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!

Paris


🚫📱 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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EVs aren’t enough, WeWork exposes Uber, auto ‘safety’ systems not safe, Airbnb hikes rents, & more!

Issue 106

Hey urbanists,

I switched around the sections a bit this week. If you’ve been following for a while, you’ll know I’m concerned about how EVs are shifting us from fossil fuel extraction to mineral extraction. That’s the focus of the article I highlighted — though I’m not sure the outright rejection of the Green New Deal is the proper response, as they suggest.

There are so many other great pieces in this issue. Scott Galloway skewers WeWork and Uber, data is the new atomic power, WW2 as inspiration for climate action, new auto safety systems aren’t very safe, a B.C. union wants the province to learn from AB-5, car tires produce a ton of microplastics, Airbnb hiked rents in Barcelona, and tech organizing has a rich history.

I rewatched the Blade Runner films in the past few days, and I was really struck by how much Niander Wallace’s description of his work and the world of 2049 reminded me of Jeff Bezos’ vision for the future. I’ve written about Bezos’ future before, but now I want to find a place to publish this comparison.

I’m in Auckland for another couple days, then I’ll be in Melbourne to attend PAX Australia as a member of ~the media~. I’m considering holding some Radical Urbanist meetups in Canada and Europe in November/early December, and possibly in the United States and Canada in the new year. If you want to attend, complete this one-minute survey so I can gauge whether there’s enough interest.

Paris

P.S. — If you’re getting this newsletter for the first time, welcome! I neglected to transfer the subscribers from the form on my website — parismarx.com — over the past couple months, just in case you don’t remember signing up. The newsletter has now passed 900 subscribers, and we’re well on our way to hitting 1000 by year’s end. Finally, just a reminder that if you like the issue, press the heart below the headline or at the end of the issue. Thanks!

🔋 The Center for Interdisciplinary Environmental Justice describes how the electric vehicle revolution hailed in the Global North is terrible for indigenous communities in South America as lithium mining increases. Their slogan: “No comemos baterías — we don’t eat batteries.” Does it make sense to shift from one extractivism to another when we could reject automobility and improve our societies in so many other ways?

Current efforts to use electric vehicles to transition to a ‘zero-emission’ world reduce climate change to an emissions issue, without stopping the extraction and oppression that are the causes of climate change. […] A new wave of eco-exploitation threatens the Lickan Antay and the Kolla. This time the familiar mining industry is cloaked in the facade of sustainability, promoting the large-scale extraction of one finite natural resource to replace another. In today’s bustling green economy, the exploitation of Indigenous territories in the Altiplano is driven by the lust for lithium: the new “sustainable” fuel. […] The movement to protect planet Earth from the environmental and human costs of lithium batteries has the potential to unite marginalized people of color and Indigenous peoples across the world.

Tech dystopia

💡🔨 Tech-utopian blindness is to blame for many negative outcomes of the tech industry. Engineers with little interest in the arts believed new communication tools were always good for society, but historian Elizabeth Eisenstein wrote that the printing press produced significant “disinformation or propaganda” in the early days and its initial impacts “included heightened ethnic tensions, the spread of medical misinformation, and about a century’s worth of European religious wars.” Gabriella Coleman notes a glaring omission: the role of media in boosting tech determinism.

💥 NYU’s Scott Galloway: “Uber started the decline and WeWork has massively increased the momentum. […] after WeWork and Uber, there’s two types of companies in the unicorn space: ones that are overvalued and ones that are just going to zero.” WeWork’s mask is off after a “death by S-1” that hurt employees and investors, but spared Adam Neumann (who made a quarter billion dollars) or retail investors who’d’ve been hit had the IPO gone ahead. “‪Whereas Uber, the consensual hallucination continues. They have to maintain the illusion of growth. They have to maintain the growth story. Without the growth story, they’re worth 20% of what they’re worth now. I think that chops off 50-80% in the next 25 months.”‬

📉 “We need to ship more quickly and operate more effectively and efficiently than we are today.” After a terrible IPO, Uber has cut more than 800 jobs, reined in spending on research, reduced perks, and (gasp!) replaced craft coffee with Starbucks. Uber and Lyft hit record lows on the stock market.

💰 As A.I. research gets more expensive, universities can’t keep up with the tech giants. “The danger, [researchers] say, is that pioneering artificial intelligence research will be a field of haves and have-nots. And the haves will be mainly a few big tech companies like Google, Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook, which each spend billions a year building out their data centers.” This kind of research should be done by and for the public, not controlled by tech monopolies.

⚛️ Is data really “the new oil,” as many commentators have said? In “The New Dark Age,” James Bridle argues it’s actually the new atomic power: “an effectively unlimited resource that still contains immensely destructive power, and is even more explicitly connected than petroleum to histories of violence.”

👩‍⚖️ In leaked audio, CEO Mark Zuckerberg says he’d challenge (and win) any attempt to break up Facebook. Elizabeth Warren responded that a system that allows Facebook to “engage in illegal anticompetitive practices, stomp on consumer privacy rights, and repeatedly fumble their responsibility to protect our democracy” is a broken one. While I’m supportive of breaking up tech, her suggestion that simply having Facebook and Instagram compete will solve these problems doesn’t hold up.

⚖️ Lina Khan’s “Sources of Tech Platform Power” provides a framework to rein in dominant tech platforms: common carriage rules, limits on vertical integration, and halting and undoing acquisitions. It’s a good complement to Dan Hind’s “British Digital Cooperative,” which lays out a model for digital platforms and software that are publicly developed with democratic control. (See my Twitter thread for highlights.)

🤔 Mariana Mazzucato says we need to stop saying “tech giants” (I’m guilty) because it “implies they have invested in the technologies from which they are profiting, when it was really taxpayers who funded the key underlying technologies – from the Internet to GPS.” Instead, government should develop its own platforms “to improve the efficiency of the public sector and to democratize the platform economy.”

