Libraries for bikes, pedestrian deaths up, Lime losing $300M, critical look at media, & more!

Issue 109

Hey urbanists,

I turned 28 yesterday! Happy birthday to me 😂🎉

This week’s issue marks the start of a new section of the newsletter. For a while, we’ve been looking broadly at tech, its impact on cities, and the climate crisis, but you may have noticed if you follow me on Twitter or read my recent piece on breaking up the media giants that I’ve been doing more research on tech’s effect on media industries, so I’m bringing that into the newsletter.

I’m still planning to start a podcast in the new year, but don’t be surprised if I rename the newsletter at the same time. Critical perspectives on urbanism will always be an integral part of the newsletter and podcast, but I want to keep digging into more ways tech is impacting society. I haven’t decided what to call it yet though… 🤔

This week I’m highlighting Asher’s great piece on bike lending libraries. I also recommend the pieces on the Soviet internet, Brian Merchant’s critical future fiction in NYT, the terrible news on increased pedestrian deaths (thanks SUVs), how the Dutch are growing a ton of food, why libraries hate Amazon, and why there needs to be antitrust action against Disney.

I’m in Honolulu and I fly to Montreal in a few days.

Have a great week!


🚲 @AsherDeMontreal demonstrates how dockless scooter and e-bike services aren’t working, there isn’t much demand for more docked bike services, and instead argues in favor of a public bike lending library that has a low subscription cost, multiple kinds of bikes, and works with local bike shops. I love it!

Where bikeshare costs $100–200 USD for an unlimited annual subscription, scooters are $3–4+ for a mile ride, more than a cab or a first class plane ticket on a per mile basis. Average rides per user was reported at under 2 per month in various cities — before prices were hiked; Lime had reported 3.4 rides per lifetime user, in February 2019 (it has since stopped reporting user counts).

Tech dystopia

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called out Mark Zuckerberg at the October 19 “Bernie’s Back” rally in Brooklyn where she endorsed Bernie Sanders. “The future, and our future, is in public systems, and it's in publicly owned systems, because we need to take power over our lives again. I don't know about you, but I don't want Mark Zuckerberg making decisions over my life.” Meanwhile, attorneys general from 46 U.S. states and territories have joined New York’s antitrust probe of Facebook.

🇯🇵 Henn na Hotel in Nagasaki slashed more than half of its 243-robot workforce to bring back human workers after a series of complaints

🇨🇭 Dozens of Google workers in Switzerland held a meeting about unionizing — but not before the company tried to have it canceled. Google is also accused of developing a tool to spy on workers to see if they were holding union organizing meetings.

🇬🇧 Uber is facing three big problems in London: a mere two-month extension to its operating license, an unresolved employment status for drivers, and a massive tax bill

😡 New update to the Lyft app for drivers hides how much the rider paid, so drivers can no longer see how much of the fare was taken by the company

☭ “The Soviet Union was unable to build its own internet—not because it lacked technologies or the institution of private property, but because it was impossible to get a project of this scale approved by all of the necessary agencies, whose interests it sometimes contradicted. “

👏 Brian Merchant wrote an ‘op-ed from the future’ (see: fiction) for NYTimes about Amazon’s first fully automated factory — and the contract workers keeping it running

Critical urbanism

🇺🇸☠️ Uber and Lyft promised they’d end car ownership. Instead, it’s increased in the United States as the companies contributed to worse congestion and delayed transit, pushing some people to buy cars as gas prices fell. New research finds Uber and Lyft increased U.S. traffic deaths by 2-3% since 2011, and air quality has started getting worse again — it may have killed an additional 10,000 people over two years.

☠️ Total U.S. traffic deaths were down 2.4% in 2017, but deaths of pedestrians increased by 3.4% to 6,238 people — the highest number since 1990. Cyclist deaths were also up 6.3% to 857, but women were most at risk with a jump of 29.2%. There’s a strong connection between increase SUV sales and more pedestrian deaths, leading some countries to consider banning them.

🚊 David Levinson argues ‘trackless trams’ are “vaporware” that’s no better than regular buses and discussions around them have a strong anti-labor bias

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 Glasgow and Edinburgh could soon put a price on workplace parking spaces, following a similar scheme in Nottingham which improved air quality, reduced car use, and provided more money to invest in transit

🇨🇱 Transit fare hikes kicked off a series of demonstrations across Santiago. It escalated into a general strike against austerity throughout Chile with the army deployed to end the disruption, but on Saturday the state of emergency was lifted and President Sebastian Piñera dissolved his cabinet.

😓 Decimating transit was key to the success of Uber and Lyft, but now “as the costs of rideshare rides are about to increase — and fewer people are taking public transportation, thus impacting funding — people in densely populated cities without cars might find themselves with limited options, hit with higher rideshare costs at the same time public transit options are declining.”

🛴 Lime is on track to lose $300 million on $420 million in revenue in 2019. “Some investors have concluded the company loses virtually every penny it puts into scooter purchasing to scooter losses, repair, and charging.”

🇨🇦 80% of Vancouver’s buses are running slower than five years ago because they lack priority on streets and are stuck in traffic

🙄 Now that we agree autonomous vehicles are several decades away, more people are starting to talk about autonomous scooters — and I’m already so annoyed. Have people learned nothing? Those pushing the idea are underestimating the technical requirements once again, and completely ignoring the human factors, particularly how other road users will react to scooters without riders.

