High Uber driver costs, Australia ❤️ coal, Iceland glacier memorial, lying oil companies, & more!

Issue 99

Hey urbanists,

The story of the Pacific Island Forum caught my attention this week, so I did a quick summary of what stood out to me, with a focus on how Australia’s right-wing government’s links to the coal industry are endangering the island nations in that region of the world.

Plus, Uber’s massive loss doesn’t account for the costs offloaded to drivers, a memorial to a glacier, more e-bikes in bikeshare systems, oil companies are planning for 5ºC warming, scooter redlining, and my take on Uber for NBC News.

I leave Melbourne on Wednesday for Queenstown, where I’ll be slowly making my way north to Auckland.

Have a great week!


Ahead of this past week’s Pacific Island Forum, Fiji’s PM Frank Bainimarama criticized Australia’s continued reliance on coal: “We face an existential threat that you don't face and challenges we expect your governments and people to more fully appreciate.”

Discussions between the leaders went on far longer than planned over disagreements about the declaration, which was eventually watered down by Australia with “no direct mention of ending coal-fired power, while calls to limit temperature rises to 1.5C and achieve zero net carbon emissions by 2050 were couched as suggestions rather than demands.” Tuvalu’s PM Enele Sopoaga described how the perspectives of leaders differed: “We expressed very strongly during our exchange, between me and [Australian PM] Scott [Morrison]. I said: ‘You are concerned about saving your economy in Australia... I am concerned about saving my people in Tuvalu’.”

Meanwhile, back in Australia, deputy PM Michael McCormack told a business group he was “a little bit annoyed when we have people in those sorts of countries pointing the finger at Australia” and that they’ll “continue to survive because many of their workers come here and pick our fruit” (emphasis added). Australia’s right-wing Coalition government claims it will meet its targets under the Paris Agreement by using carbon credits, but it’s more of an accounting trick to make it seem as though it’s reduced emissions more than it really has. It will use credits equivalent to 367 megatonnes of CO₂, or eight times the combined emissions of the other 16 Pacific Forum members.

Transit and trains

❌ Safety advocates asked Google, Apple, and Microsoft to add rail crossings to their maps, but the tech giants have so far ignored the calls. Auckland Transport recently released a PSA warning people about near misses when crossing rail tracks.

🚌 New study of “25 large metropolitan areas in Europe, the U.S., Asia and Australia” shows “the fraction of people driving to work decreased in direct proportion to how easy it is to access public transportation — specifically, which fraction of the population lives within 1 kilometer of a transit station.”

🇦🇺 Melbourne tram drivers plan to walk off the job, following similar plans by train workers

Bikes and scooters

☠️ No charges for driver who ran over NYC bike messenger in February. “It seems like no matter what you do in a car, you can kill anyone and it's considered an accident and you're not held accountable for your actions.”

🇺🇸 41 out of 192 U.S. cities with bikeshare systems have added e-bikes, and they’re boosting ridership

🇪🇺 European cities are restricting car use as bikes and scooters flourish. It’s not so much a revolution, but a recognition they got things wrong and a return to how things used to be.

🇨🇦 Scooters have hit Canada and officials in Montreal say riders are not following the rules on parking and helmet use

🇫🇷 Paris may build a new network of bike lanes to connect the suburbs to the center

Cars and roads

🛣 “Roads solve nothing. You can’t build enough roads to sustain a driving-city of 12 million or 15 million because, if you do, there’s no city left. In the end, congestion is self-limiting.”

🇺🇸 Great piece that unpacks how Atlanta’s present traffic problems are the direct result of planning decisions designed to segregate its communities

💸 Uber’s massive losses don’t take into account the billions it offloads onto its drivers. If “the average length of a trip is 6.5 miles, Uber drivers would have provided more than 11 billion miles of rides. Using the depreciation rate of 29 cents a mile drivers incurred nearly $3.2 billion that quarter in costs, many without realizing it.”

⚡️ Electric cars “are too little too late. An electric car is still a car, and permeates our car-dependency the same as any other car.”

😬 FT Alphaville responds to a laughable op-ed in Business Insider that tried to brush off Uber’s terrible results, and in doing so gets to the core of Uber’s problem.

Uber is a decade old global brand whose core business -- ride-sharing -- is now growing at just 2 per cent. It is also betting heavily that its smaller business lines, such as food delivery and freight, will be a source of future growth.

In other words, it’s acting less like a start-up, and more like a legacy tech company scrambling for new growth. Think Oracle, IBM or perhaps even the modern-day Apple.