👨‍🔧 “Many modern multinationals in cities across the globe are now staffed by what amounts to a two-tier workforce. Employees enjoy protected employment advantages, while the outsourced people who keep the workspaces running often have more precarious roles with inferior terms and conditions.”

🇺🇸 U.S. Congress will probe how Amazon, Facebook, and Google have hurt small businesses. It will likely focus most on Amazon’s impact on small sellers. Comcast has also intervened to argue for antitrust action against Google, but it should be subject to antitrust scrutiny itself.

📱 A Google contractor explicitly targeted homeless people to get data for its facial recognition system

Climate crisis

⏱ “Capitalism, it seems, lacks the attention span required for survival.” In an excerpt from “Democracy May Not Exist But We’ll Miss it When It’s Gone” (US/UK), Astra Taylor argues climate action is our responsibility to future generations, but that the system makes that near impossible because it privileges the present over the future.

🇨🇦 Seth Klein is writing a book on how Canada’s WW2 mobilization could inspire climate action. He describes key takeaways, including the need for state planning, in a North99 podcast interview. “The leaders that we remember from WW2 didn’t actually ‘meet the public where they were at’; they took the public where they had to go.”

📉 Samuel Miller McDonald makes the case for going beyond growth: “the left should be monopolizing a controlled and deliberate degrowth strategy because if it doesn’t do it, the rich and their authoritarian, ideological vanguard will. And it will be ugly.” Christopher F. Jones explains the “fairytale of infinite growth is relatively recent. Economists have only begun to model never-ending growth over the last 75 years. Before that, they had ignored the topic for a century. And before that, they had believed in limits.”

😬 If you went to university, you likely read “The Tragedy of the Commons.” But you might not know that author Garrett Hardin was “an ardent nativist and eugenicist,” and his writings are some of the key texts for a growing group of ecofascists.

♻️ The plastics industry has worked for decades to blame pollution on individual consumers instead of producers. I was fascinated to learn that the recycling symbol was designed by a student for a corporate contest in 1970, and that after decades of recycling promotion, U.S. plastics recycling peaked at just 9.5%. (Read the full story.)

🐖 The African swine fever sweeping across Asia has killed more than 100 million pigs, and hundreds of millions more are expected to be killed by the end of the year. On a less depressing note, pigs have been observed using tools for the first time.

🥤 New research suggests microplastics could have a significant impact on the formation of Arctic sea ice

❄️ The loss of Arctic sea ice is having a terrible impact on polar bears

Critical mobility

🚁 Voom will let well-off people in the Bay Area book helicopter rides through an app to escape congestion. A pilot told Laura Bliss that a single trip burns 10 gallons (38 liters) of fuel. Uber is doing something similar in NYC. I’m not even joking when I say these services should be banned. Fix the streets; don’t let rich people opt out.

🚨 AAA tested four vehicles with high-tech safety systems, including a Tesla Model 3, to see how safe they really were. The results were alarming. In daylight hours while driving at 20 mph (32 km/h), they struck adult-sized dummies crossing the street 60% of the time and child-sized dummies 89% of the time.

🤦‍♀️ How many articles have you read about cities needing to plan for self-driving cars eradicating parking revenue? I’m so fed up. AVs are decades away (if ever) from a mass rollout that would have a significant impact, and they’re not even the solution. What we need is to reorient cities around transit, bikes, and pedestrians. That will also eradicate parking revenue, but where’s all the hand wringing about it?

📱 Privately owned mobility-as-a-service apps Transit and Lyft are bickering over access to data and transport services. I can’t help but feel that Transit should be nationalized and form the base of a public transport-planning and transit-booking app that works with local transit agencies to bring together the various services in their jurisdictions, while remaining convenient for traveling users.

🇨🇦 Ride-hailing services will soon start rolling out in British Columbia. Inspired by California’s AB-5, the B.C. Federation of Labour, which represents 500,000 workers, “is asking the province’s ride-sharing regulator to only grant licences to companies that promise to treat drivers as employees, rather than the ‘independent contractors’ giants like Uber and Lyft have long argued they are.”

🇺🇸 “On October 3, the previously stalled 14th Street busway was installed after the state’s appellate division overturned a previous stay. Walking down the street on opening day, the blissfully empty corridor provided a glimpse of the future. […] Buses whisked down the open road so quickly that it seems likely the MTA will have to do a schedule adjustment.” San Francisco’s Market Street could also soon be closed to cars.

🚗 Switching to EVs isn’t enough: microplastics washed into San Francisco Bay from car tires is “300 times greater than what comes from microfibers washing off polyester clothes, microbeads from beauty products and the many other plastics washing down our sinks and sewers.”

🥵 Painting roads white is supposed to reduce temperatures in warming cities, but new research shows that “on a hot, dry day, a person could feel more than 7 degrees warmer on a ‘cool pavement’, as the reflective roads are called, as opposed to a normal blacktop.”

The warmer feeling, Middel says, is almost entirely attributable to solar radiation reflected off the roads. Normally, asphalt sucks it in, and it dissipates slowly into the air. These roads, however, reflected it back at a rate of 130 watts per square meter—akin to adding 10 percent more direct sunlight. That reflection was visible as glare, which was “really big” in the early evening, she says, just as people were getting home from work.

☠️ Allison Arieff writes that automobiles are “death machines” and making them autonomous won’t change that. She presents stories by people hit by cars, and wonders if that’s a way to get support for change. The War on Cars did two episodes on public meetings, one where they call for diplomacy and another where they admit that might not always work.

