Add another entry to the canon of ways Seattleites have expressed their hatred of Amazon: Microsoft employee-turned-writer Jeff Reifman is pitching a children's book about a monster named after the tech company.
Like a kids' version of the "Woo Girls," it's Twitter-ready backlash to the way Seattle is changing. But the project is also an example of how quickly anti-Amazon sentiments can start to echo the anti-growth mindset that fuels fights against density and housing affordability across the city.
In his first Kickstarter effort for the book, Reifman explained his main character's story this way: "Zoe returns from summer camp to discover the Space Needle's gone missing. Scanning from the familiar perch of her apartment balcony, all she sees is tall, homogenous new office buildings and luxury apartments. She asks her dad, 'where's the Space Needle?' He tells her, 'somewhere along the way, we kinda lost it.'
After Zoe meets "Amazocalypse," "the monster is shocked to learn its existence has contributed to the Space Needle's disappearance and harmed the city," the description read.
Reifman's first effort has since failed and he's relaunched the project as an e-book. And while he's toned down some of the anti-growth language in the project's description, he says the story is the same.
There are lots of reasons to hate Amazon: Its damage to independent book stores; its majority-male workforce; its lack of substantial local philanthropy; the way it treats its employees—both in the office and in the warehouse; Jeff Bezos's resistance to new taxes, including his contribution to the fight against an income tax here in Washington State in 2010. (An income tax that could help fund some stuff we really need, like better transit or affordable housing.)
But new office buildings? In an area that used to be mostly one-story warehouses and parking lots? Really? Amazon has condensed its campus (though not its warehouses) in an urban core instead of sprawling into the suburbs and bussing its employees in and out of the city using fossil fuels and freeways. If increased density is an environmental good, who gives a fuck about views of the Space Needle?
When I asked Reifman about whether his project was anti-growth, he told me I might be overthinking a children's book.
"I think maybe you're looking with too much granularity at this instead of at the bigger picture," he said. "We have serious, dramatic change coming to the city that is unstoppable... This is a new angle for people to talk about it with humor."
"A children's book on its own," he added, "should not be asked to carry the conversation on issues of this magnitude."
Reifman has critiqued Amazon elsewhere, blaming the company for damaging Seattle's dating scene and encouraging more density in neighborhoods like Ballard. He's also called on the company to help pay for transit and support rent control. He says he's a "supporter of growth if we're thoughtful about it." (Which is the same line plenty of NIMBYs have used.) He also criticizes Amazon's predominantly white male work force and says he hopes the book may make young girls think about their potential in tech.
"I didn't make Zoe a girl as the lead character for no reason," he says. "She will use technology with some of her friends."
The illustrator of the book, Megan Myers, who left Seattle in 2012, says it would offer a way to talk about the effects of urbanization and corporations on cities.
"What I'd really like young people to take away from this book," Myers said in an email, "is that it is important to be aware of what is happening in your community and to talk about it and ask questions about it."
I'm with Myers on that, though I'd argue you can teach kids to think critically about the impacts of a company like Amazon without demonizing denser neighborhoods. No matter how much Amazon the company might feel like a "monster," it's still a "monster" made up of a bunch of actual human beings who need a place to live in Seattle, just like the rest of us.
To help offset gentrification linked to the flood of new tech workers, Reifman says the city should require new developers to set aside affordable housing units.
The good news: The city is working on that.
The bad news: They're being thwarted by a group of people who live downtown, are worried about their views, and don't like change.