Photographic look at Amazon GrowthUpdate: There’s now an accompanying photographic essay and panorama of Amazon growth around South Lake Union. Please check it out and share it.

The thousands of Amazon’s male coders struggling to find bathrooms in company offices will soon be able to walk to their new luxury, high rise apartment homes for potty breaks.

In one of the most interesting public records requests I’ve ever seen, GeekWire reported that the state’s investigated ongoing complaints by Amazon men about overcrowded restrooms:


“…if you were a female worker on the 9th floor of Amazon’s Varzea building in 2013, you would have been surrounded by 60 men, and just two other women. That meant there was one female worker for every women’s bathroom stall, compared to about 15 men to every fixture…up one floor, … 100 men and 13 women. Up one more … 77 men and nine women. Amazon’s count for the entire building in 2013 came out to 558 men and 105 women.” One female employee complained on Twitter of always having to turn the light on in the bathroom.

Amazon refuses to release gender, race and income statistics for its Seattle workforce. Instead it conceals local gender and race inequality using statistics from its worldwide workforce (mostly warehouse workers). For example, the company reports 37% of its workforce is female but those restroom numbers above demonstrate a local sample of only 15.9% which I began reporting in 2014.

More shocking is Crosscut’s Ethan Phelps-Goodman’s report that South Lake Union’s explosive growth is just getting started. It provides a mind-boggling expose of Amazon’s current and future impact on this central Seattle neighborhood. It’s nothing less than a guide to the city’s coming Amazocalypse. Yet, few Seattle readers noticed it (less than a dozen shared it on Twitter.)

Amazon South Lake Union Growth

Planned Towers for South Lake Union

While South Lake Union has 3,500 units of housing today, another 13 towers are going through the permitting process: “six of which are at least 40 stories tall…All told, if every one of the projects in the pipeline today reaches completion, there will be 13 new buildings, each over 20 stories, where today there are none over 12 stories. … the new towers will cater to the high end of the market.”

That’s essentially 10,000 more housing units; all essentially dormitories for Amazon employees.

While the well-paid Amazon employees living in those new apartments will certainly be able to walk nearly everywhere, the rest of Seattle will be unable to travel from east to west, south to north and vice versa. Already uncrossable most of the day, the neighborhood around Amazon sits in a central crosspoint for the city.

Driven by Amazon, Seattle’s growth now exceeds levels not seen since the gold rush of the early 1900’s. City traffic already ranks fourth worst nationally. If Amazon succeeds in doubling or tripling its number of employees by 2020, regional gridlock will be cemented.

In the wake of the New York Times expose on Amazon’s sociopathic and misogynist culture, CEO Jeff Bezos and the company’s PR team began a wave of news releases to try to change the subject. My favorite was this unusually sudden sneak preview of the next Blue Origin facility in which GeekWire resurrected Bezos’ attempt to be seen as Tom Cruise in Top Gun:

Amazon Jeff Bezos PR Top Gun

Far from heroic leadership, Bezos and Amazon refuse to take any serious role in confronting the failure to grow public infrastructure alongside the private development nursing their employee base and revenue growth. As The Seattle Times reports, “Under the state growth management law… if growth overloads roads, cities must have a plan to remedy the situation within six years.”  The law requires, “that transportation improvements or strategies to accommodate development impacts need to be made concurrently with land development.”

The most obvious failure of Governor Inslee, the state legislature and Mayor Murray is in taking no real action towards the kind of massive extended investment in public transportation which we need. Even if they act today, Seattle residents will live with gridlock for the next ten years.

I recently returned from two weeks exploring other areas of the Northwest to find an alternative city to move to. The writing’s on the seawall, traffic and wealth inequality is killing the city.

A food-service worker for a local technology company writes, “Most full-time employees make between $100,000 and $150,000 per year…I am paid $14.50 an hour… or $28,000 per year. The average rent for an apartment in Seattle is now $1,853 [monthly]… 80 percent of my pretax salary.”

rich renting seattle

The Rich are Now Renting in Seattle

Affordable housing is a critical issue in this town. As high paid tech employees increase demand for apartments, many Seattle residents are being pushed further from their jobs by rent hikes: “…Almost none of my co-workers live in the city of Seattle. [One] commutes back and forth from Puyallup, a trip that can take her two hours or more. [Another] lives in Federal Way and wakes at 4 a.m. to drive to a light-rail station so that he can be at work by 6 [and avoid unaffordable parking fees.]”

Seattle Porsche Lease Apartment Rent

Seattle Porsche Lease Less than Apartment Rent

I’ve always thought the growing density of Audi’s, Porsches, BMW’s, Teslas and Ferraris sitting in traffic are owned by Amazon employees but it’s possible that these are simply creative Seattle homeless finding innovative ways to remain in the city. Leasing a Porsche costs about half the rent of an apartment.