🇬🇧 U.K. Greens want to scrap £6.5 billion ($8 billion) planned for road construction and instead use it to fund free buses. They also want to ban ads for cars and flights — a policy I love as long as we also consider how that will impact journalism. It could be used to rethink media funding models.

📇 I don’t care much for the VC end of the ‘micromobility’ market, but Micromobility Industries has a good graphic of the major companies operating in the space

🛴 Rollout of Lime and Bird in Canada is encouraging people to buy their own e-scooters. “It’s a classic ‘try before you buy’.”

Housing crisis

🇪🇸 Working paper on Airbnb’s impact on housing in Barcelona finds “rents have increased by 1.9%, while transaction (posted) prices have increased by 5.3% (3.7%),” but in high-tourism areas, “rents are estimated to have increased by as much as 7%, while increases in transaction and posted prices are as high as 19% and 14%” [PDF]

🇩🇰 Denmark’s left-wing government called out Blackstone for buying up rental properties, driving up rents, and making it more difficult for low-income people to remain in Copenhagen. They’re planning new laws to address the situation.

🇺🇸 Data for Progress’ assessment of Bernie Sanders’ housing plan finds it would “construct 7.4 million new homes for extremely low-income Americans and 2 million additional mixed-income homes to ensure economic integration of social housing”

🇬🇧 Homeless deaths soared 22% in 2018 across England and Wales, and they’re expected to be even higher in 2019. This is a crisis; what are politicians doing about it?

🏠 Dodgy landlords aren’t just a problem for young people. A growing number of middle-aged renters are also having trouble finding decent accommodation that lets them live their lives and provide stability for their children.

Other great reads

📺 The media we consume has a significant impact on how we perceive the world: “What television programmes tell audiences about class plays out beyond the box, crossing the porous screen boundary into real-world beliefs, social exchanges and the structuring of society.”

✊ Worker organizing in the tech industry is being treated as a unique development, but a new article in Science for the People explains it’s reminiscent of a wave of unionization by technical workers spurred by the demonstrations in 1968. In that case, their focus went beyond wages and benefits to also demand greater autonomy, more control over their workplace, and the dismantling of corporate hierarchies.

🕵️‍♂️ Incredible report by Ryan Mac and Mark Di Stefano details how Elon Musk hired a private investigator after calling the British cave diver “pedo guy” — but he was a fraud who fed Musk what he wanted to hear and is currently back in prison serving the rest of a sentence for defrauding the company he cofounded.

💸 40% of corporate profits are shifted to tax havens every year. A new tool from the UC Berkeley and UCPH shows how much lost revenue that accounts for in major countries around the world.

🇹🇭 Thailand may copy Indonesia and move its capital from Bangkok because of congestion, overcrowding, and rising sea levels. But that won’t actually solve the problem for the millions who live there.


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Tech's predatory pricing, ditching delivery apps, the oceans are in trouble, Uber killing transit, NYC taxi bailout, & more!

Issue 105

Hey urbanists,

A big thanks to everyone who reached out for Radical Urbanist’s second anniversary and shared the newsletter with friends and colleagues!

I kicked off this issue with a bit of info on the visionary ideas coming out of the U.K. Labour Party that are making me very excited. Then, a rumination on predatory pricing in tech, the problem with delivery apps, the IPCC’s report on the oceans, Uber and Lyft caused taxi spending to soar while transit spending decline, AOC wants a bailout for taxi drivers, Car2Go is gone, and the importance of imaginative fiction.

I was at the Climate Strike in Auckland this past week. The energy was fantastic! I hope you made it out wherever you are.

Have a great week!

Paris


🇬🇧 U.K. Labour held its party conference and it produced in a radical, ambitious slate of policies: a four-day workweek, folding private schools into the state system, a second Brexit vote between a renegotiated deal and remain, a “People’s Zipcar” made up of 30,000 electric vehicles for rent, a commitment to freedom of movement and closing detention centers, and a universal basic services program to “roll back the frontier of the market and decommodify services that were previously unavailable on a universal basis.”

“For many decades the boundaries of what is politically possible have been policed by a closed network of politicians, advisors, corporate lobbyists, think tanks and journalists. […] The wave of radical policies passed at this week’s Labour conference did not come from PR lobbyists or the scribblings of special advisors. Instead, they came from the blood, sweat and tears of thousands of thinkers, doers and campaigners from all across the country and beyond.”

Tech dystopia

💸 “Amazon’s model, which underpriced competitors in retail and eventually came to control the whole market […] used to be illegal, and was known as predatory pricing.” WeWork is the latest example of this sham, which Matt Stoller calls ‘counterfeit capitalism’, and it makes “competition purely based on access to capital.” Last month, Rani Molla wrote that there are a bunch of conventional companies masquerading as ‘tech’ and that designation misleads investors as to their value and growth potential, allowing the companies to raise more capital than their competitors who don’t pretend to be tech companies. That has the effect of driving the latter companies out of business because they can’t raise as much capital as the false ‘tech’ company, and thus compete on price. Uber and WeWork are chief examples.

📉 New documents reveal SolarCity was insolvent when it was purchased by Tesla, and it appears Elon Musk misled Tesla investors about the acquisition. He’s being sued by investors for violating his fiduciary duty to shareholders. He was also found guilty of violating the National Labor Relations Act for threatening and retaliating against employees who tried to unionize.

🌯 Delivery apps “are using investor money to create a business where there isn’t one. Delivery shouldn’t be this cheap or free. But now we as consumers are trained to think it should be, because these companies are willing to eat the losses to create a market. Restaurants that want to remain competitive feel pressured to offer delivery, no matter the commission.”

🇬🇧 Uber granted a two-month extension after failing to obtain a full operating license in London. New reporting also reveals its special investigations team’s job was “first to protect Uber,” and that meant not reporting crimes to law enforcement or telling victims to seek legal counsel.

