Enough with the autonomous crap

Issue 138

Paris Marx

Hey urbanists,

I know I started a new podcast last month, but I have more news this week: I started another weekly newsletter called Horizons with Passage, a Canadian left-wing publication, that will be imagining better futures that serve workers instead of billionaires. You can sign up and read the first issue on getting a better post-pandemic deal for workers, which is a starting point before broadening out to more radical visions.

Back to this newsletter, I unleashed my anger over the autonomous distractions that tech publications continue to uncritically present as a realistic addition to our streets, and some other great reads below it.

I hope you’re doing well!

Paris Marx

Follow Radical Urbanist on Twitter and support Paris’ work on Patreon.

I can’t tell you how fed up I am with hearing about all the autonomous crap that tech companies want to fill our streets and sidewalks with, even as the evidence this stuff never actually works out as they claim continues to grow.

This week, Uber announced it was laying off another 3,000 people and closing 45 offices around the world. As part of the announcement, it ditched its plans for self-driving scooters (which anyone in their right minds could always see was never going anywhere) and closed the office in San Francsico housing its self-driving vehicles team. It hasn’t officially said the autonomous project is canceled, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it go now that it’s no longer needed to maintain the narrative of future tech bullshit that justified its pre-IPO valuation.

However, that hasn’t stopped some tech writers from continuing to uncritically (and I would argue unethically) push the autonomous narrative.

A new survey out this week showed three quarters of Americans think AVs are “not ready for primetime,” while nearly half say they wouldn’t get in one. Instead of considering why that might be, the Verge repeated the industry group’s claim that the opposition “is rooted in ignorance.”

The next day, they basically published a reworded press release from a “venture” showing off the first “remote-controlled” e-scooter, never veering from the companies’ narrative. This is a business whose model that is already failing, but now we’re expected to believe a future where their disposable product has even more tech attached and higher labor costs for teleoperators is realistic? Give me a break.

Then I got into small Twitter feud with Timothy B. Lee, a writer at Ars Technica, about those stupid sidewalk delivery robots. He used one, waited 90 minutes for his order to be delivered, acknowledged “this generation of the technology is only going to be viable in fairly high-density areas,” but refused to accept they were yet another bullshit tech solution that could be more easily solved with e-bike couriers in the limited areas where robot delivery would make sense distance-wise. He kept arguing that scale would bring down cost, while refusing to recognize that the very same scale will mean crowded, inaccessible sidewalks, which people will not accept — the same way they hated dockless scooters intruding on sidewalks.

Let me be very clear: all this autonomous bullshit is pure distraction. At best, it’s years away from a workable, large-scale implementation; at worst, it’s delaying the actions we could be taking today to fix the problems technologists claim their “solutions” will solve.

Forget autonomous cars; invest in better transit, cycling infrastructure, and creating complete communities. Forget dockless, autonomous scooters; subsidize people to buy their own scooters and e-bikes — and they can damn well navigate themselves. Forget robot deliveries; pay delivery drivers a living wage, give them e-bikes, and create a publicly owned and democratically controlled delivery app.

Critical urbanism

Car use decreases in US cities with bikeshare systems. Another US real estate crash could be on the horizon. How the ‘entrepreneurial city’ privileged wealth and the aesthetics of white transplants. An urban-planning system formed the basis of South Korea’s virus-tracking efforts. Can we learn from the People’s Houses and Parks of early twentieth-century Sweden?

Tech dystopia

Food delivery makes no sense, as pizza company was able to buy its own $24 pizza for $16 and pocket the profits. Facebook was fined $9 million in Canada over “false or misleading representations” about users’ privacy. India is using the pandemic and its COVID-19 health app to further crack down on Muslims. Amazon delivery driver fired for asking about COVID-19.

Tech Won’t Save Us: You’ll really like my chat with law professor Veena Dubal if you hate Uber as much as I do. She talks about the harms caused by misclassification, particularly during the pandemic, and why the organizing by gig workers is so inspiring. I also talked to “Lurking” author Joanne McNeil about how our experience online has changed from 1990 to today, and how the pandemic might change it again.

