Amazon sponsors oil event, SUVs are not safer, AOC at C40 forum, #DeleteUber for good, & more!

Issue 107

Hey urbanists,

This week brought more evidence that leaving climate change to ‘the market’ will never work. Amazon sponsored an oil event, Google donates to climate deniers, and corporate interests have fought for decades to halt action around the world.

Plus, SoftBank isn’t doing so great, automation is more complicated than we’ve been led to believe, consumerism makes us feel that climate action is individual, two million Californians had rolling blackouts, the U.S. had anti-car protests before the Netherlands, urban helicopters failed once before, and a council housing project won a major architectural award. Oh, and check out my most recent piece about Uber!

I’m at PAX Australia this weekend, then I’m off to Sydney in a few days. I talked to some of the people working to unionize the Australian games industry and met some of the people behind one of my favorite mobile game: Mini Metro! I also read three books: Keith Spencer’s “A People’s History of Silicon Valley,” Annalee Newitz’ “The Future of Another Timeline,” and Nathalie Olah’s “Steal as Much as You Can.”

If you’d like to attend a meetup but didn’t fill out the one-minute survey last week, you can still find it here.

Have a great week!


🚫📱 By Paris: “It’s time to bring back the #DeleteUber campaign for good this time — and expand it to Lyft, DoorDash, and all the rest.” Uber has had two years to change its ways, but its response to AB-5 proves it hasn’t. Instead of reforming it or turning it into a cooperative, it must be abolished — and a democratically controlled alternative developed to replace it.

Tech dystopia

🛢 Two weeks ago, Jeff Bezos pledged to significantly reduce Amazon’s emissions after demands from workers, but refused to cancel contracts with oil companies. This week, Amazon sponsored the oil industry’s “Accelerate Production 4.0” forum. In short, Bezos still plans to assist in burning the planet for profit. Meanwhile, another report reveals that Google has made large contributions to a bunch of climate deniers.

☠️ “The dystopia that is Silicon Valley, as it annexes more and more of the Bay Area, shows that the tech overlords have little interest in a better world, as opposed to a more profitable one for themselves.” Take Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro as an example: his rise was aided by YouTube’s radicalization algorithms; now he’s burning the Amazon.

🔮 When thinking about the future, we often overstate the impact of recent ‘innovations’, downplay the importance of things that have become standard, fail to account for social and behavioral change, and tend to imagine that new inventions are going to change much more about how we live than they actually will. This is definitely the case with self-driving cars, but the article also notes how in the 1960s people predicted fax machines, but not women in workplaces. (I often use a similar example of the Jetsons: flying cars, but the wife still doesn’t work.)

🇨🇳 Companies are getting in hot water for bowing down to China. ESPN published a map of China that included Taiwan, the nine-dash line covering the South China Sea, and the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. Apple removed an app that let Hong Kong citizens track the police, hid the emoji of Taiwan’s flag from keyboards in Hong Kong and Macau, removed the QZ app from the Chinese app store over its coverage of the demonstrations in Hong Kong, and told Apple TV+ creators not to portray China in a negative light in their shows. Game developer Blizzard banned a professional gamer for voicing support for Hong Kong and took away his prize money, then said they would restore the money and reduce the suspension to six months, but the link to that second statement now leads to a 404 error page on their website.

📉 SoftBank’s Vision Fund is the thread connecting underperforming tech companies. The Fund’s strategy is based on getting companies to IPO, but now it’s $600 million underwater on Uber and will likely lose a ton on WeWork. “At the height of the first tech bubble, [CEO Masayoshi Son] was the richest man in the world. He plowed money into risky investments, often coming on board late with gargantuan sums of money. When that bubble burst, Son was hit hard. He’s rumored to have lost some $70 billion, the most ever lost by an individual in human history.” Is he about to lose again?

💰 The average U.S. full-time salaried worker made $46,800 in 2018. It would take them 21,000 years to earn $1 billion, or the amount of time it’s taken humanity to go from living in caves to today. But to earn as much as Jeff Bezos, it would take 2.8 million years. That shouldn’t be possible in a fair and democratic society — and it’s why billionaires need to be taxed so that they can’t accumulate that much wealth.