Notice the difference, however. All of these companies have “cash cow” products which help to keep the buybacks and dividends flowing, as well as funding future bets. Uber on the other hand...

Environment and climate crisis

🇦🇺 Australia’s Adani coal mine is the story of state subsidies and an Indian billionaire ensuring three countries remain dependent on coal for years into the future

⚡️ Recent U.S. wind farms are already cheaper than natural gas; now imagine if fossil fuels weren’t propped up with billions in annual subsidies

🇮🇸 Today (August 18), scientists are gathering atop the Ok volcano in Iceland for a memorial to the Okjökull glacier, which was declared dead in 2014

🌃 In Phoenix, Arizona, the night is becoming more vibrant as people shift their schedules to avoid the daytime heat, including hikes, construction, and the zoo

💩 After last week’s op-ed about cars being the equivalent of Victorian waste buckets, Brazilian fascist president Jair Bolsonaro has found a shitty solution to climate change: poop every other day, that way we can keep tearing down the rainforest apparently.

🛢 BP and Shell publicly backed the Paris Agreement, but privately they’re planning for 5ºC of warming and doing little to reduce their emissions or invest in alternatives. Relying on ‘the market’ to solve the climate crisis isn’t going to yield quick results.

🇺🇸 California’s emissions fell another 1%, but transport emissions kept growing

🏥 Cleaner air after a switch to renewables could save billions in U.S. health costs

Tech dystopia

📦 “The harsh landscape of the shipping container is a terrible shorthand for modernity. It’s not just the now-inescapable connotations of the migrant crisis. It’s that the people who’ve most celebrated the container form are precisely not the ones who’ve ever had to live in one.” Whenever I read about shipping containers, I think of this critical piece on them published last year.

🛴 Scoot drew a red line around San Francisco’s Tenderloin and Chinatown areas where homelessness and poverty are high to stop riders from dropping scooters there, despite promising to serve all parts of the city

🇨🇦 Sean McDonald and Bianca Wylie assess Sidewalk Labs’ actions to show it’s not a trustworthy actor for Toronto’s waterfront

👁 Use of facial recognition technology in a private “public” space near King’s Cross in London has some people asking why it should be allowed

Other great reads

👍 If WeWork is considered a tech company, what actually defines a tech company in 2019?

📈 After NYC raised its minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour — “the largest hike for a big group of low-wage workers since the 1960s” — its restaurant sector “outperformed the rest of the US in job growth and expansion”

🇫🇷 “There’s a tendency among some Anglophones to see [France’s] official struggle to resist English as somewhat hysterical. That attitude partly reflects the smugness of a people who increasingly expect to see their language everywhere they go—and who are accustomed to English’s ability to shamelessly gobble up terms from other tongues. If you see France’s efforts as a celebration of linguistic biodiversity, however, then the ingenuity employed in French’s defense make more sense.”

🗳 In 2020, California will vote on a ballot measure to alter Proposition 13, which curtails the state’s property tax revenue, to remove limits on commercial properties

👩‍🌾 Next year, the world’s largest urban farm will open on a Paris rooftop. It will be fully organic and tended by 20 gardeners across 14,000 m² (150,695 ft²).

🇪🇸 Alicante, Spain is using an ancient Arabic technique to protect itself from flooding and recycle rainwater as water becomes scarcer

By Paris: Uber's second quarter losses another red flag for the 'Amazon of transportation' (NBC News THINK)

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Uber lost $5.2B, cars are 💩, scooter riders embracing ownership, Tesla misleading on safety, & more!

Issue 98

Hey urbanists,

Turns out Uber’s loss was larger than predicted — a staggering $5.2 billion in a single quarter — combined with the lowest sales growth in its history. But yes, it surely has a great future.

What else? A great Independent op-ed compared cars to shit buckets (big fan!), the Kochs are trying to kill another transit project, dockless service users are switching to ownership after price hikes (what did I say?), the AV delay gives us more time to get rid of cars, NHTSA says Tesla is misleading on safety, high-tech jobs don’t benefit low-income workers, Sidewalk Toronto could be dead by October, and more!

Oh, and check out Lizzie O’Shea’s book Future Histories! (It seems to still be on sale). I’ve been reading a bunch about streaming services and the history of antitrust in the television and film industries lately as I may start writing more in that space, and I particularly liked the arguments Lizzie made about the platform business model.

Other than that, I’m headed to Melbourne tomorrow to see a bunch of films at MIFF, and hopefully meet a few people (including Lizzie!) to chat about transport and tech. The past few weeks in Asia have been pretty great, but I’m looking forward to getting away from this humidity.

