Sign on the door of Staples in Westwood Village.
Image credit: West Seattle Blog
This idea might seem preposterous because Amazon is one of the reasons given for the decline of shopping malls across the country. And saving Westwood might not be something Amazon would ever consider.
But hear me out. Westwood has problems, and no one seems to be offering solutions. So in the spirit of Eleanor Roosevelt's famous saying,"It is better to light a candle than it is to curse the darkness," I offer you this blog post.
First, let's think outside the box. Instead of a big retail anchor at Westwood Village, why not a big tech company? Amazon has all the resources needed to turn Westwood Village around - by buying the mall, opening a satellite office, and redeveloping the site.
Next, let's look at ways Amazon can put the "Village" into Westwood Village.
Amazon has plenty of experience securing office buildings, warehouses, merchandise, and fleets of vehicles. That experience and a paid staff could transform Westwood into a place where people feel safe to shop and work. There is no path to success at Westwood without security.
2. Good paying jobs.
Westwood currently is a center for low wage jobs. In fact, most jobs in West Seattle are retail, food service, or other low-to-modest pay jobs.
Wouldn't it be nice if people didn't have to commute outside the neighborhood for better pay? Commuting is a major contributor to CO2 emissions. Any reduction in commuting is a win for everyone.
A proper village needs villagers. And villagers need homes. Across the country, shopping centers are being reinvented to include housing, turning malls into small neighborhoods.
The South Bay Mall in Boston, Massachusetts, is being transformed into a lively, mixed-use community. Image credit: Stantec
Amazon has several housing initiatives in the Puget Sound region, including a pledge of $25 million to build affordable housing near public transit. Westwood Village is a transit hub, so it qualifies.
Adding affordable housing units, along with larger units for families, would make it possible for employees at Westwood to live where they work. Using a sliding scale, like MFTE properties, rents would be matched to incomes. But unlike MFTEs that revert to market rates in a few years, a certain percentage of units could be kept affordable into perpetuity, assuring an ongoing supply of affordable housing.
Shopping center redevelopment projects include a central courtyard area for casual gatherings, events, and concerts. These activities build community and, as neighbors get to know each other, a sense of safety.
On the subject of safety, it may surprise you, but adding affordable housing to a community has been shown to lower crime rates, particularly violent crime, such as robbery and assault. Full time residents in the Village will mean more eyes on the street, more of the time, and more people with cell phones in their pockets ready to record and report suspicious activity.
4. Encourage local businesses.
What if instead of boring, cookie-cutter, corporate chain stores, Amazon featured local West Seattle businesses?
They could start by inviting businesses that will be displaced by light rail. The Alki Beach Academy, Mode Music and Performing Arts, Ounces Taproom and their local food truck partners, Skylark, Sound Physical Therapy, and others.
At a time when arts programs are being cut from schools, Mode Music and Performing Arts (MMPA) plays an important role in the community, bringing arts education to young people.
Maybe there could be second acts for certain businesses. Who misses Lee's Asian? Or West 5? Or the Alki Arts Gallery?
Amazon is no stranger to this kind of development. Take a look at the local businesses that are part of Amazon's HQ2 in Alexandria, VA.
5. Health care.
West Seattle needs a 24-hour emergency health care facility.
We don't necessarily need a hospital. According to the CDC, only 13% of ER visits result in hospitalization. If an emergency care facility has real-time bed census numbers from area hospitals, and ambulances close by, that should allow for direct admission when needed.
If Amazon expanded its One Medical service to Westwood Village and added 24-hour emergency care, that would be a game-changer for this community.
Westwood Village is a transportation hub. Both Sound Transit and King County Metro buses have stops in front of the Village. Two are Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lines, the RapidRides C and H.
If Amazon employees need to go downtown for a big meeting, the RapidRide lines will take them there. Amazon employees currently taking the C or the H downtown for work will use the same lines to get to Westwood for work. No new routes or infrastructure needed.
Amazon could partner with Sound Transit and KC Metro to find ways to make Westwood more accessible for people throughout the neighborhood. Large swaths of West Seattle are transit deserts. Bus lines have been eliminated, or run only certain hours, or don't run on weekends. Light rail will never reach any of those areas.
Amazon built a global empire with its mastery of logistics. If Amazon can get a package to you overnight, they can design a system to deliver people, too. And it turns out that they have.
Credit: KentOnline Photo: WilliamjlPhotography
Amazon opened a huge fulfillment center in the UK in 2021, employing 1,300 workers. But there was a problem - there was no parking for all those people. So Amazon created a variety of transit options for workers, including the shuttle you see above. The shuttle serves the public as well as Amazon employees, so it is a win for the community, too. Read the full story.
7. Combating Climate Change
Given Amazon's Climate Pledge goal of powering operations 100% with renewable energy by 2025, the reimagined Village would be a model of sustainable development, and perhaps an inspiration to others considering similar projects.
With a satellite office facility at Westwood, Amazon employees who live in the West Seattle/White Center/Burien corridor would have shorter commutes, thereby reducing emissions, and traffic congestion.
If a One Medical facility is added to the Village, West Seattle health care workers currently commuting to Burien, First Hill, or Capitol Hill would not have to leave the neighborhood for work. That also means less traffic, and fewer cars on the West Seattle Bridge.
In fact, it might be that bridge traffic will be reduced much more by keeping residents in the neighborhood for work than by building light rail. According to Sound Transit, West Seattle Link Light Rail is expected to reduce WS Bridge traffic by only 100 cars during peak hours by 2042.
Improving transit throughout the neighborhood, and making it available to the general public as well as workers, has the potential to reduce emissions further by giving more people an alternative to driving.
The Bottom Line: Creating a Village at Westwood Is Equitable
Redeveloping Westwood would go far beyond giving Amazon employees an alternative to the commute downtown for work.
West Seattle is a big, diverse neighborhood. But too much of the "good stuff" - arts, entertainment, higher-paying jobs, unique shops, proposed light rail - goes to the affluent north end of the peninsula.
Politicians talk about equity, but nothing changes. It's as if they expect that prosperity at the north end of the neighborhood will somehow "trickle down" to the south.
A bold reimagining of Westwood Village would change that. Transforming a prime example of urban decay into a prosperous urban village will benefit everyone, especially those in West Seattle who need it most. If Amazon isn't interested in taking on the challenge, I hope someone with the imagination and resources will.