Climate crisis

Global daily emissions dropped 17% at the peak of lockdown, while annual emissions will drop between 4% to 7%. Spain unveiled a new climate plan that seems good on stopping fossil fuel projects, but not good enough on phasing out fossil-fuel powered transportation. US national parks are seeing unprecedented wildlife activity without cars or humans getting in the way. Maximum snowfall in non-alpine areas of North America has been decreasing by 46 billion tonnes per decade since 1980.

If you want to share Radical Urbanist with a friend, you can forward this issue or send them here to sign up. Send comments to @parismarx or paris@parismarx.com

Be skeptical of calls for new pandemic tech

Issue 137

Paris Marx

Hey urbanists,

I’m trying out a bit of a different format today, which may be what I stick with for the time being: an essay on an urban issue, paired with a selection of links on urban, tech, and climate. I hope you like it!

I have a request this week: if you listen to my podcast Tech Won’t Save Us, please share it with a few friends or colleagues you think might also like it, and leave a five-star review on Apple Podcasts if you have access to that platform. I have reviews in Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, Sweden, UK, and US — and the more reviews, the better the chance more people will find the show. It’s been doing really well so far and I want to keep up the momentum. Thank you!

I hope you’re staying safe and healthy.

— Paris Marx

Follow Radical Urbanist on Twitter and support Paris’ work on Patreon.

Sidewalk Toronto may be dead, but the push to get more tech into our cities isn’t over yet.

In response to COVID-19, there’s been a big push for tech solutions from governments that seem to be using them as an excuse not to make the investments we need in public services — health, child care, housing for the homeless, support for domestic violence victims, etc. Instead, they’ve been pushing questionable contact-tracing apps, despite the fact that, as Lizzie O’Shea told me on Tech Won’t Save Us, “the people who are most vulnerable to contracting the virus … tend to be people who are less likely to be online, less likely to be able to use an app like this.” In Iceland, 38% of people downloaded the app, but officials said it “wasn’t a game changer.”

So, what does this mean for cities? I was reading a piece by Emily Sohn in National Geographic about what post-pandemic commutes might look like, and there was a lot of talk about technologies that could be integrated into transit during the pandemic: seat booking, passenger counts, weight sensors, location-tracking apps like those for contract tracing, facial recognition, immunity cards, and even using Google’s “crowdsourced” information.

I want to be clear: I don’t think all of this would necessarily be bad. Maybe there are equitable ways to integrate some of these technologies, but I immediately worry that the broader effects are not being considered, especially when smartphone ownership, data access, and digital knowledge are far from ubiquitous. My first thought on hearing about the possibility of booking transit seats was when San Francisco started letting tech bros book public park space, leading to a backlash from communities. It’s a possible first step down a very slippery slope.

But if we do need some new technologies to help, how should we approach that?

I’ve already argued that if we need new urban technologies, they should be developed publicly with teams in local governments or transit agencies. When I spoke with Bianca Wylie, a leading activist against Sidewalk Toronto, she provided an alternative approach: instead of simply inviting in big tech companies and having faith they’ll do good, use the power government can wield through procurement to set the parameters for the technology, how it can be used, and whether the company developing it has any access to the data that comes of it. As she writes in Boston Review,

Technologies, of course, have a role to play in our cities. But cities and the public must be allowed to define how our digital infrastructures function; how they impact how we live, work, and play together; and how we pay for them. We already have experience in designing frameworks for projects of similar complexity, such as environmental assessments, which importantly include a “do nothing” option. Once we establish defensible ways to understand the impacts and trade-offs of technology, and the types of ways we do and don’t want to commodify data and digital infrastructures, we will be able to properly use tech as one tool of many to address the deep and pervasive problems we face in our cities.

In short, technology in itself isn’t the solution; it’s how we use the technology (and whether we use it in the first place) that matters. Even though tech billionaires would have us think otherwise, the primary question is political, not technological.

I still prefer publicly owned and controlled technology, but if we need new tech in the short term, we should heed what Bianca says: think through exactly how we want to use it, then ensure it does exactly what we need it to, not let some tech giant have its way then have to try to fix the problems that arise from it down the road.

