Radical Urbanist is taking a break

Hey urbanists,

I hope you’re doing well! After nearly three years of sending Radical Urbanist every Sunday, I’m taking a break. This pandemic has worn me down and I’m not feeling the same level of motivation. I’ll be in touch when I decide what the future holds.

In the meantime, if you want to keep up with my work and what I’m up to, you can follow me on Twitter or add me on LinkedIn.

If you’re into podcasts, you can also subscribe to Tech Won’t Save Us, which focuses on tech and has frequent episodes on urban issues, such as this week’s interview with Curbed’s Alissa Walker on the Boring Company.

Ban cars, fuck tech, and nationalize everything!

— Paris

Elon Musk’s Vegas Loop is a joke

Issue 147

Critical urbanism

Alissa Walker explains how Elon Musk’s Vegas Loop is even more of a joke than it used to be. Jake Bittle reviews Mario Alejandro Ariza’s “Disposable City: Miami’s Future on the Shores of Climate Catastrophe” about how Miami faces a bleak future with climate change. In Horizons, I wrote about how homeownership made our societies more conservative and individualized.

US public transit officials are asking for billions in aid from the federal Congress to avoid dire consequences. C40 Cities positions the “15-minute city” as a key strategy for the post-pandemic urban future. Poorly designed participatory processes entrench inequities instead of rectifying them. Soundcloud cofounders launching €59/m e-bike rental service in Berlin (Paris’ public service is €40/m). KPMG estimates work from home culture will permanently reduce miles driven by 10% in the US and cut car ownership. New Zealand is providing another $100 million to support transit. In Washington, DC, free parking is a massive subsidy to overwhelmingly white and wealthy people. Eviction protection for around 12 million US renters expires at the end of July, and landlords are already trying to kick them out. Car companies are basically phasing out small cars in the United States. A new startup wants you to pay $2,000/m to live in a trailer.

Tech dystopia

Grace Blakeley explains Jeff Bezos can thank Amazon’s market power for his single-day wealth boost of $13 billion. Tim Maughan, in conversation with Brian Merchant, reflects on how this crisis is revealing how precarious all of this tech has really made our world. David A. Banks explains how automation isn’t getting rid of workers, it’s giving bosses far greater power over them.

Microsoft has played a key role in laying the technological foundation for the police state. Uber deducts airport tickets from drivers’ wages, and it may violate their Constitutional rights. Tesla has the highest emotional appeal even though JD Power found its owners report more problems with their vehicles than any other automaker. UK Uber drivers are suing for access to its algorithms, arguing GDPR gives them a right to see the data Uber collects on them and how it’s used by the algorithms. Major US unions filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission over Amazon’s exploitative response to the pandemic. Tesla’s new deal to get cobalt from the Democratic Republic of Congo will directly benefit an Israeli billionaire who’s been sanctioned by the United States.

This week on Tech Won’t Save Us, I spoke to Julie Michelle Klinger, author of “Rare Earth Frontiers: From Terrestrial Subsoils to Lunar Landscapes,” about the resource scarcity myth that’s fuelling the push for space mining and why we need to ensure space remains a commons.

Climate crisis

Polar bears could be nearly extinct by the end of the century because of sea ice loss. Apple’s climate pledge is a mixed bag (and I think this report ignores how it conveniently doesn’t have to change anything major about its business). Scientists have identified more than 12,000 species shifting their range because of climate change.

Like the issue? Follow Radical Urbanist on Twitter and buy Paris a coffee.

Use the pandemic to ban Airbnb

Issue 146

Hey urbanists,

I hope you’re all doing well. I don’t have an essay in this week’s issue, but I want to recommend the pieces I highlighted in the first paragraph of each section. I especially liked the articles by Tamara Nopper and Lyta Gold.

I’m reading David Dayen’s new book “Monopolized” this weekend and it’s proving pretty fascinating, if not a bit heartbreaking. It’s a good look at corporate monopolization in the US, but also takes time to dig into the human impacts of consolidation and the power it gives greedy corporate leaders.

Paris Marx


Critical urbanism

Tamara K. Nopper argues that attempts to position “the affluent, white suburb” as the model for police abolition allow white people to act as the savior, while downplaying the racist structures at play in making the suburb what it is. Annalee Newitz imagines what a Muni social support service could like like in San Francisco, funded out of money taken from the police budget. In Horizons, I outlined how automobility and suburbanization destroyed communities and why we need to rebuild them with a focus on public luxuries. In Tribune, I called for cities to use the pandemic to banish Airbnb and take over short-term rental properties.

