of resulting in a more centralized form of control system. Furthermore, the argument that more job opportunities with the establishment of companies contain an assumption that does not take in account who will have access to these jobs in what circumstances and the issues concerning the future of employment. Recent outbursts of clashes between cities and big companies in different parts of the world should, therefore, be understood and analyzed carefully with considering its implications to our right to the city.

Written by Mavi Irmak Karademirler

 

References

Deutsche Welle. “Berlin Residents Reject Google Campus | DW | 25.04.2017.” DW.COM, www.dw.com/en/berlin-residents-reject-google-campus/a-38586077.

de Lange, Michiel. 2019 (forthcoming). “The Right to the Datafied City: Interfacing the Urban Data Commons.” In The Right to the Smart City, edited by Rob Kitchin, Paolo Cardullo and Cesare Di Feliciantonio. Bingley, UK: Emerald.

“Evgeny Morozov: ‘Cities Have Become a Magnet for Big Technology Investments and Platforms.’” Naoto Jasper = Super Normal, www.domusweb.it/en/events/forum/2018/evgeny-morozov-cities-have-become-a-magnet-for-big-technology-investments-and-platforms.html/.

Feiner, Lauren. “Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs Wants a Cut of Toronto Taxes to Build a Smart City There.” CNBC, CNBC, 15 Feb. 2019, www.cnbc.com/2019/02/15/alphabets-sidewalk-labs-wants-a-cut-of-toronto-taxes-for-smart-city.html.

Heater, Brian, and Brian Heater. “Amazon Drops Plans for New York HQ2.” TechCrunch, TechCrunch, 14 Feb. 2019, techcrunch.com/2019/02/14/amazon-drops-plans-for-new-york-hq2/?utm_source=tctwreshare&sr_share=twitter.

Kilgannon, Corey, and Sean Piccoli. “’Wrong Side of History’: In Queens, Amazon Deal’s Demise Reveals Deep Divisions.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 15 Feb. 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/02/14/nyregion/amazon-long-island-city.html.

Santus, Rex. “How Anti-Gentrification Activists Derailed Amazon’s New York City Plans.” VICE News, VICE News, 15 Feb. 2019, news.vice.com/en_us/article/nex34z/how-anti-gentrification-activists-derailed-amazons-new-york-city-plans.