Have a great week, remember to hit the heart if you like the issue, and feel free to reach out with questions and comments.


💩 “We need to think of private cars like the 21st century equivalent of Victorian buckets of waste; people will keep emptying them in the street until the city provides a better alternative.”

Transit and trains

🛑 NYTimes article outlines Uber and Lyft’s attempts to become public transit or work with transit agencies. I find it very hard to see how transit officials think it’s a good idea to work with these companies when they’ve explicitly said they want to replace transit, have a record of lying about their negative impacts, have already decreased ridership, and refuse to share their data with cities.

🇦🇺 Transport workers in Melbourne will walk off the job for four hours later this month after Metro Trains got an injunction to stop it from keeping fare gates open on two Mondays. The union and agency are at a standoff over pay in contract negotiations, and the agency will dock the pay of workers engaging in strike actions.

🇸🇪 “Sweden is at the forefront of a growing global movement recognizing the extremely high climate damage from flying.” Train passenger numbers were up 10% in Q1 2019 y/y, while air passengers fell 4.4% in the first three months of 2019.

💰 The plan to oppose Phoenix, Arizona’s light-rail network was developed by a group that received funding from the Koch brothers

🚝 Elon Musk’s Las Vegas tunnel could cripple the city’s monorail

🇺🇸 Salt Lake City might make transit free

Bikes and scooters

😬 After Jump, Bird, and others raised prices, some users switched to using their own bikes and scooters instead of using the dockless services. These companies are also very vulnerable to an economic downturn, which seems on the horizon.

🇩🇪 After hundreds of people were caught using scooters drunk, Munich officials want restrictions placed on them during Oktoberfest

🚲 In British, American, and Kiwi cities, urban residents are protesting auto dominance with their bodies — just as the Dutch did in the 1970s

🇺🇸 Atlanta passed a nighttime scooter ban after the death of a fourth scooter rider

Cars and roads

👍 Self-driving cars are still many years away, and that’s a good thing. It gives us more time to shift cities away from cars, instead of just replacing drivers with computers.

📉 Uber reported a quarterly loss of $5.2 billion and the slowest sales growth in its history. It also made some changes to its international structure to avoid paying taxes.

🛑 NHTSA sent a cease-and-desist order to Tesla in October 2018 over safety claims and referred it to the Federal Trade Commission: it is “inaccurate to claim that the Model 3 has ‘the lowest probability of injury of all cars,’ or that Model 3 occupants are ‘less likely to get seriously hurt,’ or ‘have the best chance of avoiding a serious injury.”

🚗 NYC extended its cap on ride-hailing vehicles for another twelve months and limited deadheading — time in vehicle without a passenger — to 31%

🇨🇳 Sales growth at BYD, China’s largest electric-vehicle company, is tanking after the government slashed EV subsidies

🇩🇪 Berlin is the latest major city with plans to pedestrianize major streets

🇺🇸 Joint analysis released by Uber and Lyft shows they generate a significant amount of vehicle miles in six major U.S. metro areas — but it leaves out NYC

Environment and climate crisis

🇬🇱 “Mass losses from Greenland this past week were already approaching levels not expected until 2070 based on the best available models”

✊ Red Nation is proposing a Red Deal to accompany the Green New Deal, ensuring decolonization and anti-capitalism are central to climate action

🛢 Ahead of New York’s case against Exxon over misleading shareholders on climate change, the company is accused of intimidating witnesses to stop their testimony

🗺 Major IPCC report says that land use is a major contributor to climate change, but could also be part of the solution

🐟 Excerpt from Vanishing Fish by Daniel Pauly explains the challenge we face, what governments are doing (and should be doing instead), and has a particularly good (and relevant) analogy on aquaculture:

Aquaculture in the West produces a luxury product in global terms. To expect aquaculture to ensure that fish remain available — or, at least, to expect carnivore farming to solve the problem posed by diminishing catches from fisheries — would be akin to expecting that Enzo Ferrari’s cars rather than an emphasis on public transport can solve the gridlock in Los Angeles.

🇷🇺 As temperatures rise, permafrost across Siberia is melting. That means long-frozen things like mammoths are being found more often, but it’s also destroying houses, buildings, roads, and livelihoods. Meanwhile, fires in Siberia “have consumed more than 13 million hectares—an area larger than Greece.”

The loss of permafrost deforms the landscape itself, knocking down houses and barns. The migration patterns of animals hunted for centuries are shifting, and severe floods wreak havoc almost every spring.

The water, washing out already limited dirt roads and rolling corpses from their graves, threatens entire villages with permanent inundation. Waves chew away the less frozen Arctic coastline.