Barcelona will take over vacant properties at half their market value if landlords don’t rent them. In the face of an eviction crisis, it’s time to question private homeownership. “Train Daddy” Andy Byford wants to get people back on transit in London. Meanwhile, London suspended free transport for under-18s as part of its bailout deal, and teachers say that could keep disadvantaged kids from school. Cities in Canada are cutting speed limits to save lives. 15 US states are following California’s push to electrify trucks and buses. Uber bought Routematch, a transit software company, as it tries to get more data on transit services. NYC subway has higher ridership than all US airlines. More automakers are rolling out hands-free driving systems even though it’s not clear how safe they are. Uber will let California drivers set their own prices (sort of… not really). German court ruled that Tesla misled drivers about Autopilot, and bans its mention in advertising.

Tech dystopia

Lyta Gold digs into Silicon Valley billionaires’ obsession with fiction and why they take the wrong lesson from fantasy worlds. Patrick McGinty examines the evolution of books about autonomous vehicles and how COVID-19 has called the industry’s bluff (the tech isn’t anywhere near delivering on its big promises). Michael Eby describes the DIY computer of Yugloslavia and the potential alternative is represents.

Tesla’s stock price is through the roof, but don’t fool yourself into thinking it’s another Amazon. Uber and airports aren’t providing drivers with bathrooms. Tech CEOs are really mad that tech journalism isn’t just founder worship anymore. Massachusetts is suing Uber and Lyft for misclassifying drivers. A submission in Australia shows how Google may try to argue against US antitrust action. Cisco is being sued for caste discrimination. Tech workers are joining the July 20 Strike for Black Lives. Apple won its EU tax case, but a bigger antitrust battle is looming. New EU investigation will look at whether Apple, Google, and Amazon are building monopolies with their digital assistants and smart home products.

In this week’s Tech Won’t Save Us, I spoke to Juan Ortiz Freuler of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society about how the Global South could create a better future of tech and how they’re demanding the digital labor of their users be accounted for in global tax negotiations.

Climate crisis

Ford’s new Bronco, which doesn’t even have hybrid or electric options, is a form of climate denial. US fracking companies are going bankrupt and leaving their wells uncapped. The fossil fuel energy system disproportionately hurts Black people in the United States. Oil majors are trying to get rid of assets that will be expensive to extract. Canada isn’t doing proper accounting of the impact of clearcut logging.

Like the issue? Follow Radical Urbanist on Twitter and buy Paris a coffee.

Poor and Black Americans face mass evictions in coming months

Issue 145

The United States is facing an unprecedented eviction crisis. With extra unemployment benefits expiring at the end of July and eviction protections slowly being lifted, millions of Americans could be kicked out of their homes, and Black people will be disproportionately affected.

Without a rental assistance program, some communities could find themselves in the uncomfortable position of having local police enforcing eviction orders in black neighborhoods after weeks of protests following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, he said.

In July, “36% of renters, who are more likely to work in industries devastated by the coronavirus, missed their … housing bill, compared to 30% of homeowners.” By the end of September, tens of millions of renters could be evicted — making the economic and health crises that are already spiraling out of control even worse.

Whenever it comes to evictions, I often think of Matthew Desmond’s book “Evicted,” in which he described the situation in Milwaukee to illustrate how housing has changed throughout the United States. There are several aspects that are important to understand.

First, evictions can ruin people’s lives by not only disrupting communities, but making it harder for people to rent again in the future or even access public housing support.

Losing a home sends families to shelters, abandoned houses, and the street. It invites depression and illness, compels families to move into degrading housing in dangerous neighborhoods, uproots communities, and harms children.

Second, the subsidies for housing in the United States are highly skewed toward the rich through tax subsidies for homeownership. Between the Mortgage Interest Deduction and the Property Tax Deduction, “households making over $100,000 a year received nearly 90 percent of the $90 billion spent on the two tax programs … Households making less than $50,000 got a little more than 1 percent of those benefits.” Desmond writes,

If we are going to spend the bulk of our public dollars on the affluent—at least when it comes to housing—we should own up to that decision and stop repeating the politicians’ canard about one of the richest countries on the planet being unable to afford doing more. If poverty persists in America, it is not for lack of resources.

Finally, evictions were not nearly as common in the past. Desmond describes how evictions have become a major source of work for cops in recent decades, but also how the community would oppose the few evictions that did happen when cops tried to carry them out.