✊ 80 Google contractors in Pittsburgh have voted to unionize with United Steelworkers because they work alongside Google workers but get less pay and fewer benefits. They will now enter into contract negotiations with their employer, HCL Technologies.

Kim Kelly explains why the AB5 fight matters and what it means for workers

Environment and climate crisis

🌊 IPCC’s special report on the oceans says they’ve warmed nonstop since the 1970s and have absorbed 90% of excess heat. 680 million people in low-lying costal areas will experience annual flooding by 2050 that would have previously occurred only once a century. The Antarctic ice sheet may be reaching a point of no return, which could cause multimeter sea level rise in the next two to three centuries. Oceans have absored 20-30% of carbon released by humans since the 1980s, making them most acidic and inhospitable to corals that millions of species depend upon. That will force species to continue to move. The worst can be avoided, but only with drastic action now.

Six million people turned out around the world for the Global Climate Strike. New Zealand and Canada had the largest turnouts as a percentage of population.

🏭 Fewer than 20% of the world’s largest companies are on track to meet their Paris emissions reduction targets, and those targets aren’t even enough to keep warming below 1.5ºC. Voluntary compliance doesn’t work. There need to be strict, government-enforced targets with huge penalties for non-compliance.

🇺🇸 Since 1990, California’s CAFE emissions standards “have helped reduced tailpipe emissions by 5 million metric tons, and fuel efficiency has grown by 35% from 1990 to 2016. But emissions still rose by 21% over that period. Why? Because driving—as measured in vehicle miles traveled, or VMT—increased by 50%, more than cancelling out the technological gains.”

🇧🇸 Solar microgrids are helping the Bahamas bounce back from the destruction caused by Hurricane Dorian

🚗 Bolt, an Estonian ride-hailing company, is taking off in London. It promises all its rides are carbon neutral, even though it’s relying on carbon credits that it hasn’t obtained yet.

🇩🇪 Germany is making a massive commitment to rescue its forests

🌏 Who are the global leaders and laggards on climate action? You might be surprised… or maybe not!

Transit and trains

📱 Lyft’s redesigned app gives much greater prominence to scooters and transit. Uber is doing the same, along with adding food delivery instead of having it in a separate app. CEO Dara Khosrowshahi confirms what I’ve been saying the transit integration is all about: providing better routing and making the Uber app more attractive. It’s why the transit agency, not Uber, should be the ‘Amazon for transportation’.

🇫🇷 Le Grand Paris is about more than new metro stations. By going beyond the Périphérique to connect the suburbs to the core, it hopes to change the idea of what Paris is and who belongs to it.

🇺🇸 “If you have the time, I highly recommend riding Amtrak. But even more highly, I recommend that we build a real train system in this country.” Trains are actually surprisingly competitive with flights between some major North American cities.

👎 Average household spending on taxis (including Uber and Lyft) tripled from 2015 to 2018, while transit spending fell 15%

🚄 Virgin Trains USA is pushing a Los Angeles to Las Vegas train, but it doesn’t actually plan to go to downtown LA. Rather, passengers would have to connect 90 miles northeast of the city, which doesn’t make much sense.

📷 Beautiful photos of subway stations from the Soviet Union

Cars, bikes, and roads

🚲 “I never expected that the risk-assessment skills I developed in war zones would be relevant to my life as a Brooklyn dad with a desk job in Manhattan, but that was before I started biking to work. […] The problem is the absence of an infrastructure that gives bikers, pedestrians, and even delivery trucks what they need so they don’t go to war against each other for the rat-infested crumbs of asphalt the city has them fighting over.”

🚕 Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is calling for a bailout for New York City taxi drivers whose livelihoods have been decimated by ride-hailing services

🚗 Car2Go, the car-rental service which makes it easier for people to go car-free, is closing operations in five major North American cities because ride-hailing services have taken so many of their customers. This is a terrible development.

🇺🇸 San Francisco picked four new scooter operators: Lime, Jump (owned by Uber), Scoot (owned by Bird) and Spin (owned by Ford). Within twelve months, the number of scooters could reach 10,000.

🇫🇷 Paris is going big on e-bikes. Véligo, a new e-bike rental service, will cost €40/month on a six-month contract, and the Île-de-France region (where Paris is located) is offering a €500 rebate on e-bike purchases.

🇨🇦 A GM factory in Oshawa, Ontario is slated for closure. The workers are asking the federal government for $1.4-1.9 billion so it can be retooled to make electric vehicles for public institutions like Canada Post. Sadly, the government is unlikely to provide assistance.

🛴 Wired says you should stop renting scooters, and just buy one already (I happen to agree). But Boing Boing says you don’t have to shell out a lot of money: pick up an impounded Bird or Lime for next to nothing at a municipal auction, then swap out the control unit for $30. Easy!

🚫 Car bans shouldn’t just be for a single day; they should be made permanent. But some attempts to close roads in London are running into trouble, especially as taxi drivers vehemently fight any removal of road space.

🗺 More cities are setting geofenced areas where scooters can’t be used or their use is restricted

🇧🇪 Survey finds most scooter users in Brussels are white men with degrees who only use scooters to replace car trips a quarter of the time

(It’s not just Cleveland.)

Housing and homelessness

🇨🇦 Montreal’s Parc-Extension neighborhood is experiencing a major redevelopment as an AI-centered university campus moves in, but that’s let to rising rents and evictions for its vulnerable and low-income residents. The neighborhood is in Justin Trudeau’s electoral district, yet he’s done little to address residents’ concerns.

😑 Two weeks ago, I wrote that California’s rent control, allowing increases of 5% plus CPI, wasn’t that great. A new report suggests landlords are pretty happy with it.

