Rentiers pushing Brexit, gating sidewalks for AVs, not-so-green scooters, & more!

Issue 97

Hey urbanists,

Will Davies wrote a great piece this week on the rentier alliance backing a no-deal Brexit. The German Greens are also pushing a plan to end domestic air travel, an analysis has mixed findings about the environmental benefits of scooters, an NYT piece called for pedestrian gates at intersections to pave the way for AVs, and Uber is expected to post a $4.96 billion quarterly loss.

I’m leaving Seoul in a few days for Taipei and Singapore. Have a great week!


In a fascinating analysis, Will Davies argues that no-deal Brexit supporters are not traditional rentiers, but have paid their mortgages and live off pension-fund assets, so they have little stake in a productive economy.

Where productivity gains are no longer sought, the goal becomes defending private wealth and keeping it in the family. This is a logic that unites the international oligarch and the comfortable Telegraph-reading retiree in Hampshire. The mentality is one of pulling up the draw-bridge, and cashing in your chips. […]

Johnson/Farage is a symptom of prolonged financialisation, in which capital pulls increasingly towards unproductive investments, relying on balance sheet manipulation, negative interest rates and liquidity for its returns (aided substantially by quantitative easing over the past decade). To put that more starkly, these are seriously morbid symptoms, in which all productive opportunities have already been seized, no new ideas or technologies are likely, and no new spheres of social or environmental life are left to exploit and commodify. These are socially nihilistic interests whose only concern with the future involves their children and grandchildren, but otherwise believe that everything good is in the past. The term ‘late capitalism’ was over-used in the past, but this certainly feels like very late capitalism.

Transit and trains

🇩🇪 German Greens want to make domestic air travel obsolete by 2035 by increasing airline fuel taxes and investing in rail to reduce travel times to many destinations to max. four hours and create of a European night train network

🇨🇦 B.C. Transit plans to replace 1,200 buses and add 350 more to make its fleet fully electric by 2040

🖲 Ford wants to be more than an automaker by providing new transport options (like scooters and AVs) and technology for managing transport systems. I’m wary of these moves because, like Uber, it shows Ford wants to control (and profit from) transport when these things could simply be provided by transit agencies.

🇺🇸 California high-speed rail funds could be redirected to improve rail closer to Los Angeles and the Bay Area, building toward the Central Valley instead of outward from it. Streetsblog notes some issues in the original report.

Bikes and scooters

🛴 Lifecycle analysis of e-scooters finds they’re greener than cars, but not more so than bicycles, walking, or transit. However, AsherDeMontreal notes the study is based on a 1.25-year lifespan, when publicly available data only shows scooters in fleets lasting around 30 days. If we use their actual lifespan, they’re worse than cars.

🇳🇿 For all the fuss about scooters on footpaths, politicians and planners in Auckland are paralyzed by fear of an even bigger fuss about cycle lanes. But with new transit services years away, they need to start trials on cycle lanes and scooter parking now.

🔥 Another setback for Lyft’s San Francisco bikeshare service: e-bikes have been pulled after catching fire. Bikeshare has been a mess in SF ever since Lyft took over.

🚶‍♂️ Neuroscientist Shane O’Mara writes that walking has incredibly positive effects on our cognitive abilities and overall health. We should be doing more of it.

🛴 After using a Bird scooter for a month, Nick Statt concluded “there are so many other options, from bikes to public transit, that better solve the problem of needing to go a short distance quickly and cheaply.”

🇺🇸 Three scooter users have died in collisions with automobiles in three months in Atlanta. None occurred on streets with bike lanes.

Cars and roads

🛑 Article in NYTimes considers “gates at each corner, which would periodically open to allow pedestrians to cross” to stop “jaywalking” so self-driving cars can work well. This shows the industry wants to remake the transportation system again with their interests in mind, instead of those of urban residents.

🤔 Elon Musk said a million robotaxis would be on streets by the end of 2020, yet his Las Vegas tunnel will need human drivers in 2021. Something’s not adding up.

🇭🇰 I was just in Hong Kong on there were Teslas everywhere, but sales fell dramatically after the government ended a generous tax incentive

🇺🇸 Congress wants AV players to help it draft a new bill “aimed at speeding up the adoption of autonomous vehicles.” Sounds like a disaster waiting to happen.

🇳🇿 Auckland is planning to ban cars from High Street as part of a larger initiative to pedestrianize streets, and a prominent engineers’ group says it will be safer

🔋 Lithium production has ramped up so much in anticipation of the electric car boom that prices are falling as sales growth in China has slowed

🛣 In Syracuse, a major highway is reaching the end of its life. That’s prompting a reckoning with the history of urban renewal and a debate about what comes next.

Environment and climate crisis

🇬🇱 On Tuesday, Greenland experienced its second-largest melt in its recorded history, covering 87% of the ice sheet’s surface. These large melt days are becoming increasingly routine, and only swift, decisive action will be able to slow it down.

⚡️ Wind power is outpacing coal in Texas, generating 22% of the state’s electricity this year compared to 21% for coal. In 2003, wind was 0.8% and coal was 40%.

❄️ New study of tidewater glaciers found they’re “a lot more sensitive to ocean change than we’ve even thought.” Some could be melting much faster than previously thought.

🇬🇹 Climate change is making already difficult living conditions in Guatemala even worse — and that’s forcing people to seek refuge in the United States

🇦🇺 Australia’s risk of bushfires is set to increase as summers get drier and hotter. Meanwhile, a new analysis finds only one in 20 stories about drought in Australia mention the climate crisis.


🇨🇦 How can Canada address its housing crisis? More public housing, better tenant protections, zoning changes, tax reform, and more generous pensions.

🏘 In a new op-ed, Bernie Sanders pledges to build millions of new homes, expand the public housing stock, and explains how he benefited from rent control

🏗 British Columbia is doubling height limits for wooden buildings, causing the Canadian government, as well as those of the United States and China, to follow suit

🏙 Luxury megadevelopments like Hudson Yards are increasingly shaping modern cities, but are they really in residents’ best interests?

🇮🇱🇵🇸 Ahead of Jared Kushner’s visit to Israel, the government approved 6,000 new homes in the illegal West Bank settlements

Other great reads

📖 George Monbiot argues we need a new political story built around altruism and cooperation to replace failed neoliberalism. He may underplay the role of the state (in my view), but I like the conversation he’s trying to foster.

🤯 Analysts expect Uber to post a $4.96 billion loss for the third quarter

🚽 One fifth of Britons don’t leave home as often as they’d like because they struggle to access a public toilet. It’s always shocked my that European countries charge for public toilets. It’s time to end the blatantly anti-poor “bladder tax.”

♿️ If you have a disability, you’re probably going to have a hard time using Airbnb. This is a trend among platform companies.

🇨🇳☪️ In its latest effort to “Sinicize” Chinese Muslims, authorities in Beijing are forcing shops to remove Arabic script and Islamic symbols

☠️ New study of low-income parts of Florida found higher pedestrian-vehicle crashes around Walmarts, fast-food restaurants, and dollar stores

By Paris:

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