🏠 “I could pretend to not like houses out of reasons of conscience, or a preference for living in high-density areas (which I do have). But my big reason for not liking houses is the inefficiency and time sink of maintaining them.”

🇨🇦 Transit expansion is fueling suburban transit-oriented development in the suburbs of major Canadian cities

🇦🇷 Buenos Aires wants to turn a notorious slum into an official neighborhood with new investment in utilities and services, but residents don’t trust the government

🇺🇸 Bernie Sanders should declare housing a human right through new programs and legal changes to prioritize transit-oriented public housing

🇮🇩 In Jakarta, 78 suburban-style houses form a community on top of a shopping mall

Other great reads

💸 Counter to previous claims, high-tech job growth doesn’t benefit low-wage workers. New research finds high-tech jobs create fewer new jobs than previously predicted, and they don’t raise the incomes of low-wage workers; they’re actually worse off because of high housing costs.

🇪🇸 As a new smoking ban comes into effect in Catalonia, restaurant owners in Barcelona are concerned and residents say it doesn’t address the real problem

👁 China’s social credit system “as it exists today is more a patchwork of regional pilots and experimental projects, with few indications about what could be implemented at a national scale.” But the Western focus on it has had the effect of downplaying the pervasiveness of surveillance at home.

🛑 Sidewalk Labs’ attempt to take over a section of Toronto could be dead by October 31 if disagreements with Waterfront Toronto can’t be resolved

🇸🇦 As skyscrapers built with oil money keep going up in Riyadh, it’s a lack of water that could ultimately cripple Saudi Arabia. 50% of its water comes from desalination, and the other 50% from groundwater that could be exhausted in 13 to 25 years.

🖥 Elizabeth Warren’s new public internet plan would ban states from restricting municipal broadband, then create an $85-billion grant program to fund 90% of the costs for utility coops, non-profits, cities, counties, and First Nations tribes

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Rentiers pushing Brexit, gating sidewalks for AVs, not-so-green scooters, & more!

Issue 97

Hey urbanists,

Will Davies wrote a great piece this week on the rentier alliance backing a no-deal Brexit. The German Greens are also pushing a plan to end domestic air travel, an analysis has mixed findings about the environmental benefits of scooters, an NYT piece called for pedestrian gates at intersections to pave the way for AVs, and Uber is expected to post a $4.96 billion quarterly loss.

I’m leaving Seoul in a few days for Taipei and Singapore. Have a great week!


In a fascinating analysis, Will Davies argues that no-deal Brexit supporters are not traditional rentiers, but have paid their mortgages and live off pension-fund assets, so they have little stake in a productive economy.

Where productivity gains are no longer sought, the goal becomes defending private wealth and keeping it in the family. This is a logic that unites the international oligarch and the comfortable Telegraph-reading retiree in Hampshire. The mentality is one of pulling up the draw-bridge, and cashing in your chips. […]

Johnson/Farage is a symptom of prolonged financialisation, in which capital pulls increasingly towards unproductive investments, relying on balance sheet manipulation, negative interest rates and liquidity for its returns (aided substantially by quantitative easing over the past decade). To put that more starkly, these are seriously morbid symptoms, in which all productive opportunities have already been seized, no new ideas or technologies are likely, and no new spheres of social or environmental life are left to exploit and commodify. These are socially nihilistic interests whose only concern with the future involves their children and grandchildren, but otherwise believe that everything good is in the past. The term ‘late capitalism’ was over-used in the past, but this certainly feels like very late capitalism.

Transit and trains

🇩🇪 German Greens want to make domestic air travel obsolete by 2035 by increasing airline fuel taxes and investing in rail to reduce travel times to many destinations to max. four hours and create of a European night train network

🇨🇦 B.C. Transit plans to replace 1,200 buses and add 350 more to make its fleet fully electric by 2040

🖲 Ford wants to be more than an automaker by providing new transport options (like scooters and AVs) and technology for managing transport systems. I’m wary of these moves because, like Uber, it shows Ford wants to control (and profit from) transport when these things could simply be provided by transit agencies.

🇺🇸 California high-speed rail funds could be redirected to improve rail closer to Los Angeles and the Bay Area, building toward the Central Valley instead of outward from it. Streetsblog notes some issues in the original report.

Bikes and scooters

🛴 Lifecycle analysis of e-scooters finds they’re greener than cars, but not more so than bicycles, walking, or transit. However, AsherDeMontreal notes the study is based on a 1.25-year lifespan, when publicly available data only shows scooters in fleets lasting around 30 days. If we use their actual lifespan, they’re worse than cars.

