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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