Introducing Tech Won't Save Us

Issue 132

Hey urbanists,

Big news this week: the long-awaited podcast is finally happening!

Tech Won’t Save Us will (hopefully) launch this week, pending approval from Apple. The goal of the podcast is to criticize the worldview pushed by Silicon Valley that positions tech as the solution to our problems. This isn’t anti-tech podcast, but rather one that seeks to critically examine the impacts of the existing tech industry and imagine a different way of organize tech and the wider society for the public good.

For those of you who subscribe to Radical Urbanist for more of the urbanist content than the tech focus, I think you’ll still be interested. I’m not eschewing urbanism simply because the podcast title specifically addresses tech. For example, my first two guests talk about tech’s impacts of cities and transportation — and there will be a lot more of that. Not every episode will be specifically about tech either, since not all the solutions to the problems we face need more and better tech.

I will, however, ask you to give me a bit of a break for the first few weeks while I figure everything out, get a better sense of interviewing, and figure out the tricks to improving sound quality. Follow the podcast on Twitter for updates as things get going (and whether it will be able to launch this week), and I also have a basic website at

For the time being, Radical Urbanist will continue as it has been for two and half years, though I may rebrand it in the future. For now, enjoy this week’s issue!


News roundup

📉 Aaron Benanov explains the fundamentals of the U.S. economy weren’t actually that great before this crisis for the vast majority of workers, and that will make the recovery even more difficult than last time if the Federal Reserve relies on the same tools.

Even so, the fallout for American workers is likely to be enormous. With no engine of growth besides the ‘wealth effect’ induced by rising asset values, the US economy is likely to grow even more slowly than it did during the last business cycle—especially if businesses and households are left paying down large accumulated debts and delayed payments. Under those conditions, the labor market will take even longer to recover this time than it did last time, and last time it took seven years to recover.

Tech dystopia

💰🙌 Rob Larson explains how Bill Gates turned to philanthropy during the Microsoft antitrust trial when he was being (legitimately) hammered by the media for being an asshole. Philanthropy, funded through the wealth he made from Microsoft’s monopoly power, allowed him to launder his reputation.

📱😠 Instacart workers have already had to walk out to demand a better response to COVID-19 from the company. Now they’re reporting customers are submitting orders with high tips of $50+ dollars so shoppers accept it, then changing the tip to be much lower after the order is delivered. This is evil.

💊 The private sector isn’t investing in the development of new antibiotics. “If urgent action is not taken to both discover and develop new antibiotics, public health officials project that deaths from antibiotic resistance will hit 10 million a year by 2050.” Leigh Phillips argues the industry needs to be nationalized and run for the public good.

✊ Workers are organizing, mutual aid groups are forming, tenants are putting together rent strikes, and homeless people are seizing vacant homes. “These are strategies for survival but they are also, possibly, the seeds of a new world: sites of social power where people can collectively provision the resources they need and participate directly in the decisions that affect them. It is in these places and practices that the outlines of the next socialist project will be found.” — Ben Tarnoff

📚👨‍💻 “Now, with an estimated 54 million students currently out of school, these online learning tools are being put to the test — and it’s clear that they are not the equalizing force that some entrepreneurs have imagined they could be.”

🇨🇦📦 The Canadian Union of Postal Workers is asking the federal government to put conditions on its deal with Amazon Canada, citing concern for the wellbeing of its workers. CUPW President Jan “Simpson is asking the federal government to give representatives of the Warehouse Workers Centre, an Ontario-based group which offers support and advocacy to Canadian workers, "unfettered access" to Amazon facilities in order to inform workers of their rights.”

🌝⛏ Donald Trump took a break from his shambolic handling of COVID-19 to sign an executive order on mining the moon. The order “makes clear that the US doesn’t view space as a ‘global commons’, opening the way for the mining of the moon without any sort of international treaty.”

🇺🇸👁 Residents in cities around the world are fighting back against the proliferation of facial recognition tech. Tawana Petty explains what that fight looks like in Detroit.

By Paris: Amazon and Instacart delivery is a coronavirus goldmine. Workers need to use that leverage. (NBC News): “After repeated warnings from workers that Amazon wasn't doing enough to keep those in its warehouses safe or was failing to provide adequate cleaning supplies to delivery drivers and Whole Foods clerks and stockers, employees took matters into their own hands.”

Critical urbanism

🦠🇺🇸 COVID-19 is disproportionately killing black Americans. In Chicago, more than half of deaths were black people when they make up 30% of the population. In Louisana, black people make up 70% of deaths and 32% of the population. In Michigan, black people are 40% of deaths and 13% of the population. In NYC, black and Hispanic people are dying at twice the rate of white people.