🇳🇿 For all the fuss about scooters on footpaths, politicians and planners in Auckland are paralyzed by fear of an even bigger fuss about cycle lanes. But with new transit services years away, they need to start trials on cycle lanes and scooter parking now.

🔥 Another setback for Lyft’s San Francisco bikeshare service: e-bikes have been pulled after catching fire. Bikeshare has been a mess in SF ever since Lyft took over.

🚶‍♂️ Neuroscientist Shane O’Mara writes that walking has incredibly positive effects on our cognitive abilities and overall health. We should be doing more of it.

🛴 After using a Bird scooter for a month, Nick Statt concluded “there are so many other options, from bikes to public transit, that better solve the problem of needing to go a short distance quickly and cheaply.”

🇺🇸 Three scooter users have died in collisions with automobiles in three months in Atlanta. None occurred on streets with bike lanes.

Cars and roads

🛑 Article in NYTimes considers “gates at each corner, which would periodically open to allow pedestrians to cross” to stop “jaywalking” so self-driving cars can work well. This shows the industry wants to remake the transportation system again with their interests in mind, instead of those of urban residents.

🤔 Elon Musk said a million robotaxis would be on streets by the end of 2020, yet his Las Vegas tunnel will need human drivers in 2021. Something’s not adding up.

🇭🇰 I was just in Hong Kong on there were Teslas everywhere, but sales fell dramatically after the government ended a generous tax incentive

🇺🇸 Congress wants AV players to help it draft a new bill “aimed at speeding up the adoption of autonomous vehicles.” Sounds like a disaster waiting to happen.

🇳🇿 Auckland is planning to ban cars from High Street as part of a larger initiative to pedestrianize streets, and a prominent engineers’ group says it will be safer

🔋 Lithium production has ramped up so much in anticipation of the electric car boom that prices are falling as sales growth in China has slowed

🛣 In Syracuse, a major highway is reaching the end of its life. That’s prompting a reckoning with the history of urban renewal and a debate about what comes next.

Environment and climate crisis

🇬🇱 On Tuesday, Greenland experienced its second-largest melt in its recorded history, covering 87% of the ice sheet’s surface. These large melt days are becoming increasingly routine, and only swift, decisive action will be able to slow it down.

⚡️ Wind power is outpacing coal in Texas, generating 22% of the state’s electricity this year compared to 21% for coal. In 2003, wind was 0.8% and coal was 40%.

❄️ New study of tidewater glaciers found they’re “a lot more sensitive to ocean change than we’ve even thought.” Some could be melting much faster than previously thought.

🇬🇹 Climate change is making already difficult living conditions in Guatemala even worse — and that’s forcing people to seek refuge in the United States

🇦🇺 Australia’s risk of bushfires is set to increase as summers get drier and hotter. Meanwhile, a new analysis finds only one in 20 stories about drought in Australia mention the climate crisis.


🇨🇦 How can Canada address its housing crisis? More public housing, better tenant protections, zoning changes, tax reform, and more generous pensions.

🏘 In a new op-ed, Bernie Sanders pledges to build millions of new homes, expand the public housing stock, and explains how he benefited from rent control

🏗 British Columbia is doubling height limits for wooden buildings, causing the Canadian government, as well as those of the United States and China, to follow suit

🏙 Luxury megadevelopments like Hudson Yards are increasingly shaping modern cities, but are they really in residents’ best interests?

🇮🇱🇵🇸 Ahead of Jared Kushner’s visit to Israel, the government approved 6,000 new homes in the illegal West Bank settlements

Other great reads

📖 George Monbiot argues we need a new political story built around altruism and cooperation to replace failed neoliberalism. He may underplay the role of the state (in my view), but I like the conversation he’s trying to foster.

🤯 Analysts expect Uber to post a $4.96 billion loss for the third quarter

🚽 One fifth of Britons don’t leave home as often as they’d like because they struggle to access a public toilet. It’s always shocked my that European countries charge for public toilets. It’s time to end the blatantly anti-poor “bladder tax.”

♿️ If you have a disability, you’re probably going to have a hard time using Airbnb. This is a trend among platform companies.

🇨🇳☪️ In its latest effort to “Sinicize” Chinese Muslims, authorities in Beijing are forcing shops to remove Arabic script and Islamic symbols

☠️ New study of low-income parts of Florida found higher pedestrian-vehicle crashes around Walmarts, fast-food restaurants, and dollar stores

By Paris:

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Electric SUVs are not green; opposing eviction with maps; transit austerity narratives; Piketty on centrism; & more!