🤖 Automation isn’t going to cause mass unemployment as tech determinists and basic income advocates have tried to convince us. “Instead, automation increases the likelihood that workers will be driven away from their previous jobs at the companies—whether they’re fired, or moved to less rewarding tasks, or quit—and causes … ‘a 5-year cumulative wage income loss of 11 percent of one year’s earnings’.”

🇺🇸🇬🇧 Uber is launching a new Uber Works app to connect workers with temp agencies, could face a $30 per hour minimum wage for drivers in Los Angeles, and a £1 billion ($1.2 billion) VAT bill in the United Kingdom. The San Francisco Chronicle profiled an Uber driver who works 60 hours per week in San Francisco and still can’t afford a place to live.

Climate crisis

Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn vowed to crack down on fossil fuel companies after a Guardian report on the twenty companies responsible for a third of global emissions. My problem with that kind of report is it suggests if we just take on those twenty companies, things are solved — but that misses how they’re nearly all oil companies, and we’ve built a society that depends on their product. We can’t just reduce supply; we also need to take radical measures to reorient societies away from oil dependence (which Sanders and Corbyn are proposing to do).

🛍 “The power of consumerism is that it renders us powerless. It traps us within a narrow circle of decision-making, in which we mistake insignificant choices between different varieties of destruction for effective change. It is, we must admit, a brilliant con.” George Monbiot writes that choices won’t fix the climate; that will require retiring fossil fuel infrastructure. But “the industry intends to accelerate production, spending nearly $5tn in the next 10 years on developing new reserves.”

🌇 Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez told the C40 World Mayors summit in Copenhagen that it’s “unsustainable to continue to believe [in] our system of runaway, unaccountable, lawbreaking pursuit of profit” and got a bigger standing ovation than Al Gore and U.N. secretary general António Guterres

🇬🇧 The Institute of Economic Affairs is a very influential right-wing think tank in the United Kingdom with ties to 14 members of Boris Johnson’s cabinet. It’s also spent decades trying to undermine climate science.

🇨🇦 “The corporate agenda is not working. It’s not working for Indigenous nations and communities, it’s not going to deliver a just transition for fossil fuel workers, and it’s imperiling the very future of humanity and our planet. Leaving decarbonization to the free market and individual consumers is no longer an option.”

🇦🇺 Former prime minister Kevin Rudd says Australia’s large mining companies have used a massive lobbying operation and close ties to Rupert Murdoch’s right-wing media empire to halt, and even reverse, climate action

🇺🇸 How will the climate crisis affect St. Louis, Houston, and San Francisco by 2100? Teen Vogue breaks down the changes every decade between now and then.

⚡️ Two million people in California were subject to rolling blackouts because high winds could have broken the private utility’s aging power lines and caused a major fire. Ahead of the shutdown, executives wined and dined on the company dime. San Francisco offered to buy the lines around the city for $2.5 billion, but the company rejected the offer. Maybe the city should simply take it over.

🇺🇸 California’s progress in reducing emissions has slowed significantly because it’s failed to addressed its largest source of emissions: driving

🚗 The New York Times published a detailed map and series of graphs of the transport emissions of every major U.S. metro area. There was a significant uptick in recent years.

Critical mobility

☠️ “SUVs are a paradox: while many people buy them to feel safer, they are statistically less safe than regular cars, both for those inside and those outside the vehicle. A person is 11% more likely to die in a crash inside an SUV than a regular [car]. Studies show they lull drivers into a false sense of security, encouraging them to take greater risks. Their height makes them twice as likely to roll in crashes and twice as likely to kill pedestrians by inflicting greater upper body and head injuries, as opposed to lower limb injuries people have a greater chance of surviving.”

🚌 “Big cities are suffering from a mobility crisis. The delusion that the wealthiest American urbanites can buy their way past that crisis helps explain why it isn’t being fixed.” Giving priority to buses and streetcars is “the exact inverse of a high-flying airport service: an affordable solution with cascading public benefits—starting with reductions in noise and pollution. It promises to make no small group rich, but confers small benefits widely.”