🇬🇧 The socio-economic profile of some of London’s most deprived areas is being significantly altered as high-income people move into “regenerated” neighborhoods

🇺🇸 Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s housing bill would rein in predatory landlords, make it illegal to discriminate against tenants who receive housing assistance, prohibit mortgage for landlords who’ve harassed tenants, and set a national rent cap. Another bill could link U.S. federal transit funding to housing construction.

🇬🇧 Social housing tenants, including children with disabilities, are still being excluded from communal areas in a multi-million pound development in London

Other great reads

🔮 “Imaginative fiction trains people to be aware that there other ways to do things, other ways to be; that there is not just one civilization, and it is good, and it is the way we have to be.” — Ursula K. Le Guin

🇦🇺 David Levinson gives his impression of Melbourne and how it compares to Sydney


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RU turns 2 🎉, nationalize Greyhound, GND builds a new society, Bezos responds to worker demands, Climate Strike, & more!

Issue 104

Hey urbanists,

How quickly time flies! I sent the first issue of Radical Urbanist nearly two years ago from New Zealand, and now I’m sending this one to you from that beautiful country once again. Thank you for being one of the more than 800 people who receive this newsletter on a weekly basis, and there’s surely more goodness to come! (Hopefully a podcast early in the new year; it got delayed with my being on the road.)

I have a request to set Radical Urbanist on a good path for its third year: please share it on social media with a message telling people what you like about it, and send it to any friends or colleagues who’d benefit from a critical take on cities and tech. Thank you!

Now, onto this issue: I really liked Ben Tarnoff’s article about updating our perspective on the Luddites and dismantling the tech that serves the rich instead of regular people. Plus, Jeff Bezos responds to Amazon workers’ climate demands, “Super Pumped” misses a key part of the Uber story, Greyhound should be nationalized, Norway turning against road tolls, a Green New Deal would build the foundation of a new society, and rent control is a form of monopoly regulation.

As you receive this, I’ll be at an International Hobbit Day celebration at the Hobbiton movie set in Matamata, New Zealand. Have a great week!

Paris

P.S. — Click the heart if you like the issue!


🔨❤️ Ben Tarnoff calls for a twenty-first century Luddism. Counter to the negative narrative surrounding the Luddites, he argues “they didn’t wait patiently for the glorious future promised by the gospel of progress. They saw what certain machines were doing to them in the present tense – endangering their livelihoods – and dismantled them.” Right now, the promise of smart cities is enabling mass surveillance requiring data that generates a ton of carbon, but maybe we don’t need to collect it.

The zero-carbon commonwealth of the future must empower people to decide not just how technologies are built and implemented, but whether they’re built and implemented. Progress is an abstraction that has done a lot of damage over the centuries. Luddism urges us to consider: progress towards what and progress for whom? Sometimes a technology shouldn’t exist. Sometimes the best thing to do with a machine is to break it.

Tech dystopia

🔍 Hubert Horan writes that Mike Isaac’s “Super Pumped” misses the core of the Uber story by focusing so much on Travis Kalanick and personalities, while leaving out a critical analysis of Uber’s business model and economics. It isn’t a successful company that had a Kalanick problem; it’s fundamentally flawed. (I also noted it lacked a structural critique.)

🇺🇸 California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed AB5 into law. San Diego has already sued Instacart over its misclassification of workers as independent contractors. More lawsuits are expected as the battle escalates over employment status for workers.

Jeff Bezos announced new climate measures after demands from Amazon workers. Brian Merchant went through the plan in detail and showed how it still has massive holes. Meanwhile, an Amazon Go store in San Francisco became a meeting point for climate and labor groups during Friday’s climate protest. “Is that representing our future?Is Amazon’s treatment of workers our future? Are its shipping business model and carbon footprint our future? We envision a different, healthier planet.” Makes you think of Ben Tarnoff’s piece above.

👨‍⚖️ Uber and Lyft’s refusal to respect AB5 in California is strategic: it will delay the effects of the bill and give them more leverage to try to get a “third class” of labor codified in law, which would legally revoke some employee protections that the labor movement fought for over a century to win. It’s now also suing NYC over its rules on deadheading.

📱 Navigation apps are causing chaos in cities around the world. “The apps are typically optimized to keep an individual driver’s travel time as short as possible; they don’t care whether the residential streets can absorb the traffic or whether motorists who show up in unexpected places may compromise safety.”

👨‍⚖️ Next month, an arbitrator will hear arguments in a case against Uber, and there’s a reasonable chance surge pricing could be deemed a form of price fixing and made illegal across the United States

😡 A 15th woman is suing Lyft after being raped by her driver in 2015. Alison Turkos wrote about her experience and why she’s suing Lyft now.

🇺🇸 Poll finds two-thirds of Americans support breaking up Big Tech

Environment and climate crisis

💰 George Monbiot argues there needs to be a limit on wealth because the rich are not only wrecking the planet, their wealth gives them power over the rest of us. That would jive with proposals for a wealth tax of up to 90% in Thomas Piketty’s new book.

🛢 U.K. advertising watchdog rules natural gas is not a “low-carbon fuel” after misleading Equinor ad

✊ City-by-city breakdown estimates 4 million people participated in Friday’s Climate Strike, though more events are happening across the world until September 27

☀️ A Green New Deal “requires us to imagine a more public, community-led form of ownership, which prioritises wellbeing, shared rather than private wealth, and the stewardship of public resources and commons.”

🇩🇪 Germany will spend €54 billion raised through a carbon price, higher vehicle taxes, and a flight tax. It will provide incentives for electric vehicles less than €40,000, reduce train ticket prices, and provide an extra €1 billion a year to Deutsche Bahn, the state rail company. Many say it’s still not enough to cut emissions 55% by 2030.