Issue 96

Hey urbanists!

I’ve been in Hong Kong the past few days, and I’m headed to Seoul tomorrow for about a week — hoping to make a trip to Songdo and to the DMZ while I’m there.

I wasn’t going to write any commentary this week, but I felt compelled to write about these stories on electric trucks and SUVs this week — they are not sustainable.

Next, the story I’m highlighting is about a project to oppose evictions in NYC, SF, and LA. It’s a great interview with the co-founder who effectively unpacks the problem with seeing housing politics through the lens of a YIMBY-NIMBY dichotomy.

Also worth checking out: why left arguments against infrastructure on cost justify austerity narratives, how electric cars are reducing gas tax paid by high-income people, Thomas Piketty (writer of that tome on inequality that everyone bought and most people didn’t read) on the myth of centrist ecology, and Amazon’s deal with the cops to promote smart doorbells.

Have a great week!


P.S. — remember to hit the heart if you like the issue. Thanks!

Electric trucks and SUVs are not sustainable

I saw pieces this week on forthcoming electric Ford F-150s and Cadillac Escalades, but I want to be very clear: these vehicles are not green, sustainable, climate-friendly, whatever their ad people are going to try to claim. Here’s why:

  1. SUVs are mowing down pedestrians. SUV sales in the United States are up, and so too are pedestrian deaths. This isn’t a coincidence; it’s linked. Not only are SUVs (and trucks) more likely to kill pedestrians because of their higher front ends, but federal efforts to consider that in safety ratings have stalled for years because — you guessed it — the automakers don’t want them to. Simply switching out the ICE for a battery pack doesn’t change that.

  2. Batteries will require a lot of dirty mining. We’ve gone over this before, but in order for a mass shift from ICE to battery-powered vehicles, there will need to be a massive expansion of mining parts of the world with bad regulation and terrible workers’ rights. It’s trading one extractivism for another, and these vehicles will require even more for their much larger batteries.

  3. Lifetime emissions could still be quite high. Most of the lifetime emissions from ICE vehicles come from the tailpipe, but electric vehicles are more of a mix with potentially large amounts from electricity generation and battery production. More research would need to be done, but electric SUVs and trucks could still have large lifetime emissions due to their large batteries.

Around the world

Erin McElroy explains what the Anti-Eviction Mapping Project does, the successes its had, and the blindness inherent in YIMBY ideology

YIMBYs believe that they can solve the housing crisis by developing more housing. To them, it doesn’t matter what kind of housing is built, whether it’s market rate, luxury, or affordable. But the big problem is, as we’ve found—and not just us, a lot of other housing-justice organizations have found this too—unless you’re building at least around 60 percent below-market-rate and low-income housing, you’re not doing anything other than maintaining the status quo. That said, we don’t want even 1% of new development to be market-rate or luxury, and even most “affordable housing” is not affordable.

Transit and trains

🇳🇱🐝 Utrecht is adding bee-friendly green roofs to bus stops. I’m buzzing with joy!

🇬🇧 Left-wing opponents of the U.K.’s HS2 high-speed rail project do no one any good by repeating the austerity-justifying “maxed-out credit card” myth

🚇 Los Angeles wants to build a new transit line through the Sepulveda Pass by 2028. A new report says it could cost $13 billion.

🇮🇹🇫🇷 High-speed rail between Turin and Lyon is going ahead after the European Union increased its contribution from 40% to 55% of the project’s cost

🇺🇸 California high-speed rail will undergo a huge reorganization to fire consultants

🇦🇺 In the 1950s, Sydney destroyed its tram network to make way for cars. It was terrible decision and parts of the old network are being rebuilt. This paragraph makes me want to cry:

Nearly 1,000 trams – some only a few years old – were rolled to the workshops in the city’s eastern suburbs and stripped of anything that could be sold, before being unceremoniously tipped on their sides, doused with sump oil and set ablaze.

Bikes and scooters

😬 A company in San Diego has impounded thousands of scooters, and now the rental companies are taking them to court. In the meantime, juicers try to break into their yard to take scooters back.

📱 Uber is testing a Prime-style subscription for all its services. This seemed inevitable, but the more power the company has, the worse off we all are.

🚲 Why did it take until the late 1800s for the bicycle to be invented? An in-depth analysis of several hypotheses.