Critical urbanism

In March, 50 billion fewer miles (80b kms) were driven in the United States. UK government forced a terrible bailout on Transport for London. A New Zealand recovery fueled by renewables, transit, and public housing could generate a permanent trade surplus. The pandemic doesn’t mean the United States faces another urban exodus. E-bikes are basically sold out in Germany. New Zealand pilots are getting jobs driving trains. New York City broke a record for 58 days without a pedestrian death. We need more housing co-ops.

Montreal is adding 327 kms (203 miles) of bike and pedestrian lanes. Toronto community group calls for 100 kms (62 miles) of bike lanes. Newcastle unveiled a beautiful redesign of a central street. Auckland is turning its main downtown street into a transit mall. London is closing a bunch of streets to cars.

Tech dystopia

Seven Amazon workers have died of COVID-19 as Jeff Bezos continues to rake in billions. Alphabet could get hit with antitrust lawsuits as soon as this summer. Facebook content moderators won a $52 million settlement, as up to half could have developed mental health issues from their work. Tesla reopened its California plant in violation of local orders after Elon Musk lashed out on Twitter. “Proptech” are developing new tech tools for landlords to disempower tenants. Facebook’s new review board is nothing more than an attempt to avoid regulation. Uber laid off 3,500 people in a three-minute Zoom call.

Climate crisis

The future of air travel might require a four-hour check in. Oil analyst with a strong track record thinks Alberta’s oil sands have no future. The United States is set to generate more energy from renewables than coal. The environmental toll of all that smart tech is pretty high.

If you want to share Radical Urbanist with a friend, you can forward this issue or send them here to sign up. Send comments to @parismarx or paris@parismarx.com

Micromobility services are dying. We don't need them anyway.

Issue 136

Hey urbanists,

Some big developments this week with the further collapse of micromobility, the withdrawal of Sidewalk Labs from Toronto, and the California lawsuit against Uber and Lyft — sadly, all as the global impact of COVID-19 continues to grow.

I left out the section on climate this week — I simply didn’t see enough news to include — but I’m sure you’ll like what’s in the other two. I also used the attention on Elon Musk’s new baby’s name to point out some disturbing views he has on parenthood and population in Jacobin, if you’re interested.

As always, I hope you’re well and staying safe as we all learn what the new normal looks like moving forward.


Follow Radical Urbanist on Twitter and support it on Patreon.

Critical urbanism

Last year, I wrote that the private, dockless ‘micromobility’ services that had become ubiquitous on city streets didn’t have a viable future. Either they would have to become a public service integrated into public bikeshare systems, or the shared model would have to be abandoned in favor of promoting ownership. It’s becoming even more clear that’s true.

Micromobility companies were already hiking prices and pulling out of cities before COVID-19 hit, but now things are even more dire with Bird having laid off 30% of its staff via Zoom and Lime’s valuation collapsing by 79%. Uber, which laid off 3,700 workers this week, offloaded its Jump micromobility division onto the husk of Lime to get the losses off its balance sheet. It will have to option of buying Lime in a few years, but who really thinks that’s going to happen?

That doesn’t mean it’s the end of scooters and e-bikes; rather that treating them as disposable commodities isn’t very efficient. Instead, we need public rental options and subsidized ownership. Sweden has already had success with e-bike subsidies, and now Italy is offering €500 toward the purchase of bicycles, e-bikes, scooters, and a few other options. Paris already has a €40/month e-bike rental scheme and subsidies for e-bike purchases, and now France is even offering €50 toward bike repairs.

These are the kinds of measures that will encourage people to switch to active mobility, paired with more protected bike lanes, car-free streets, and complete communities — not littering sidewalks with disposable scooters.

In other news: Bruce Schaller makes an argument for density. Transit workers are fighting for safer conditions for drivers and riders. The pandemic exposes the flaws of auto-centric planning and gives us an opportunity to reexamine our ideas on who should have access to roads. Greyhound suspended all routes in Canada. Cities in Europe plan to take advantage of the collapse in Airbnb bookings to permanently reduce short-term lets. UK Labour has turned its back on renters.