🏗 The New Deal was about building the infrastructure that’s the back bone of our current system: “hundreds of thousands of miles of new roads and highways, 78,000 new bridges, 1,000 libraries, 5,900 schools, airports, power-generating dams, electrical grids, hospitals, parks, stadiums.” But that infrastructure is also the cause of our climate crisis, so the Green New Deal must be able building the infrastructure of the system that will follow.

🇺🇸 Detroit residents were less likely to blame climate change for flooding “because the ineptitude of local government and faulty infrastructure were the things staring them smack in the face, from their own backyards and basements”

🐦 North America’s bird population dropped by nearly three billion (29%) since 1970

Transit and trains

🚄 “With speeds of 200-350 km/h, HSR travel times are very competitive for distances of 150-800 km (about 1-3 hours), and somewhat competitive up to 1200 km (about 5 hours).” The downside of this analysis: it ignores emissions and relies too heavily on the market. If we want to incentivize use of HSR for long distances, we can; we just build it out then punitively tax flights or jet fuel.

🚌 Greyhound provides essential, “low-cost & low-carbon travel for millions of people every year. High-speed rail may be glitzier, and it’s certainly vital, but any future zero-carbon transportation system must also rely on a larger, greener network of inter-city buses.” That’s why Greyhound should be nationalized and expanded.

🇨🇦 Canada’s Conservatives are promising to bring back a public transit tax credit if they win the October election, but providing that money as “funding for public transit — whether for expanding service, reducing fares, or both — would be much more effective in increasing transit use, cutting congestion and reducing carbon emissions.” It’s part of a series of tax measures that would overwhelmingly benefit the rich and erode collective power to address social problems.

🇬🇧 Analysis finds that a lack of developed transport infrastructure, particularly public transit, is responsible for stagnating productivity in British cities

🇺🇸 Seattle will tax Uber and Lyft to fund streetcars and affordable housing, and will set a minimum pay rate for drivers in future

🇨🇦 Vancouver is leading North America on transit ridership growth, but with ride-hailing services due to start operating, is that success threatened?

🇺🇸 The opening of San Francisco’s Central Subway is delayed until June 2021

Cars and roads

🇳🇴 In urbanist circles, Norway is known for its high electric vehicle sales, elimination of parking in central Oslo, and, well, the fjords. But Norwegians are getting so furious about road tolls, the campaign against them is being compared to France’s gilets jaunes. Some feel that the environmental policies have gone too far: “We are a small country; we can’t fix all the problems in the world.” In recent local elections, an anti-road-toll party got 16.7% of the vote in Bergen, Norway’s second-largest city, as Labour dropped 18%. For more cities, look for “FNB,” the anti-road-tolls party, on the Wikipedia page.

🇬🇧 If the United Kingdom stopped building new roads and redirected the funds, it could address the backlog of road maintenance in ten years with 90% of the funds left over to invest in cycling and transit

🛣 If we want to reduce transport emissions, we need to stop expanding and building new highways. The promised benefits never come to fruition.

🛑 James Gleave encourages young transport planners to speak up and push back when transport projects go against climate goals

✊ Youth activists who attended the Climate Strike are emphasizing transportation, calling for people to “walk the talk, bike the talk”

🇫🇷 Paris will offer a €500 subsidy for e-bike purchases in 2020

Housing and homelessness

🇺🇸 The U.S. government may force homeless people in Los Angeles into an unused federal office building, even though it may not have the legal authority to do so and previously denied advocacy groups’ requests to use that same building

🇩🇪 Siemens is planning to redevelop a Berlin neighborhood literally named after the company, Siemensstadt. It will integrate technology, but promises to follow the GDPR, involve local citizens’ groups, and not harvest data from private citizens. It’s not expected to see the same opposition as Google’s planned development in Kreuzberg.

🇺🇸 Exurban sprawl is booming in California as people seek out affordable housing far from their jobs, requiring long commutes

🇮🇪 Dublin residents are getting fed up with the loss of murals and pubs to developments aimed at promoting tourism

📈 “Rent control is not weird or unusual for regulating monopolies. The weird thing is that land is no longer considered a form of monopoly.”

👎 Airbnb plans 2020 IPO, but its war with New York City could get in its way

Other great reads

✈️🚫 Speaking of flight shaming and the need to change our societies so we can embrace slower travel, subscriber Christine Ro sent along an article about how some companies are giving their employees extra time off if they choose trains instead of planes when they go on vacation

🎮 To build Night City, the developers of Cyberpunk 2077 thought through the events that would’ve occurred in the 57 years since between 2020, when the original work was set, to make the world seem as realistic as possible

🛳 Cruise ships deposit thousands of people into small, historical cities, degrading historical sites and marine environments, but since locals need the money there can be little desire to curb ‘overtourism’. “Where once there were bookshops, bakeries, butchers, hair salons and markets, tacky souvenir shops and stalls now cater to the tourists.”

⏱ Our current understanding of time is a capitalist construct. Astra Taylor writes that a more sustainable world may require a return to traditional approaches that we’ve forgotten.

Thinking of time as chronological might be part of what is holding us back from finding a sustainable path. Past, present, future—climate change combines all these registers at once. Time is not an arrow, relentlessly moving forward, but something circular and strange, more akin to “a lake in which the past, present, and future exist,” to quote the Potawatomi botanist Robin Wall Kimmerer, than a rushing river.

👋 Angie Schmitt says goodbye to Streetsblog

By Paris: Bernie Sanders' climate change plan is radical and expensive — which is why it could work (NBC News THINK)


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Uber must be stopped, superblocks save lives, Hyperloop is bullshit, Amazon delivery dangers, & more!

Issue 103

Hey urbanists,

Obviously we’re talking about AB5 this week. How can we not? I get a feeling a new #DeleteUber campaign is in the offing — and I hope it delivers a death blow.