🗑 Old dockless bike models frequently end up in scrapyards

🛴 Oakland’s done a much better job at regulating scooters than San Francisco

Cars and roads

🔮 “Is it possible that, a hundred years from now, the age of gassing up and driving will be seen as just a cul-de-sac in transportation history, a trip we never should have taken?” — Nathan Heller in The New Yorker

🇪🇸 The reversal of the reversal of Madrid’s car ban shows just how much people in big cities want to ban cars when they have reasonable alternatives

🇺🇸 The United States is missing out on $250 million in gas tax revenue due to electric vehicles, and it’s mostly people with incomes above $100,000 who are saving

☠️ Since 2000, more than 624,000 Americans have been killed in car crashes and more than 30 million have been injured

🚗 GM delayed its plans for a public autonomous ride-hailing service by the end of 2019, more evidence we were oversold on self-driving vehicles

🇫🇷 France’s solar road experiment didn’t work out as planned

Environment and climate crisis

☀️ NOAA: “Scorching temperatures made June 2019 the hottest June on record for the globe. And for the second month in a row, warmth brought Antarctic sea-ice coverage to a new low.”

🔥 Since June, more than 100 wildfires have burned in the Arctic circle. The World Meteorological Organization says it’s unprecedented.

🇬🇧 £680 million ($848.5 million) of U.K. foreign aid has been spent on fossil fuel developments since 2010

✊ New study investigates why countries with higher rates of unionization have a lower carbon footprint

🌳 Thomas Piketty explains why the electoral success of the European Greens and recent events in French politics show centrists don’t really care about the environment

A drastic reduction in purchasing power of the richest would therefore in itself have a substantial impact on the reduction of emissions at global level.


🏘👷‍♀️ “The climate crisis and the cost-of-living crises are converging in American homes. […] A Green New Deal for Housing would retrofit public, subsidized, and low-income homes. It could use the power of public purchase and procurement to get low-carbon appliances into the homes that need them. Public investment and regulation would also lower the costs of the most efficient appliance technologies for everyone.”

👁 Amazon made a special deal with cops to get them to promote Ring smart doorbells. I feel like there’s a new story ever week making me more wary of smart-home products.

🥵 As Europe has another record-breaking heatwave, it’s worth remembering their homes are mainly built to keep heat in, not out

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 All new homes in England may be required to have an electric-vehicle charge point. Why can’t the state put this much effort into promoting alternatives to cars, which would be a much “greener” policy?

🇭🇰 Hong Kong may approve new land reclamation projects to build more housing, but it would have negative impacts on the marine environment

Other great reads

🦸‍♂️ A ‘market urbanism’ blog isn’t something I’d usually link to, but this reflection on the housing politics of Spider-Man is a fun read

🇧🇷 Informal settlements outside Manaus, Brazil are quickly eating into the Amazon rainforest, as new data shows Jair Bolsonaro’s policies are further accelerating deforestation

🇺🇸🇨🇳 Both the U.S. and China have massive surveillance states, but only the latter is truly open about it

🇸🇦 New plans put together by consulting firms for Saudi Arabia’s $500-billion new city provide even more proof that rich people shouldn’t have control of so much cash

🏙 Sidewalk Labs’ attempt to take over Toronto’s waterfront illustrates platform capitalism’s desire to move into physical space, but that has a whole range of (often negative) implications we haven’t yet grappled with

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The case for dumb cities; lying French billionaires; energy-efficient social housing; Red Vienna; & more!

Issue 95

Hey urbanists,

We’re skipping right to the links this week. I’m in Toronto, and heading to Hong Kong on Wednesday to spend about three months in Asia, Australia, and New Zealand, so this type of issue might be more common until at least the end of the summer.

I highly recommend the first article making the case for ‘dumb’ cities, along with Norwich’s new social housing, how French billionaires didn’t send the money they pledged for the Notre Dame, Tim Maughan on his book Infinite Detail, and feel free to check out my latest on space colonies and human potential.

Have a great week!


Around the world

🏙 Shoshanna Saxe makes the case for ‘dumb’ cities. Urban infrastructure is designed for decades, if not centuries, yet technology becomes outdated much quicker. If we integrate it into cities, are we prepared to constantly replace it? Even then, data itself doesn’t necessarily lead to better outcomes. Instead of being distracted by technology, Saxe argues we should invest in what works and make excellent dumb cities.

Transit and trains

🤦‍♀️ Innisfil, Ontario subsidized Uber instead of investing in transit. “The city has now spent more on Uber than the traditional transit option it was considering, and has dramatically increased the number of cars on its roads, with worrying implications for air quality and the climate crisis.” Its solution? Maybe UberBus.