Tech dystopia

Great news this week that Sidewalk Labs, the urban-tech sister company of Google, finally withdrew from its agreement with Waterfront Toronto to build a neighborhood “from the internet up” on Toronto’s waterfront. This project has been opposed from the very beginning, and despite the company’s sleek marketing and attempts to make it look like it was a democratic process, it was anything but.

But where does the city go from here? The municipal government must refocus on the actual needs of the city and its residents, instead of simply bringing in a tech company with name recognition promising to hit all the keywords for the government to appear innovative and forward-thinking. For insight into how governments should be approaching public services and the development of public tech, I highly recommend my chat with Bianca Wylie, one of the leading opponents of the Sidewalk Toronto project, on my podcast Tech Won’t Save Us. We didn’t know the project was being canceled at the time, but the principles she outlines are broadly applicable.

Many people expect Sidewalk Labs will now refocus on New York City, and sadly for its residents they may well be right. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is already asking tech billionaires like Bill Gates and Eric Schmidt to “reimagine” (see: privatize) the delivery of healthcare, education, and other services. Naomi Klein writes,

something resembling a coherent Pandemic Shock Doctrine is beginning to emerge. Call it the “Screen New Deal.” Far more high-tech than anything we have seen during previous disasters, the future that is being rushed into being as the bodies still pile up treats our past weeks of physical isolation not as a painful necessity to save lives, but as a living laboratory for a permanent — and highly profitable — no-touch future.

The fight continues.

In other news: Amazon VP Tim Bray quit over firing of whistleblowers, calling it “evidence of a vein of toxicity running through the company culture.” It prompted other executives to publicly push back. A worker at an Amazon warehouse in New York died of COVID-19. Nine US senators are demanding answers on the firing of whistleblowers. California, along with Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego, are suing Uber and Lyft for misclassifying drivers as independent contractors, in violation of AB5. A new report shows Uber and Lyft owe $413 million in state unemployment insurance taxes in California. Uber lost $2.9 billion in Q1 2020. Elon Musk is suing Alameda County over its stay-at-home order, demanding to be able to force workers back to work against the wishes of public health officials.

Tech Won’t Save Us

I had some great chats this past week with Ilari Kaila about the cult of Elon Musk and Grace Blakeley about taking on the tech monopolies. The podcast is now entering its fourth week, and while I said I’d make it twice weekly for the first four weeks, I think I’m going to be continuing that a little longer since many of us are still basically confined to our homes, other than walks and trips to the grocery store.

This coming week, I’ll be talking to Rob Larson, author of “Bit Tyrants,” on Tuesday about billionaire philanthropy, tech billionaires’ links to colonial resource wealth, and online socialism. I’m in the middle of organizing guests for Thursday and the following week.

As always, make sure to subscribe on Apple, Spotify, or anywhere else you listen to podcasts, and please leave a five-star review if you like what you hear. Thanks!

If you want to share Radical Urbanist with a friend, you can forward this issue or send them here to sign up. Send comments to @parismarx or paris@parismarx.com

Will air travel ever go back to ‘normal’?

Issue 135

Hey urbanists,

I hope you’re all holding up well. I submitted my Master’s thesis this week! 🎉 Now I just have to wait for it to get graded (and obviously crossing my fingers that I pass).

I think you’ll like this week’s issue. I’ve been thinking a lot about what I discussed in the climate section: what’s the future of air travel, and how can be shift as much as possible to rail? Hoping to write something more in-depth on it soon.

Just a reminder that Radical Urbanist is on Twitter now if you want to follow.

Have a great week!

Paris Marx

Support Paris on Patreon

Critical urbanism

Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo says “it is out of the question that we allow ourselves to be invaded by cars, and by pollution” after the lockdown ends. To ensure a switch to great transit and bike use, Hidalgo is asking anyone who can work from home to continue doing so for the time being so as not to crowd transit. All metro fare barriers will be equipped with hand sanitizer, all passengers will have to wear masks, and bus services will be greatly expanded. Rue de Rivoli will be closed to cars — potentially permanently — and new protected bike lanes are being built that reach right into the suburbs.