Even in the most desolate areas of American cities, evictions used to be rare. They used to draw crowds. Eviction riots erupted during the Depression, even though the number of poor families who faced eviction each year was a fraction of what it is today. A New York Times account of community resistance to the eviction of three Bronx families in February 1932 observed, “Probably because of the cold, the crowd numbered only 1,000.” Sometimes neighbors confronted the marshals directly, sitting on the evicted family’s furniture to prevent its removal or moving the family back in despite the judge’s orders. The marshals themselves were ambivalent about carrying out evictions. It wasn’t why they carried a badge and a gun.

These days, there are sheriff squads whose full-time job is to carry out eviction and foreclosure orders. There are moving companies specializing in evictions, their crews working all day, every weekday. There are hundreds of data-mining companies that sell landlords tenant screening reports listing past evictions and court filings. These days, housing courts swell, forcing commissioners to settle cases in hallways or makeshift offices crammed with old desks and broken file cabinets—and most tenants don’t even show up. Low-income families have grown used to the rumble of moving trucks, the early-morning knocks at the door, the belongings lining the curb.

Not only is it clear there needs to be a massive change in how we think about housing and who has a right to it (is it an investment or a home?), along with a massive public-housing building program so there’s actual housing that the poor, working, and middle classes can afford again without an hour or longer commute, but maybe the tenant organizing that seems to be accelerating in the face of the pandemic and the economic crisis it’s causing will lead to the same kind of opposition to evictions that used to exist almost a century ago.

(Highly recommend the video linked in this tweet of a constituent breaking down how police spending doesn’t benefit Syracuse, NY because *95%* of officers don’t live in the community. 👇)

Critical urbanism

Boris Johnson wants to dismantle the UK’s planning system, making development “a private sector free-for-all.” Farhad Manjoo imagines NYC without cars. Eliza Levinson describes the activism against tech companies in Berlin.

California ballot measure by Uber and other gig companies would lower workers’ pay and limit lawmakers’ ability to pass tougher labor laws. Japan’s new Shinkansen train can go 360 km/h and doesn’t have to stop during earthquakes. Lisbon wants to turn Airbnb units into affordable housing for essential workers. NYC buses were up to 19% faster during the lockdown, and ridership remains higher than the subway. Despite US eviction protections, some people are already on the streets because they feared deportation if they challenged their landlords. Dollar stores are proliferating across the United States and making communities less safe. Cities in Europe have added almost 1,500 kms (930 miles) of bike lanes since the pandemic began. UK Labour used to be radically anti-landlord, but its current leadership has forgotten that history. Vienna’s housing model is seen as a positive example, but even there housing is increasingly seen as an investment.

Tech dystopia

Juan Ortiz Freuler asks whether the Global North is able to conceive of a different technological future or whether those visions must come from the Global South. Julia Carrie Wong says Facebook doesn’t care about hate because “[t]he only existential threat to a $650bn multinational corporation is a threat to its revenues.”

Elon Musk’s new online school costs $7,500 for one week of lessons based on Musk’s interests with no language, music, or sports. Google was working on a cloud project for China, but it’s been canceled. Auditors finds progress at Facebook has been stalled by “the vexing and heartbreaking decisions Facebook has made that represent significant setbacks for civil rights.” The United States might ban TikTok. It doesn’t take conspiracy theories to see the real problems with 5G. After new Hong Kong law, major US tech companies halted government data requests, while TikTok pulled out. After meeting with Mark Zuckerberg, civil rights groups say Facebook is “not yet ready to address the vitriolic hate on their platform.” Cisco sued by California fair employment agency over allegations of a caste hierarchy. Palantir might be going public.

On this week’s Tech Won’t Save Us, I spoke to “Too Smart” author Jathan Sadowski to discuss how smart tech enables powerful actors to further control the population, and why we should be more comfortable dismantling tech that doesn’t serve the public good. For NBC News THINK, I also wrote about why Uber’s acquisition of Postmates will be bad for restaurants, couriers, and customers, then I imagined a better future of food in Horizons. For The Trouble, I also argued socialists can’t be obsessed with tech or growth when imagining a sustainable future.

Climate crisis

The South Pole has warmed at three times the global rate in the past 30 years. More great white sharks are showing up in Eastern Canada, but have they always been there? The pandemic is stalling plastic bans. Preserving nature is an important part of living sustainably, and since Canada has “25% of Earth’s wetlands and boreal forests” it needs to step up. Does the cancellation of three pipelines signal a turn for US oil and gas?