Plus, Hyperloop is bullshit, superblocks are incredible, Bernie Sanders’ housing plan is much better than Justin Trudeau’s, small Canadian town taking on Airbnb rentals, Amazon delivery is a menace, how to rein in technology capitalism, and much more.

I’m in Auckland and still not sure what my plans are this week. Have a great one!

Paris

P.S. — Hit the heart if you like the issue!


Regulators need to enforce the law on Uber

After passing the California Assembly 53-11, AB5 passed the Senate 29-11. The bill would effectively force gig economy companies to reclassify their workers as employees instead of contractors. It now returns to the Assembly to approve the amendments, then requires Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature to become law and take effect on January 1, 2020. Newsom published an op-ed on Labor Day backing the bill.

However, gig economy companies are already planning to fight back. Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash have contributed a combined $90 million to prepare a ballot initiative aimed at killing AB5 and replacing it with a “third category” of labor between employee and contractor. Some hail this as the perfect solution, but we shouldn’t be fooled: this is an effort to roll back decades, if not over a century, of hard work to expand the rights and benefits of workers.

On Wednesday, Uber and Lyft announced that even when the bill becomes law, they’ll refuse to respect it. They argue they can pass the test and keep their drivers as contractors. That seems very unlikely, and will end up in the courts. But that’s their plan: delay as long as possible, both to delay the costs associated with making contractors employees and maximizing the time they have to try to overturn it through lobbying and the ballot initiative.

Here’s why it won’t work. For a worker to be considered an independent contractor under AB5, the business must pass what’s called an ABC test: “the worker a) is free from the company’s control, b) is doing work that isn’t central to the company’s business, and c) has an independent business in that industry.” Uber is arguing delivering rides isn’t central to its business, which is complete bullshit, but how they can argue against the others is hard to imagine. If AB5 stands, it’s a question of when the workers are reclassified, not if.

I finished reading Mike Isaac’s “Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber” this week, which largely covers Uber’s founding to CEO Dara Khosrowshahi’s takeover from disgraced former CEO Travis Kalanick. It illustrates how deregulating transport was one of the goals Kalanick hoped to achieve with Uber, beyond offering cheap taxi trips and decimating labor rights — he literally referred to drivers as “supply.” But, while not explicitly stated, the fact Kalanick and the other top brass at Uber were able to get away with all they did is a clear indictment of how regulators and politicians failed to enforce the law after falling for the argument that these companies were different because they branded themselves as “tech” rather than transport, hospitality, etc.

Uber executives got away with a shocking amount of not just unethical, but illegal behavior, and externalized the social and economic costs onto drivers and urban residents. AB5 is a very welcome development that will hopefully lead other jurisdictions in the United States and beyond to follow suit, but it will also be a test: are regulators finally ready to stand up for everyone being made worse off by tech’s refusal to respect existing legal frameworks? They’ve engaged in a decade of social destruction in service of wealthy venture capitalists and some relatively well-off users, and it’s long past time they were brought to heel, if not abolished outright.

Around the world

🚗 As bikes and people try to claim more space in U.S. cities, influential and powerful people still applaud the dominance of the automobile. By contrast, mayor Anne Hidalgo wants Paris to become a place “where you can let go of your child’s hand.”

The car is a very specifically American symbol of freedom, but like so many instruments and symbols of American freedom, it is a tool of domination and control. A car is a missile and a castle, a self-propelled, multi-ton fortress, hermetically sealed against the intrusions of weather, environment, and, of course, other people. Drivers view the world through the lenses of speed and convenience … but also through the lens of ownership. Streets belong to cars. The rest of us are interlopers, invaders, invasive species.

Transit and trains

🇫🇷 Paris transit workers went on strike Friday to fight President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reforms, which would force them to work nearly a decade longer before being able to retire. Ten of sixteen metro lines, along with some regional services were shut down. Strikes could continue until December.

🤦‍♀️ Aaron Gordon went to a Hyperloop conference and found it’s really just a small number of really dedicated techno-optimists who won’t entertain any of the limitations of the technology. “To the Hyperloopist, the past is failure, reality is a mistake, and the future is success.”

🇨🇦 A train tunnel in Montreal will close for two years in January to retrofit it for the regional REM system currently under construction. The city will offer free shuttle buses, but it will put more pressure on the already stressed metro system.

🇺🇸🇫🇷 Between 2010 and 2018, transit ridership in major U.S. cities decreased by an average of 6%, but in major French cities it increased by an average of 32%

🇨🇦 After significant delays, Ottawa finally opened its Confederation Line, a 13-station light-rail system, on Saturday. Further extensions are planned in the coming years.

Bikes and scooters

🇮🇪 Dublin is extending its bikeshare system to more suburbs. Over 40,000 people pay the €25 annual subscription — much cheaper than a private dockless service.

🇩🇪 Munich has banned scooters from the grounds of Oktoberfest to discourage intoxicated riding and the injuries that could result from it

🇬🇧 U.K. report suggests e-bikes, scooters, and bikeshare could shorten the journey times of 69% of trips currently made by car in large British cities

🇳🇿 A charity in New Zealand gives refugees free bikes and teaches them how to ride. For some, it’s made a huge difference in their lives.

Cars and roads

🇪🇸 If Barcelona fully implements its superblocks program, it could prevent 667 premature deaths a year, reduce air pollution by a quarter, cut noise pollution and the heat island effect, and switch 230,000 weekly vehicle trips to transit, foot, or bike

🇬🇧 U.K. transport committee calls for a ban on pavement (see: sidewalk) parking, saying it “puts pedestrians in danger when they are forced to move into the road to get around a vehicle or where there are trip hazards due to damage to the pavement”

🇦🇺 The number of vehicles entering Sydney’s CBD has dropped 8% since 2015. Now the government might be adding a new cycleway and pedestrian spaces.