With fewer people using transit because of social distancing measures, the solution isn’t just to put everyone in cars. Not only would that make traffic unbearable, but it would still kill a lot of people. It’s estimated 11,000 fewer people have died of air pollution in Europe because it’s dropped so much as car use plummeted, and with COVID-19 deaths also linked to polluted urban air because of the damage it causes to people’s lungs, there’s even more reason to keep cars off the roads. It’s thus no surprise that not only are cities rapidly adding bike lanes, but Australia is reporting that bikes have become the new toilet paper: they’re sold out everywhere!

One of the ideas I really love is Henry Grabar’s suggestion to simply start taking over streets and parking lots to let people dine outside. Vilnius, Lithuania is doing this in a big way by opening 18 of its public spaces for outdoor dining and cafés, with more to be added later, and 160 restaurants have already applied. More cities should follow their lead.

In other news: The density debate needs more nuance, as it often ignores the “forgotten densities.” Airbnb’s collapse is causing rent prices to drop in Australia. US authorities know vehicles are killing more pedestrians, but they’re not doing much about it. Tenants not just in New York, but across the United States, withheld rent on May 1.

Tech dystopia

Elon Musk is quickly becoming the villain of COVID-19, calling stay-at-home orders “fascist” and backing calls to reopen the economy, despite being very wrong about the science of the virus. His unhinged rants have not only included lies about the EPA and cratering Tesla’s share price, but have allowed a bunch of other rich tech executives to admit they too want to force workers back into harm’s way.

It’s part of a larger war being waged on workers during the pandemic, which workers at Amazon, Instacart, Whole Foods, Target, FedEx, and other companies protested with walkouts and sickouts on May 1 as they asked consumers to boycott the companies. Amazon has been leading the charge, and is even curtailing its corporate employees’ ability to communicate with one another to try to tamp down on organizing. Earlier this week, a walkout in Shakopee, Minnesota even forced the company to reinstate a worker who was fired because she stayed home to protect her children from COVID-19. Brian Merchant forcefully makes the case that there’s no debate anymore: shopping at Amazon and using its services is unethical, and you should stop.

In other news: Veena Dubal explains the longer history of gig work and the attack on the rights and wages of taxi workers. Grace Blakeley argues the pandemic is accelerating tech monopolization. Lyft laid off 17% of its workforce, and Uber’s CTO resigned as 20% of its workforce may suffer the same fate. Airbnb hosts are getting hit hard by the tourism collapse, and it’s exactly what they deserve. To avoid classifying drivers as employees, Uber is now trying to argue riders are actually the employers. We don’t have to trade privacy for health in response to COVID-19.

Climate crisis

In recent weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about the future of air travel; particularly, how I’m not as convinced as some people that things will be back to normal in a year or two. With airlines not booking middle seats, bringing in better cleaning practices, and taking other measures, I can easily see lower passenger volumes being paired with higher prices (further reducing the incentive to fly).

As a condition of its bailout, France will require Air France to stop competing with high-speed rail on routes where train journeys take 2.5 hours or less. I think such plans should be expanded to other countries, and be paired with major investments in rail infrastructure to try to shift more trips from plane to train. Alon Levy has a good piece thinking through what a tourism regime focused on high-speed trains might look like.

In other news: Forget the oil glut; there’s also an auto glut, with ships carrying SUVs waiting at sea because lots are full. “Most trees alive today won't be able to survive in the climate expected in 40 years.” Emissions haven’t fallen more during COVID-19 because individual actions aren’t enough; we still need structural change. Rock-bottom natural gas prices are bad news for Canada’s ambitions

Tech Won’t Save Us

This past week, I spoke to Ziya Tong and Bianca Wylie on the podcast. I think you’ll like both conversations, but the latter might be of particular interest to the urbanist crowd. Bianca is one of the leading figures opposing Sidewalk Labs’ smart neighborhood in Toronto, and has a lot of thoughts on how focusing on tech solutions leads governments, media, and the rest of us to ignore bigger social problems.

Remember, if you like the podcast (or just want to support it), please leave a ★★★★★ on Apple Podcasts. I can’t announce next week’s guests yet (was a bit late putting it all together because I was finishing up my thesis), but the episodes should be out on Tuesday and Thursday.

