Little Rock: It’s not them. It IS us. A reflection on Amazon, failure, and hope for a divided city.

Hey Little Rock,
We need to talk.

Yesterday was the deadline to submit a proposal for Amazon’s nationwide open bid for a second HQ. Little Rock declined to submit and instead took out a full page ad in the Washington Post, shared this letter, and started a city campaign called “Love Little Rock”. You can read the letter or watch the video here for context:

Here’s the truth. It’s not them. It IS us.

I am a Little Rock local who absolutely loves Little Rock. I want to state my bias from the onset. I really do believe that we are a city with a ton of potential for anyone who loves the process of seeking out the undervalued and building something for themselves. 

Amazon wasn’t happening folks. By the metrics. By the data. By the base qualifications set out by Amazon for a qualified city for this bid. Those are the facts. It’s what we know.

What I also know is that I have heard more people talking about the challenges facing the economic development of Little Rock today than I have heard in YEARS.

How can we expect a company like Amazon to swoop in and show us love when we don’t even love ourselves? Why would Amazon cross the country and invest in Little Rock when we can’t even cross 630 or 430 and invest in it for ourselves? The issues of mass transit, poor city design, and bleak economic outlooks have plagued the city for a long time, but our locals are disengaged until it affects their very specific part of town. We allow neighborhoods in our city center and on the outskirts to decay because it’s easier and “safer” to keep driving out past our problems. We complain that there are more people begging at intersections than we’ve ever seen, but don’t collectively ask what we can do to combat homelessness. We complain that “the city” isn’t doing enough. I’m guilty of it too. Did you know that there are over 30 city board and commission vacancies right now? We complain about our school district, but when the local school board found themselves on the chopping block, no one came.

When a shooting took place at a club in our city in the aftermath we spent more time blaming the area, performers, and venue than we spent wondering about what we needed to do make sure that ALL of us could go out and feel safe. Local elections, zoning meetings, and neighborhood associations: a whisper. I spent years working as a volunteer coordinator and in other roles for nonprofits around the city, literally begging for people to give a shit and give their time for my livelihood, and I have heard every excuse under the sun.

You can’t actually love Little Rock if you won’t even go into half of it. There is no West Little Rock, there is no Southwest Little Rock. There is no Chenal or 12th Street or Stifft Station or John Barrow or Midtown. These are names that we have created as we’ve divided ourselves. We’ve been infighting for years; slicing the city by west and north and southwest and midtown and divided into so many separate and segregated pieces that we’ve lost sight of the one thing this failure highlights: when it comes down to it we are ONE city and our potential is in the sum of our parts. We are all Little Rock. Every section, every neighborhood, every school, every church, every family and every person. I hope in the wake of yet another missed opportunity, we can finally start acting like we know this. 

Reading that letter was frustrating. It was public. It was embarrassing. The approach was admittedly strange, but how much of it was actually wrong?

I will forever #LoveLittleRock and I hope that maybe by working together, giving a shit, and investing in our own progress, we could build a city that will be ready to love when the next opportunity comes around.

Love, Your Biggest Fan

Update: Thanks to everyone who took the time to read and share this story! To get more updates on the people of Little Rock coming together from all corners to make positive change, follow One Little Rock on Facebook or join the mailing list!
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