🚚 Delivery trucks are causing havoc on city streets, especially delivering Amazon packages, but some cities and companies are trying to “rightsize” deliver vehicles. I’m bullish on electric cargo bikes!

🇺🇸 San Francisco lawmaker wants some streets in the Tenderloin to be car-free after a spike in deaths

🇩🇪 Berlin politicians are calling for an SUV ban after one hit a group of pedestrians

Environment and climate crisis

🎥 Variety asks whether Hollywood is doing enough to fight climate change. It talks a lot about making more entertainment that draws attention to the climate crisis, and noting that “many of Hollywood’s most prominent environmental activists still indulge in air and yacht travel and other luxuries of the jet set that are the source of carbon emissions.” But it doesn’t reckon with potentially larger changes to filmmaking that will be necessary to reduce its footprint — offsetting isn’t enough.

🇺🇳 U.N. rights chief Michelle Bachelet says the climate crisis is the greatest ever threat to human rights, serving as a catalyst for civil wars

☀️ Massive new solar power and battery storage project will supply Los Angeles with 6-7% of its annual power needs at just 3.3 cents per kilowatt-hour 

😬 A trillion-dollar investment is needed to avert “climate apartheid” — and we’re not nearly doing enough

🇺🇸 “By 2035, it will be more expensive to run 90% of gas plants being proposed in the U.S. than it will be to build new wind and solar farms equipped with storage systems”

🇫🇷 Summer heatwaves killed more than 1,500 people in France according to the health minister

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 Glasgow may reforest several golf courses to help meet climate targets

Housing and homelessness

🇨🇦 Canada’s election kicked off the other day, and Justin Trudeau started with a plan to further subsidize first-time homebuyers. But the dream of homeownership for all is dead and politicians won’t be able to resurrect it. In fact, Trudeau’s measure is making affordability worse. The columnist suggests a renter’s tax credit, and while that may work in the short term, what’s really needed is mass investment in public housing.

🇺🇸 Bernie Sanders previewed his $2.5-trillion housing plan on Saturday. It would cap rent increases at 1.5x inflation or 3%, end homelessness, put $50 billion in community land trusts, expand the National Housing Trust Fund, fully fund Section 8 rental assistance, and make a $70-billion investment to repair and expand public housing.

🇨🇦 Bonavista, NL, a small Canadian town, taxes Airbnb properties at the business property tax rate. It has a town employee search the website for new listings, then make house calls. If the owner doesn’t pay the bill, the town cuts them off from municipal services. “We have literally dug up driveways and turned off water sewer service until the bill is paid.”

🇭🇰 Hong Kong leader pledges to increase housing supply in response to pro-democracy activists’ demands

🇺🇸 California passed statewide rent control, but the new protections still seem pretty favorable to landlords. The measures, which have plenty of exceptions, would cap increases at 5% plus inflation — who’s getting wage increases of that much?

🇵🇹 Cultural capitals across Europe are being decimated by “touristification” and an influx of speculative real estate capital to provide Airbnb rentals. In Lisbon, the availability of long-term rentals has declined 70% in 5 years.

🇦🇺 Inequality getting worse in Australia as the poorest fifth spend 29% of their income on housing — more than ever before — compared to 9.4% for the richest fifth

🇬🇧 Women fleeing abuse are re-traumatized when they seek housing assistance

Tech dystopia

📦 Caroline O’Donovan reveals the dark side of Amazon’s delivery operations. Hundreds of companies use contracted drivers who have to deliver “upwards of 250 packages a day,” or one every two minutes of their 8-hour shift, while Amazon dictates everything “down to what drivers wear, what vans they use, what routes they follow, and how many packages they must deliver each day.” The lack of safety training, regulations, and the pressure placed on delivery drivers has “exposed communities across the country to chaos, exploitative working conditions, and, in many cases, peril.” Days after the story broke, Uber announced it’s doubling down on freight.

🛑 Lizzie O’Shea describes several methods of reining in technology capitalism, from changing laws to reviving antitrust’s focus on the corporate power of monopolies. But we can’t forget the power of workers to fight for change, especially as those in tech have become more active.

✊ Technology denies gig workers traditional working rights, but they’re also using their own tech tools to fight back

🖥 “Software was able to eat the world because we put a lot of the world through the meat grinder to create little standardized patties that software could handle.” AVs will be no exception, with developers already calling for caged sidewalks and limits of public space.

🇺🇸 50 attorneys general representing 48 states, Puerto Rico, and D.C. have announced they’re launching an antitrust investigation of Google. The big tech companies now face a combined 16 investigations across all levels of U.S. government.

📉 SoftBank, which plowed billions of dollars into ‘tech’ companies like Uber and WeWork, is having a really bad year. It’s not trying to get WeWork not to IPO because its valuation has fallen so much.

😬 Uber announced it was cutting another 435 jobs, or 8% of its entire workforce, in the middle of Apple’s iPhone event. Talk about trying to bury a story.

Other great reads

🇺🇸 After the failure of the Amazon HQ2 deal, New York state is joining others in cracking down on corporate welfare. (The unnamed “solar plant” in Buffalo is Elon Musk’s SolarCity.)

🚽 In the 1970s, U.S. high schoolers campaigned to get rid of pay toilets — and they won. Free toilets are just one example of how decommodifying services makes life easier for people, and it needs to be done to even more of the things we rely on.

📽 “When a city becomes this synonymous with its film festival — and the kind of visitor that the global arthouse circuit draws — the effects can be mixed. The economic boosts delivered by a festival, such as large visitor numbers, can also drive up prices and put undue strain on the local environment.”

By Paris: Apple Event 2019 unveils the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro — but a strategy pivot is underway (NBC News THINK)


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