🏙✊ “The task beyond the pandemic will be extending this right to the city to all: remaking the structures of everyday life so that they empower all citizens, and harnessing digital urbanisation rather than existing at its mercy. Extending our current social contract — which shows we are prepared to live differently to protect the vulnerable — will be a powerful first step.” — Ravi Ghosh

🚌 “Those ‘essential service’ workers, who are overwhelmingly low-income, have always been there, moving around quietly in our transit systems, keeping our cities functioning. Too often, we have patronized them by calling them needy or dependent when in fact everything would collapse if they couldn’t get to work.” — Jarrett Walker

🏙 “Like the virus itself, quarantine is presented as a great leveller, sweeping through and affecting all alike. In actuality, it has caused urban life to fracture even further, splitting New York City into two cities: one which is occupied solely by workers toiling silently in back kitchens and fulfillment centers, and another utterly dependent on the first.” — Kevin Rogan

🇺🇸🏘 “As [Bernie] Sanders suspends his campaign, his focus on housing changed the race in ways that will greatly benefit Americans beyond the primary. By doubling down on housing, Sanders pushed the once-broad field to take a stand on major housing issues that ended up shifting many of their platforms to the left, including that of former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee.”

🏠💸 “[T]he National Multifamily Housing Council released a report that found 69 percent of Americans paid rent by April 5 this year, a drop from 81 percent last month and 82 percent in April 2019. Lagging stimulus payments and more expected job losses suggest the problems of April 1 will be that much worse on May 1.”

🏠✊ “A rent strike happens when an organized group of tenants with the same landlord, refuse to pay rent until demands are met. Courts often rule such actions illegal, but in cases where the property owner has neglected either the law or a property a judge may uphold a renters’ rights to refuse to pay.” Adam Brinklow looks at the growing calls for a rent strike in San Francisco.

🦠🇳🇿 Forget containment; New Zealand has pursued an “elimination” strategy for COVID-19 — and it’s working. Everyone in the country is currently under a mandatory month-long quarantine, then anyone entering the country will have to go under quarantine to eliminate the likelihood of further transmission.

🚌 Transit services ensure health and other essential workers can still get to work, but in some cities they face reduced services that promote crowding and fare collection that makes social distancing more difficult

🏘 “By nationalizing the assets of soon-to-be insolvent landlords and Airbnb real estate speculators, we can ameliorate a costly market crash, prevent economic inequality from rapidly worsening, prevent more tenants from becoming homeless, take currently homeless people off the streets by housing them in now-empty short-term rental properties, and restore a crucially needed sector of our social welfare system.”

🦠✈️ Singapore, Hong KongTaiwan, and South Korea were early with an effective response to COVID-19, but then cases started to rise again. “The real problem is that viruses don’t know what a border is. These countries are experiencing ‘reimportation’ of the disease, infections that are the result of inbound travelers from places that aren’t winning their fight against Covid-19.”

🦠🇬🇷 Greece shut down before its European neighbors. It was seen as excessive at the time, but it’s saving lives. “The result has been a remarkably low number of deaths - 81 by Tuesday, compared to more than 17,000 in neighbouring Italy. Even adjusted for population sizes, Italy's fatality rate is almost 40 times greater.”

Climate crisis

📉🛢 Record low oil prices could set off debt crises in oil-dependent Global South countries such as Ecuador, Nigeria, Iraq, Mexico, and Brazil. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia could take out higher cost producers to secure the future of its own resources in a world moving away from oil.

🛢 “The question now isn’t whether governments will intervene in oil markets, so much as which ones they will intervene in and how. In such a context, big American fossil fuel producers’ allegiance to some imagined free market for energy could end up being the shovel they use to dig their industry’s grave.” — Kate Aronoff

🛢🔨 “Although you cannot eat, drink or be ventilated by the fossil fuel industry’s products, oil and gas companies are carrying on with plans to dig and lay down pipelines in multiple Canadian provinces, and states including MinnesotaMontanaPennsylvania and Virginia.”

🛢👷‍♂️ How do we convince oil and gas workers to move on from fossil fuels? “One of the most compelling things the Alberta Federation of Labour found when they were talking to coal workers is that none of the positive stuff works. What resonated with people was not that it’s good for the environment and you’ll get a better job, but that it’s going to happen anyway. The world is moving on from coal and that sucks. So what comes next?”

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