After last week’s announcement of my new podcast, Tech Won’t Save Us, I wanted to give you an update on the state of this newsletter.
I really enjoy writing Radical Urbanist, and getting to know all of you who subscribe — some of you have been receiving the newsletter for quite a long time, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it! I want to let you know it’s not going anywhere.
Radical Urbanist will continue, I won’t be rebranding it, and it will still focus on urban issues. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be experimenting with the form and the way I present the articles of the week to provide a bit more of my perspective, while highlighting articles that provide information and critiques of relevant issues.
That doesn’t mean articles on tech and climate change will be excluded — they’re essential considerations on the future of cities — but I will try to bring the urban issues back to the forefront, as I feel they’ve taken a backseat to tech in recent months.
I do want to make a request from you though.
I started Radical Urbanist in September 2017, and so far have sent 133 issues — with many more to come. I’m about to finish my Master’s degree at McGill University, and I plan to spend even more time being a critical voice on tech, cities, and politics.
But there’s not a lot of money in being a critical freelance writer, so here’s my ask: if you like Radical Urbanist, or any of the other content I make, I would really appreciate your support on my new Patreon page. You can pledge as little as $2/month, with access to exclusive content and perks the more you contribute. You won’t be charged until May 1, and then the beginning of every following month.
With COVID-19 tanking the economy, times are likely to be tough for recent graduates and freelance writers for a while to come, so if you appreciate my work and are able to contribute, I would greatly appreciate it.
Thank you, and enjoy this week’s issue.
Post office socialism
What if we expand the post office instead of continuing to cripple it and letting political leaders try to privatize it?
I’ve always loved the post office. When I was younger, I dreamed of driving a mail truck (and sadly still haven’t had the opportunity). Back in February, I tweeted about how we should have post office socialism, with a well-funded post office playing a greater role in the economy and providing even more services to people. One of the key benefits is the infrastructure: with post offices in nearly everyone community around the country, it’s much easier to ensure equitable service delivery.
This week, I finally laid out a partial vision for what that might look like: postal banking, public internet and 5G services, and community-oriented development of tech and digital services to meet public needs. I’m happy to say, it’s had a fantastic response with hundreds of people sharing it and postal workers getting in touch to say, “I fucking love this.”
Give it a read, and if you like it and use Twitter, how about retweeting this for me?
Time to take on tech
Is there a reckoning coming for Amazon? A few weeks ago, Brian Merchant said Amazon was engaging in a “techified shock doctrine” as it sought to take advantage of COVID-19 to increase its dominance. Amazon made it more difficult for third-party merchants to sell their products, now it’s rumored to be cutting affiliate rates at the very moment its sales are booming. Meanwhile, workers are fighting for the company to take their safety seriously with “at least 153 cases across 65 warehouses worldwide” having been reported. In France, Amazon was forced to shut down its warehouses after a court ruled it wasn’t protecting its workers. Wendy Liu is calling for Amazon to be treated like a public utility; I’ve called for it to be nationalized.
On a broader scale, COVID-19 is showing the bankruptcy at the core of the tech model that has come to dominate over the past decade. Uber and Lyft are the most visible of a range of companies that framed themselves as “tech” despite delivering a traditional product or service to make workers more precarious. Now drivers say the companies are blocking them from getting unemployment benefits, while Instacart workers still haven’t received the safety kits they were promised. This model also elevated snake-oil salesmen like Elon Musk, who’s trying to make COVID-19 his latest crisis PR opportunity.
In response, we need to break the hold that tech has over us. That means not just to challenge the companies, but the myths and worldview they promote. Katrin Fritsch takes issue with the data-focused response to COVID-19 because “data prioritises certain realities over others […] It abstracts all the suffering and bears the misleading promise to control a virus only through rational thought.” Evgeny Morozov writes that the tech industry “shrinks public imagination” by making us believe our problems can be solved by more technology, and now more than ever we need a“‘post-solutionist’ politics should begin by smashing the artificial binary between the agile start-up and the inefficient government that limits our political horizons today.”
Global changes post-COVID-19
Make no mistake: COVID-19 is going to change a lot about our world; the real question is who will benefit from it. A new poll shows only 9% of British people want to return to normal when this is all over, while Andreas Kluth warns of the social unrest that is sure to follow given the ILO reports that COVID-19 “will destroy 195 million jobs worldwide, and drastically cut the income of another 1.25 billion people.”
Jamie Martin argues this pandemic shows that “global collective-action problems […] can be solved only through ambitious forms of international cooperation — and that leaving the global allocation of goods to the market alone can be a matter of life and death.” Kim Moody explains how COVID-19 quickly spread through global “just-in-time” supply chains, but how that also provides opportunities for workers to fight back. Jan Dutkiewocz, Astra Taylor, and Troy Vettese describe how our food system is responsible for creating viruses like COVID-19, and this should be an opportunity to radically alter our food system and our diets. Laurie Macfarlane has a fascinating essay on what COVID-19 will mean for Chinese, US, and European power in the world, concluding:
In 1848 Karl Marx wrote that ‘A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of communism.’ Today another spectre is haunting the West: its name is authoritarian capitalism.
Cities responding to COVID-19
There has been a lot of focus on transit in light of COVID-19. Alon Levy argues the subway isn’t to blame for the ongoing disaster in New York City. Andy S. explains how transit workers in Madison, Wisconsin worked in solidarity with other City workers to win important concessions from management for all City workers. Jarrett Walker explained some of the considerations transit agencies should be making as they cut transit services.
Oakland’s street shutdowns are apparently designed to have impacts on car use even after the crisis, while New Zealand’s national government is covering 90% of the cost for local governments to expand footpaths and cycleways. Sarah Holder and Kriston Capps explain how US governments are responding to their homelessness crises in light of COVID-19, while Zoë Christmas argues this needs to end homelessness for good. David Zipper and Marla Westervelt are floating the idea of public funding for scooter companies. Respectfully, I say, “fuck no.”
Finally, Amber Jamieson’s story that landlords are demanding sex in lieu of rent is turning me into a Maoist, while Vinaya Raghavan explains how the socialist-democratic Indian state of Kerala has delivered an incredibly effective response to COVID-19.
Other great reads
Andrew Nikiforuk explains how the collapse in the oil price will “topple companies and transform states” — great analysis with a Canadian and global perspective. Nathalie Olah explains how the AIDS crisis affected the terminology we use to describe technology. By Paris: I argue Canada’s public broadcaster needs more funding, but also to deal with its elite and commercial biases.
Tech Won’t Save Us
After getting everything ready over the past week, Tech Won’t Save Us kicks off on Monday with guest Wendy Liu, whose new book “Abolish Silicon Valley” came out last week, followed by James Wilt, author of “Do Androids Dream of Electric Cars?”, on Thursday.
I can’t wait for you to hear it, and as I said last week, even if you’re more into urbanism than tech, I think you’ll still find good reason to listen. I will ask you give me a break the first few weeks though; I haven’t interviewed many people before, but I’m a quick learner!