🇩🇰 Denmark’s rail network is slow compared to its Western European neighbors, but that could change after the election of a left-wing government

🚄 Latest report on high-speed rail between Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland finds it’s financially viable and 12-20% of existing trips would switch from vehicles or planes

🚇 I’m partial to the argument for free fares, but Alon Levy makes a good argument why, on most large systems, that money would be better spent improving service

Bikes and scooters

📱 Google Maps now displays bikeshare stations and how many bikes they have in select cities. At what point do we turn this into a public utility?

🇳🇿 Cycling is up 8.9% in Auckland over last year, with a 17% jump in June alone

🛴 “So are e-scooters a vital new part of modern, eco-friendly urban transport, or are they a risky and unnecessary fad, pushed by tech investors desperate to disrupt the status quo?” European cities are reporting problems with injuries and drunk riding.

Cars and roads

🛑 Transport officials and executives are worried that Elon Musk’s decision to cut corners and mislead people about the capabilities of Tesla’s autonomous features could have negative repercussions for the rest of the industry

🇦🇺 Australia’s most popular vehicles emit 8% to 42% more carbon dioxide than their U.K. counterparts because Australia doesn’t have emissions standards

😷 Working paper on the impacts of Volkswagen’s cheating “clean diesel” vehicles finds negative health impacts on children and babies

💰 Uber and Lyft paid drivers who protested AB5, the California bill that would effectively make ride-hail drivers employees instead of contractors

🚗 Almost everyone working on self-driving cars reset their expectations after the Uber test vehicle killed a pedestrian last year. Argo AI’s Bryan Salesky says they’re 80% of the way there, but the remaining 20% “will be much more difficult.”

Environment and climate crisis

☀️ Several massive renewable projects are planned for Australia to power countries in Asia. Sun Cable would connect a 10GW solar installation to Singapore via a 3,800 km high-voltage, direct-current submarine cable, allowing energy transmission over long distances. The project won’t ramp up for a decade, but it shows Australia’s potential as a renewable powerhouse, as it also has the minerals needed to build the solar panels.

🇩🇪 Germany closed its coal industry without firing a single miner. It offered retraining, voluntary payouts for those over 50, and made investments in coal communities so they could thrive in a post-coal world.

🇦🇺 The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority says warming must remain below 1.5ºC to protect the reef. “Only the strongest and fastest possible action on climate change will reduce the risks and limit the impacts of climate change on the reef.”

🇺🇸 New York’s “Green New Deal” only shares its name with the national plan. It’s focused largely on energy, with a particular focus on expanding offshore wind energy.

🔥 Since 1972, the average area burned by fires in California has increased by a factor of five, mainly due to an exponential increase in forested areas of the state


🇨🇦 A worker earning minimum wage in Canada can only afford a one- or two-bedroom apartment in 24 of the 795 analyzed neighborhoods

🇺🇸 Housing is going up at BART stations in the Bay Area as part of its transit-oriented development plan, and while some of it is “affordable” housing, it would be the perfect place for new public housing

🇩🇪 After major protests, Berlin renationalized 670 apartments on Karl-Marx-Allee

🇬🇧 Norwich, U.K. built beautiful new social housing meeting Passivhaus standards for energy savings. Is this the future of social housing?

🇨🇳 In Shanghai’s informal housing market, as many as 24 people can be crammed into a 3-bedroom apartment, each paying $100-150 per month in rent

🇬🇧 London’s housing crisis can’t be solved without rent control

Other great reads

🇵🇷 Julia Keleher, the Republican education secretary who tried to dismantle Puerto Rico’s public education system after the hurricanes, was arrested on charges of fraud

🇫🇷 French billionaires pledged €600 billion to rebuild the Notre Dame cathedral, but when people turned their attention to other issues, they didn’t send the funds

🇸🇾 As talk in Syria turns to reconstruction, cultural and historical links must also be rehabilitated. A Facebook group of more than 52,000 people from Aleppo are sharing memories and knowledge to preserve it for the future.

🇦🇹 Despite the success of Red Vienna, support for social democrats in Vienna is shifting to the far-right because they’ll take stronger action against migrants

🇨🇦 Toronto is undergoing a mega-development boom, including a C$3.5 billion ($2.7 billion) development by a Hudson Yards partner, but it’s basically all for rich people

⚠️ In Infinite Detail, Tim Maughan imagines what happens to smart cities when the internet goes out

We’ve handed so much control over this over to algorithmic systems—and over to the internet, in effect. I started thinking, so if this system disappeared, what happens? We don’t know how to replace it.

By Paris: We Don’t Need Space Colonies, and We Definitely Don’t Need Jeff Bezos (Jacobin)

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