If you want to share Radical Urbanist with a friend, you can forward this issue or send them here to sign up. Send comments to @parismarx or paris@parismarx.com

How much will change after COVID-19?

Issue 134

Paris Marx

Hey urbanists,

I hope you’re safe and holding up well. Thank you to everyone who’s contributed to the Patreon so far, and if you appreciate my work on the newsletter, your support would be appreciated. You won’t be charged until May 1.

Support Paris on Patreon

Onto this week’s issue! I’m playing with this new format, and I hope you like it. I particularly loved the German study on car ownership costs, Matthew Fleischer’s op-ed on cars, the growing worker opposition to Amazon management, the article on Bird’s business model being a sham, and some of the great pieces on the implications of the oil crash. I also announce next week’s podcast guests at the end, and if you’re a listener (or just want to support the show), a ★★★★★ review on Apple Podcasts would be most appreciated.

You can also now follow Radical Urbanist on Twitter.

All the best in these strange times,

Paris Marx

Critical urbanism

COVID-19 seems likely to tank global car sales by at least 22%, obliterate the used car market in the United States, and is saving California $40 million/day because car crashes have dropped by more than 50%. Plus, a new study out of Germany found that “people underestimate the total cost of owning a car by about 50%” and giving them personalized information to understand the real cost could “reduce car ownership by up to 37% and cut associated transport emissions by 23%.” I keep going back and forth between feeling optimistic and pessimistic about what future might follow the pandemic, so I’ve been following different post-pandemic proposals this week and here are some of the ones I’m excited about.

Everyone on Twitter’s been talking about Milan this week because “motor traffic congestion has dropped by 30-75%, and air pollution with it” due to the lockdown, and now the government wants to preserve some of the gains with a new plan that includes “low-cost temporary cycle lanes, new and widened pavements, 30kph (20mph) speed limits, and pedestrian and cyclist priority streets.” Paris is also creating 650 km (400 mi) of cycle lanes for the lifting of lockdown measures, and many cities around France are following suit.

New Zealand’s Greens (whose votes Jacinda Ardern’s government depends on) have proposed a NZ$9 billion regional rail plan to create hubs around the three biggest cities. Meanwhile, Australia’s right-wing government is taking all the wrong lessons in its plan that would go hard on privatization, tax cuts, and attacks on labor rights, while Labor is pushing a high-speed rail system as a key part of the post-pandemic recovery. In Canada, there are calls for an Urban Marshall Plan to invest in transit, housing, and other city infrastructure.

Jeffrey Tumlin, director of SFMTA, said, “if San Francisco retreats in a fear-based way to private cars, the city dies with that, including the economy. Why? Because we can’t move more cars. That’s a fundamental geometrical limit. We can’t move more cars in the space we have.” This opportunity must be seized to move toward transit, and that’s exactly what I talked to James Wilt about on the second episode of my podcast, Tech Won’t Save Us (subscription links at the end of the newsletter, or listen on Soundcloud).

I thought Matthew Fleischer put it well in the LA Times this week:

Frankly, the idea that we can transport ourselves sustainably en masse in toxic 4,000-pound battering rams is just as delusional, entitled and self-destructive as the “liberate” protestors who are demanding a premature end to coronavirus-related stay-at-home orders. 

When the world emerges from its lockdown, the temptation will be to jump right back into our hermetically sealed transport bubbles. So, while you still can, step outside. Take a breath of fresh air. Take a quiet walk in the street. Or a bike ride with your kids. And think about how nice it would be to have clean air and safe streets as our new normal.

There is no herd immunity from the damage caused by millions of personal automobiles roaming the streets at all hours.

In other news: South Korea is reopening thanks to its mass testing regime and universal healthcare system, and Vietnam is considering the same after successfully containing the spread of the virus. New York City may see the largest rent strike in a century starting on May 1. Richard Branson wants a bailout for his UK trains, but it’s further evidence that privatization was a failure. Transportation spending is way down in the United States — with scooter services decimated.

