Making a Place for Amazon

Urban Land

By Patrick J. Kiger

August 26, 2019

When Amazon decided in fall 2018 to build a $2.5 billion East Coast headquarters on the edge of the Crystal City neighborhood in Arlington County, Virginia, it picked a location that does not much resemble the sort of hip urban locales that tech companies usually favor. Instead, Amazon will bring 25,000 workers into a comparatively staid, mid-20th-century enclave known largely for providing affordable office space to government agencies and contractors that is conveniently close to both Washington, D.C., and the Pentagon.

With an extensive underground mall that connects the Metro subway system to many of the office buildings, and broad one-way streets that allow autos to zip from one end of the community to the other, Crystal City is not a place designed with walking and cycling in the sunshine in mind. And unlike the lively neighborhoods that youthful tech workers favor, Crystal City has been known for emptying out in the evening after traditional working hours.

But Amazon and JBG Smith, the Washington-area developer partnering with the e-commerce giant, are looking ahead to what Crystal City can become. JBG Smith, known for its focus on placemaking—the art of using the built environment to appeal to people—already is in the process of transforming the area into a 16-hour live/work/play, walkable community with the communal green space and lifestyle amenities that appeal to a millennial and generation Z labor force that does not typically go straight home in the evening.

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