✊🏙 California's SB-50 on hold; Labor loses in Australia; micromobility; public housing; Exxon; & more!

Issue 86

Hey urbanists,

First, a big thanks for hitting the like button last week. The newsletter was in the top 3 all day Sunday, and was still on the top 50 ranking when I checked Wednesday night. If you like the issue, remember to hit the heart at the end.

This week we’re looking at California’s SB-50 upzoning bill that’s been put on hold, and I go over the disappointing results from the Australian election. Plus, some really insightful pieces on how infrastructure privatization has hampered the United States, a comparison of conventional vs electric vehicle emissions, how Exxon correctly predicted the amount of CO₂ in the atmosphere right now back in 1982, and a great ad for a Dutch e-bike.

Have a great week!


California’s SB-50 on hold

SB-50, the California bill that would upzone key areas near transit being pushed by state Sen. Scott Wiener, has been shelved until at least January 2020. YIMBY groups have been pushing for the bill’s passage, arguing that upzoning would allow more construction and thus bring down prices — but the jury is still out on whether increased supply alone would do that.

Many tenant and social-justice groups opposed the bill because they argue it doesn’t do enough to protect against gentrification and the building of luxury units that would drive up prices and push low-income people out of their communities. They’ve seized on a recent academic study which seems to back their position as it determined that loosening zoning and allow private developers to build more housing wasn’t the solution to a housing crisis.

SB-50 is Wiener’s second time trying to pass a zoning deregulation bill, and while he added some more protections for existing residents and inclusionary zoning requirements, a lot of people still feel they didn’t go far enough. There’s no question that California, and the whole of the United States, is facing a housing affordability crisis, and for many more reasons than just supply: demographics, unfavorable federal housing policies, little investment in public housing, rising labor and construction costs (an identified problem in California), some NIMBYism, and transportation issues caused by auto-oriented development.

These are all serious factors that will need to be addressed, and identifying upzoning as the silver bullet isn’t credible. Higher densities oriented around transit are necessary, but I’ve long been frustrated by the discussion happening in California. Gov. Gavin Newsom, Wiener, and others say they’re committed to addressing the housing crisis, but the tool that would actually make a huge difference to low-income people is off the table: mass building of public housing.

It’s impossible to look at the housing crisis and not recognize that leaving housing to “the market” has been an abject failure. Developers build for profit, and that means those with plenty of income to spend on housing to pay for the developers’ and landlords’ profits are served, but low-income, unprofitable residents are not unless the governments mandates the developer and provides a subsidy. Governments in English-speaking countries cut public housing for decades, and they’ll only successfully address their housing crises by reviving it and challenging market orthodoxy.

Labor loses Australian election

This is difficult to write. You may have noticed more Australian articles in recent weeks. I used to live in Melbourne, so I’ve been paying particularly close attention to their election, hoping that it would finally represent a shift with the country voting for bold climate action and a more egalitarian government.

But my hopes, and those of millions of Australians who fear for their future and who have suffered under the austerity of the right-wing Coalition, have been dashed. All the polls showed Labor coming back to power after five-and-a-half years in opposition, but Australian voters felt differently.

At time of writing, the Liberal-National Coalition has 74 seats, Labor has 66, the Greens have one, and there are five independents. Five seats are still to be called, but the Coalition is leading in most of them. 76 seats are needed for a majority. How did this happen? Right-wing nationalism fueled by voters over 65 seems to have played a significant role, drawing comparisons to Brexit and the election of Donald Trump.

The only parties to gain votes were the United Australia Party and One Nation. The UAP is right-wing nationalist party led by Clive Palmer, a wealthy businessman who made his fortune in mining, with the slogan “Make Australia Great.” He bankrolled an estimated $60 million in attack ads targeting Labor in Queensland, tanking its support in that state, which will ensure his business interests are protected. One Nation is a far-right party that thrives on racism, Islamophobia, and climate denial.

Australia’s lower house uses ranked-choice voting where voters rank candidates and those with lower vote shares are eliminated until one candidate has more than 50% of the preferences. The support for the UAP and One Nation translated into more preferences flowing to the Coalition, and their surprise victory.