According to The Seattle Times, “Mayor Ed Murray [is] pushing legislation that would require developers to pay fees or build affordable housing. [City Council candidate Bill] Bradburd says they’re proposing too little, too late. ‘For them to stand up now and say we should do inclusionary zoning, that’s a bunch of bull…'” As Crosscut made clear, all the new towers planned for South Lake Union will likely be permitted before the Mayor’s task force on affordable housing ever passes a law.

Recently, many people blamed NIMBY activists for opposing the Mayor’s initial neighborhood density plan. While it might ease housing costs, it would worsen gridlock. Massive transportation investment must happen first. Similarly, misguided “progressives” who prefer unregulated building development to proliferate housing thus creating walkable neighborhoods fail to foresee what an epic disaster it would be, much like what is already taking shape all over the city. The problem is that there aren’t any jobs in outlying neighborhoods — all those new residents will need to get to work somehow.

Increasing Zestimate Seattle

Increasing Zestimates in Seattle

I don’t care how you want to argue the politics of rent control but at this point it’s simply an emergency measure to allow the average non-tech Seattle residents to stay in their homes until developers are required to integrate a significant percentage of affordable units in all ongoing and future development. Unless portional rent control is passed immediately, Amazon will complete its flushing of lower paid residents from the remaining neighborhoods of our city.

The only other option to preserve Seattle’s diversity would be to temporarily freeze new private development and begin regulating hiring in large companies.

As a Seattle homeowner it’s nice waking up regularly to emails about my Zestimate increasing but as technologists move in and artists leave, the culture is dying here. Imagine 25,000 apartments in the center of our city filled with largely white male brogrammers.

A highly opinionated male commenter wrote in a forum linking to Peepless in Seattle:

Considering how dull and humorless most people are in Seattle…I understand why Seattelites are so fond of their dogs and pets…..I find it hard to make friends in Seattle with men, as well, as many men seem so reserved and dull…Being a man and trying to make friends with a man in Seattle is almost as much of a chore as it is to meet a woman…For a place that champions diversity, equality, freedom…it is one of the most oppressed, judgmental and controlled populations I have ever encountered.

And Crosscut’s Drew Atkins reported this week that Seattle Area Men are Driving Women to Drink. According to new research, “King County women rank among the top 10 percent of heavy drinkers in the United States.” Atkins sources “point to the blandness of local men, whose company is made more tolerable with a nice glass of alcohol. Or two. Or three.”

‘Men from this area are pretty boring, for the most part,… it’s like they’re careful to keep their guard up, and say the least interesting things possible.’ Does this lead her to drink more on dates and social outings? Yes, Megan says, absolutely… From Anne…’Have you ever had a date with someone, and they just sat there and discussed their philosophy about teams? Like product teams, work teams, why they’re such a good team leader at Amazon? Jesus. I mean, I think this [research] is onto something. I was on a date like that once. I got drunk as hell on that date.’…As local event consultant Annie Pardo told Dame Magazine: ‘I’ve lived in Seattle for seven years, single most of them. The only thing that has changed is the increase in men I’d never want to go out on a date with.’

Tricia Romano reported similar experiences in her viral, “Amazon is Killing My Sex Life.”

Certainly we can joke about the culture but it points to real changes undermining the health and quality of life of our city. If you live in Seattle and care about its future, start a conversation everyday about the failure of the legislature, the mayor and city council to begin an ambitious investment in public transportation and emergency rent control. And stop shopping at Amazon.

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Posted by Jeff Reifman

Jeff is a technology consultant based in the Pacific Northwest.


  1. An acquaintance asked why I didn’t mention the legislature’s $16 billion transportation bill – because it offers no public transportation investments in Seattle, that’s why. “Most of the money would go to widen or expand highways, with smaller shares for local roads, ferries, maintenance, safety, transit and trails. The package wouldn’t pay to rebuild or add capacity to I-5 in Seattle, which could require up to $2 billion, nor are there any operational changes such as two-way express lanes, toll lanes or bus-rapid-transit lanes through the city.”

    As for public transit – it leaves to voters for Sound Transit extensions:
    Sound Transit would be allowed to submit a $15 billion tax package on the November 2016 ballot in urban Snohomish, King and Pierce counties, mainly to extend the light-rail system over 15 years.”

    And frankly, it doesn’t seem to me taht Sound Transit isn’t planning aggressively enough for Seattle’s growing Amazocalyptic gridlock.


  2. I’m a little torn by this article. On the one hand rent is out of control and I do know some “brogrammers” and find them pretty awful too. But many of the most interesting people I’ve ever met are software folks and makers and there is some incredible stuff going on, even at Amazon. If you want to find a low rent town with incredible weather that will probably NEVER be “up and coming” you could join us down here in ABQ, but be prepared for some downsides you don’t have up there.


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