Tech dystopia

The pressure on Amazon by workers continues to escalate, as do the measures taken by management to stop it. Workers at 50 warehouses planned a sick out this week to protest the company’s actions, as one warehouse reports at least 30 cases of COVID-19 and Whole Foods tracks unionization risk across the United States. When corporate employees started organizing their own sick out to support the demands of their frontline colleagues, Amazon deleted the event from their calendars, but many still took part on Friday. The scrutiny is not just in the United States, but going global as Amazon lost its appeal in France and faces mounting criticism in Canada over a deal with the federal government to deliver emergency supplies. Is it time for out-of-work socialists to get jobs at Amazon and fight for unionization from the inside?

It will take dedicated “salts” inside the Bezos behemoth to crack this bastion of twenty-first-century capitalism. Salts — workers hired with the deliberate intention of organizing a union — are key to the internal organization of the vast Amazon workforce, particularly at its most strategic nodes.

Beyond Amazon, things aren’t much better. Uber is seizing on the crisis to become a gig platform for work, potentially extending the precarity experienced by Uber drivers to even more sectors of the economy. This is absolutely the wrong response to the crisis, especially as low-paid, frontline workers are pushing back against the broader attempt to label them ‘heroes’ the pay, rights, and benefits they deserve for doing essential work. As one worker put it, hero is “pernicious label perpetuated by those who wish to gain something—money, goods, a clean conscience—from my jeopardization.” Not fucking good enough, especially as billionaires like Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk are making off like bandits in the middle of a pandemic.

In other news: WHO is warning against ‘immunity passports’. Rich Americans fled to New Zealand to escape the pandemic (but PM Jacinda Ardern doesn’t want them). Australia appears poised to force platforms like Facebook and Google to share ad revenue with news outlets, and Ireland is considering something similar. Palantir will track people for the US and UK governments. Uber criticized for cutting off delivery services to low-income San Francisco neighborhood. Interviews with fired workers reveal Bird’s business model was probably never going to work. What is independent music in the age of coronavirus?

Climate crisis

This week, the benchmark oil price went negative, sending shockwaves through… “the market.” It happened because the May futures contract was expiring on Tuesday, and with the combination of oversupply, cratering demand, and all the storage essentially being full, no one wanted to take delivery of oil. Some people think demand will simply rebound once the pandemic ends; others think we’ve already seen peak oil. Either way, this is a game changer.

Kate Aronoff writes that this period will decimate US shale-oil producers, who were already going bankrupt even before the pandemic hit, and that the focus needs to be on creating a just transition for workers. This is a perfect time to consider calls to nationalize the fossil-fuel industry in order to wind it down in a controlled fashion to avoid the economic and social pain of a rapid collapse.

However, beyond the industry itself, the collapse of oil shows the larger problems of a world-system built around the commodity. Aronoff writes that the oil collapse will be devastating for many Global South countries and shows the need to rewrite the rules that govern the global economy, while Nicholas Mulder and Adam Tooze specifically address what this means for “truly vulnerable producers in the Middle East, North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America.” The effects will be devastating if those countries don’t receive significant support to remove their debts and diversify their economies.

In other news: Alberta premier Jason Kenney lost it at a reporter when asked about a Green New Deal. Global insect numbers are down 25% since 1990. Research shows 80% of COVID-19 deaths across four countries were in the most polluted regions, suggesting air pollution may be a factor. Air quality is significantly better in many major cities with cars off the road.

Tech Won’t Save Us

My new podcast, Tech Won’t Save Us, kicked off last week with two fantastic guests: Wendy Liu, author of “Abolish Silicon Valley,” and James Wilt, author of “Do Androids Dream of Electric Cars?” Even if you’re more into urbanism than tech, I think there’s still a lot you’ll find interesting in our conversations.

This coming week, I’ll be talking to Ziya Tong, author of “The Reality Bubble,” on Monday and Bianca Wylie, a leading advocate against Sidewalk Toronto and co-founder of Tech Reset Canada, on Thursday.

You can subscribe on AppleSpotifyOvercast, StitcherSoundcloud, and anywhere else you listen to podcasts. If you like what you hear, please leave a ★★★★★ on Apple Podcasts. You can also follow the podcast on Twitter.

If you want to share Radical Urbanist with a friend, you can forward this issue or send them here to sign up. Send comments to @parismarx or paris@parismarx.com

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