Scott Morrison, who will return as prime minister, is a deeply religious Pentecost who opposed the legalization of same-sex marriage in 2017. As immigration minister, he locked thousands of people up in offshore concentration camps and reduced Australia’s refugee intake. Later, as treasurer, he brought a lump of coal to Parliament in support of the industry. He also long opposed a royal banking commission, until being forced to announce it with a limited mandate — it produced a scathing report on the industry’s practices — and said he will not raise the Newstart Allowance, Australia’s unemployment support, which has been essentially frozen for 25 years. He also recognized West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, but hasn’t yet moved the embassy.

This devastating result will give Morrison the power to implement much of his agenda, which will see Australia do little to transition from fossil fuels, give massive tax cuts to the rich, leave wage stagnation unaddressed, and continue making life worse for the poorest. Pundits are already claiming Labor’s mistake was to present a bold vision, but it might instead be that it didn’t go bold enough, and now unions and community groups will need to take the fight to the streets.

Around the world

🛑 Transit privatization “creates a commuter caste system, in which affluent citizens can spend $20 on a quick Uber ride to work, while poorer people must rely on perpetually-delayed trains, anxiously waiting on train platforms that are often literally falling apart due to neglect”


🚧 Paris is reinventing its outdated transport infrastructure with a restaurant in an old metro station, an edible insect farm, new bikeshare stations, and more

🇳🇿 Wellington is getting a new rapid-transit system, but the government hasn’t yet decided which “technology” to use

🚌 Buses are the real EV revolution. 70% could be electric worldwide by 2040.

Bikes and scooters

😠 California state legislators restricted cities’ ability to regulate ride-hailing firms. A new bill would do the same for micromobility — and people are not happy.

🛴 Auckland extended its e-scooter pilot until October 2019 and added a third operator

🤕 WRI’s scooter injury review suggests unsafe road design is a unifying factor

Cars and roads

🔋 Detailed lifetime emissions comparison for conventional vs electric vehicles highlights importance of energy decarbonization and battery production

🚶‍♀️ Los Angeles wants 50% to be made by walking, biking, and transit by 2035, but that will be hard if it keeps designing its streets for cars

☠️ Three years ago, a Tesla on Autopilot slammed into a tractor trailer, killing its driver. Elon Musk said the problem had been fixed, but it just happened again.

Climate change

📈 The concentration of carbon emissions in the atmosphere hit 415 parts per million on May 3 for the first time in more than 2.5 million years. It’s exactly what Exxon’s scientists predicted would happen… in 1982.

🇬🇹 “Before it was beautiful, we used to have two harvests a year. Now not one [crop] survives. Now we cannot do anything. This drought does not end.” Climate change is forcing many Guatemalans to flee.

🇦🇺 Australia’s indigenous Torres Straight Islanders are filing a human rights complaint with the UN over the country’s lack of climate action. They argue that “rising seas caused by global warming are threatening their homelands and culture.”

🇺🇸 Louisiana is losing almost a football field’s worth of land every hour as sea levels rise and its soil subsides. Its new plan incentivizes relocation from high-risk areas, and prepares low-risk areas to receive people with denser development, better transportation, and more appealing downtowns.

🇰🇵 North Korea is facing its worst drought since 1917, affecting “cultivation of wheat, barley, corn, potatoes and beans,” and sanctions hamper international aid agencies


😍 Chicago’s three new library branches have public housing on their upper floors. I love this model.

🌇 Glass skyscrapers are only possible because of air conditioning. It’s time to stop building them.

🇮🇹 Le Vele housing estate in Scampia, Italy is being demolished, and its residents led the charge

Other great reads

🔮 Young architects imagine their cities in 2075: Gothenburg, Lagos, Lisbon, Vancouver, and Caracas

🇮🇱 A tour guide of the real Israel for the people who chose to ignore the boycott and go to Eurovision anyway

✈️ Air France cut its short-haul capacity by 15%, citing reduced market share due to TGV high-speed rail’s routes between Paris and other French cities

🇵🇸 In commemoration of Nakba Day, a compelling argument in favor of the right of return for Palestinian refugees

🇵🇪 Machu Picchu receives double the tourists recommended by UNESCO, and a new airport would cause irreversible damage to the surrounding archeological park

By Paris:

Forget the speed and aggressive driving of car ads. This Dutch e-bike ad is all about enjoying the beauty of life that surrounds you on your trip.

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