Disney released a video for the reopening of Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL that looks like the Disneyfication of a fascist pandemic response. The backlash was so overwhelming it deleted the video from Twitter and even locked its Twitter account, buy you can still find it on YouTube. Ryan Simmons edited in some clips of skyrocketing COVID-19 cases in Florida. 👇
Like the issue? Follow Radical Urbanist on Twitter and buy Paris a coffee.

This is what a car ad should look like

Issue 144

This past week, e-bike maker VanMoof got the best gift it could possibly get. Its new ad was banned from French television for discrediting the auto industry and linking cars to climate change — I’m not seeing anything wrong with that! — and naturally that attracted a ton of media attention and viewers.

The ad itself is really nice, showing reflections of smokestacks, traffic congestion, emergency vehicles, and more on the body of the vehicle before it melts and the camera shifts to a backlit e-bike.

It seems particularly ironic that the ad was banned for reflecting the reality of automobility when so much car advertising is premised on presenting vehicles in conditions most drivers will never experience them in, emphasizing speed, empty urban streets, and more.

Last year, Angie Schmitt wrote an article in which she outlined how cars ads often display dangerous driving behaviors and how those kinds of ads should be banned. It should come as no surprise that we’re so wedded to driving and replacing it is so hard when Schmitt notes the auto industry was the largest advertiser in 2018, which also presents serious questions about editorial independence because of how dependent so many news outlets are on auto ad dollars. Did you think the Auto and Drive sections were just a coincidence? (It’s the same with the real estate sections.)

The VanMoof ad actually displays cars in the way they should be shown to people, illustrating all the problems that arise from a transport system so dependent on vehicles that fuel climate change and kill over a million people around the world every year. Car makers shouldn’t be able to hide all those issues with ads that are misleading and promote dangerous driving. There’s been talk of following the lead of tobacco regulations and putting warning labels on gas pumps, but things clearly need to go much further than that.

Hopefully the rise of the e-bike will bring more ads that are critical of automobiles and show them for what they really are. But one piece of ending the reign of the automobile will be reining in its advertising power, and thus providing better sources of revenue for media so journalists can be more critical of cars in the first place.

Critical urbanism

For Jacobin, I reviewed James Wilt’s “Do Androids Dream of Electric Cars?” and echoed his call for better transit. Lauren Kirchner has a great report on the importance of libraries during the pandemic. Alon Levy did a deep dive on French rapid transit. Los Angelesfreeway system is “one of the most noxious monuments to racism and segregation in the country.” Addressing those inequities requires reinvesting in transit, which a new federal bill is trying to push forward. In Paris, mayor Anne Hidalgo was reelected as part of a green wave. Germany will be connecting some major cities with trains every 30 minutes. Tenants on a rent strike in the Bronx explain what their lives are like during the pandemic. 540,000 bikes have been sold in Italy since early May. Canada needs a public housing revolution, not a basic income. US could be on the verge of an unprecedented eviction crisis. Shared streets also present questions about rights to public space. Intercity bus companies are struggling after COVID-19 and haven’t received US federal aid like airlines and transit. If Uber buys Postmates, restaurants will feel the pinch with even higher fees. UK considering post-pandemic future of public transport. New Zealand’s trains are idle as the government pours millions into Air New Zealand.

Tech dystopia

On April 10, Google and Apple imposed a global health policy decision that presents serious questions about the unaccountable power of Silicon Valley firms. Shirin Ghaffary and Jason Del Rey did a deep dive on Amazon’s inadequate response to the pandemic and how it’s cracked down on dissenting workers. Silicon Valley elite think journalists have too much power. New Zealand rejected Palantir’s COVID-19 tracking system. BMW is adding microtransactions to its new vehicles. Whatsapp is a hotbed of conspiracy theories. Canada’s privacy commissioner investigating the mobile ordering app for Tim Horton’s coffee chain.

On this week’s Tech Won’t Save Us, I spoke to Motherboard senior staff writer Aaron W. Gordon about how VC-backed tech companies upended the bike-share industry and why the dockless bike and scooter model is failing. In Horizons, I wrote about the need for a public alternative to the tech industry.

Climate crisis

The far-right in Germany is invading green groups to spread ecofascism. Inquiry finds koalas could be extinct by 2050 without action by governments in Australia. Hundreds of elephants mysteriously died in northern Botswana. New report says coal is no longer competitive in many countries. Shell wrote down $22 billion in assets. The pandemic is generating a ton of plastic waste. Salt marshes could help with sea level rise in British Columbia. US CARES Act subsidizing fossil fuel companies.

Like the issue? Follow Radical Urbanist on Twitter and buy Paris a coffee.

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