🇳🇱🇺🇸 The Stop de kindermoord (Stop the child killing) anti-car protests of the 1970s in the Netherlands are held out as unique, and not something that could happen in the United States. But U.S. women and minorities were protesting cars and their deadly collisions with children long before the Dutch.

But all over America in the 1950s and 1960s, residents, particularly women, organized demonstrations against car traffic—and their street protests often closely resembled the Dutch Stop de kindermoord protests that would come in the 1970s. They demanded slower driving, usually seeking stop signs, streetlights, or crossing guards. Some demanded pedestrian over- or underpasses. Most such demonstrations were in dense residential districts of large cities, but many occurred in small cities, suburbs, and towns. Though white women predominated in many or most such demonstrations, black and Hispanic people organized some and participated in many.

🇺🇸 The Crenshaw Line in Los Angeles is due to be completed in mid-2020, but councillor Herb Wesson argues it doesn’t do enough to connect low-income neighborhoods with the rest of the city. He wants the Northern Extension of the line — currently not planned to start construction until 2041 — to be moved forward.

🇬🇧 Crossrail workers have put down their tools after five workers died in their sleep. They say their employer isn’t doing enough to address air quality issues.

🇨🇦 Ontario premier Doug Ford came to power promising to take control of Toronto’s municipal transport agency against council’s wishes, but he may now be ready to abandon that plan in exchange for the city’s support for his proposed Ontario Line subway extension

🚺 L.A. Metro report finds that women are more likely to use transit than men, but they’re concerned about safety and reliability of transit services. Women’s safety on transit is a concern in many cities around the world, with reports of sexual harassment on the London Underground jumping 42% in four years.

🚁 Laura Bliss explains the latest crop of urban helicopter services aren’t unique. Similar services existing in the 1970s, but most “were out of business by the 1980s, for the reasons you might expect: Helicopters are noisy, dangerous, and inefficient; after government subsidies ran out, they became prohibitively costly to operate. And finding adequate landing space in growing cities was a constant battle.” When Uber Copter and transit were put head-to-head in a race to JFK airport, transit won.

🇳🇱 One of Amsterdam’s primary tools to reduce car traffic is called a knip, or “cut,” which is where they place barriers on a small section of a long road so it can still be used for deliveries and local traffic, but is no longer a good route across town

🇩🇪 Hundreds of people in Munich for Oktoberfest lost their driver’s licenses for driving drunk on an e-scooter

🚲 The Verge’s Andrew J. Hawkins wrote a guide on buying an e-bike. It contains some factors to consider, but he ultimately recommends going to your local bike shop — they’ll know best.

✊ A nationalized General Motors could be democratized, its workers given a 32-hour workweek, and its manufacturing capabilities redirected to building electric buses and trains in line with the Green New Deal

Housing crisis

🇬🇧 Council homes in Norwich won the RIBA Stirling architectural prize for the first time in its 23-year history. It “sends a clear message that, despite government cuts, it is eminently possible for brave councils to take the initiative and build proper social housing.”

The 105 creamy-brick homes are designed to stringent Passivhaus environmental standards, meaning energy costs are around 70% cheaper than average. The walls are highly insulated and the roofs are cleverly angled at 15 degrees, to ensure each terrace doesn’t block sunlight from the homes behind, while letterboxes are built into external porches, rather than the front doors, to reduce any possibility of draughts.

🇺🇸 Much of the writing and thinking about a Green New Deal has focused on cities, but it must also consider the future of rural areas. The original New Deal provides a path toward a renewed land reform movement “oriented toward environmental justice could provide the foundation for left populism in the era of climate change.”

🇫🇷 “Paris now has over a dozen former squats which have been turned into legal cultural centres, with the city capitalising on their cultural capital and accelerating gentrification.” Art squats were responsible with radical music, art, and fashion, but now many of those artists are being forced out.

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