🇺🇸 Data for Progress polled a “Green Homes Guarantee” and found a majority of Americans support a national tenant’s bill of rights, $50 billion annually to retrofit public housing, $100 billion per year for new public housing, and a housing guarantee

😡 U.S. HUD wants to make it easier for businesses using automated tools to discriminate against tenants. Landlords and lenders are thrilled.

🇫🇷 Using Google Street View to show how Paris gentrified [FR; Google Translate]

🚶‍♀️ New research finds walkable neighborhoods promote social mobility

🛬 Flygskam is catching on: domestic air traffic has fallen by 8% and 7% in Sweden and Denmark since last year

🇿🇦 When apartheid ended in 1994, the government promised spatial apartheid would also end with a new approach to urban planning. That hasn’t quite happened.

Climate crisis

👩‍⚖️ New York’s case against Exxon went to trial this week. The state is arguing Exxon misled its shareholders and the public over the risks climate change posed to its fossil fuel assets — the best argument it could make under the existing legal framework.

🐟 Fossil evidence shows ocean acidification can cause a mass extinction of marine life. What we’re doing is worse than the effect that caused the die off they studied.

🚫 The Engineers Declare movement in Australia, made up of about 1,000 engineers and 90 organizations, says they will judge any project on its climate impact. That could mean trouble for Adani’s Carmichael coal mine.

🔥 California could face more power outages as PG&E’s dated infrastructure risks starting fires. Instead of doing something productive, Gov. Gavin Newsom said he’d like billionaire Warren Buffet to buy the utility when even Teen Vogue knows he should nationalize it.

❄️ Melting permafrost is our latest climate problem: “Arctic soil has warmed to the point where it releases more carbon in winter than northern plants can absorb during the summer.”

🇦🇺 Australia’s top research body and energy market operator released a new study showing solar and wind, even with storage, is cheaper than new coal projects

🇳🇱 The Netherlands is “the globe’s number two exporter of food as measured by value, second only to the United States, which has 270 times its landmass.” Its use of sustainable greenhouses and great soil allows it to use much less water and few pesticides while having greater yields than an average farm.

Media monopolization

📚 The American Library Association’s submission to the U.S. House antitrust committee explains how “unfair behavior by digital market actors” is “doing concrete harm to libraries.” It calls out Macmillan’s recent policy change on ebook licensing, but also how Amazon Publishing, the fifth largest ebook publisher by dollar sales, refuses to license ebooks to libraries.

The worst obstacle for libraries are marketplace bans: refusal to sell services at any price. […] The e-book titles from Amazon Publishing are not available to libraries for lending at any price or any terms. By contrast, consumers may purchase all of these titles directly from Amazon. This is a particularly pernicious new form of the digital divide; Amazon Publishing books are available only to people who can afford to buy them, without the library alternative previously available to generations of Americans.

🤝 Sony is one of the few media giants not trying to create its own streaming service — it’s even trying to sell Playstation Vue, its over-the-top cable-replacement service — but its “One Sony” strategy of having its film, TV, music, and video game divisions work together in a complementary way may finally be coming to fruition

📰 After getting grilled by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for having a white nationalist website as a fact checker, Mark Zuckerberg is struggling to explain why alt-right news site Breitbart is included as a “high quality” publication on Facebook News

📽 This report screams for antitrust action: imperial Disney, quasi-block booking, refusing to show old titles, and discriminating against independent cinemas. “Fox classics are going into the vault as well, for reasons the company won’t publicly explain or justify. […] The decision to broaden Disney’s artificial scarcity tactic to include thousands of movies released by a onetime rival is a wounding blow to a swath of theatrical venues that used to be able to show them, and where film buffs were able to see them with an audience.”

🎬 On the discussion over Marvel movies: “Comic books and cartoons provide children with simple tales to help them make sense of what looks to them like a complicated world. And as our world has become increasingly more complicated and unsettling — or, perhaps more accurately, as we’ve become increasingly aware of how complicated and unsettling our world has always been — the films we consume have become ever more infantilizing. […] [T]he last 15 or so years have seen rapid monopolization across many industries, and these types of releases have become dominant in what is increasingly looking like a zero-sum game. While lots of other films get made — more, in fact, than have ever been produced before — all the oxygen in the room gets sucked out by the big ones, leaving the smaller ones to choke.”

🦸‍♂️ “The superhero regime has wasted far too much talent on stories that are fundamentally unworthy of the actors and directors making them. It has empowered and interacted with corporate consolidation, including the devouring power of a Disney empire that is now literally disappearing classic movies from the theater circuit into its corporate vault. And it has habituated adult audiences to stories that belong — with, yes, exceptions — to the state of arrested development in which far more of Western culture than just Hollywood is trapped.”

📺 Apple TV+ launches on November 1. Lucas Shaw and Mark Gurman describe how it came to be, but this is the key sentence: “[Tim] Cook’s goal is to strengthen customers’ loyalty to the company’s hardware while generating additional revenue through a monthly subscription.” It’s another perk to being in the Apple ecosystem.

FairTube is trying to unionize YouTube creators, and even though Wired calls their demands “sweeping,” they’re actually pretty basic: they want to know the rules. “Creators want greater transparency, a more stable and equitable approach to monetization, and a seat at the table when the platform makes decisions that impact their livelihoods.” The German government is on their side.

🎮🇫🇷 Workers at Ankama Games voted to be represented by French game union STJV

🖋 Hollywood writers’ assistants and script coordinators unionized with Local 871, and got higher pay and much better health insurance as a result. However, studios such as Disney and Sony retaliated by reducing working hours.

By Paris:Want lower cell phone bills? Make wireless networks a public utility” (Ricochet): my criticism of the telecom policies of Canadian political parties.

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