Smart city surveillance straitjacket, Big Oil ties to Brexit, AB5 likely to pass, 'Super Pumped', & more!

Issue 102

Hey urbanists,

There’s a lot on tech this week. Check out the articles on Sidewalk Labs, especially those by Bianca Wylie and Cory Doctorow, and the update on AB5’s progress. The piece on African “techsploitation” is also really insightful.

Plus, Uber may launch buses in Lagos, Spin will promote unionization, Autopilot shoulders part of the blame for 2018 crash, co-living is bad news, gentrification gives kids anxiety, flight shaming addresses a larger problem, and Big Oil is not only backing Brexit, but projects that would far exceed Paris emissions targets.

I’ve been reading Mike Isaac’s “Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber” and it’s clear Travis Kalanick is a psychopath. I’m in Wellington, and heading to Taupo tomorrow and Auckland later this week.

Have a great week!


Around the world

Toronto Life has a new series of essays on both sides of the Sidewalk Labs debate. Corporate shill Richard Florida obviously makes an appearance, arguing in favor of the company paying him, but city councillor Gord Perks explains the project would remove democratic oversight from transit planning and former chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat tells readers the “affordable housing” promise is misleading.

The two essays I recommend are by Tech Reset Canada co-founder Bianca Wylie, who argues the plan would “build Sidewalk Labs directly into our public infrastructure and governance,” and author and activist Cory Doctorow, who writes a “smart city of the sort that Sidewalk Labs proposes turns this surveillance-and-inference system into a pervasive straitjacket that wraps around everyone who sets foot on the public street.”

Transit and trains

🇫🇷 New plan for Paris’ Gare du Nord would force passengers to walk through a platform full of shops before reaching the trains — and people are furious

🇳🇬 Uber may launch its (luxury) minibus service in Lagos and offer in-app transit tickets. I find this really insidious. The Denver partnership was bad enough, but it’s much easier for corporations to integrate themselves into the infrastructure of cities like Lagos which have far fewer resources to provide their own alternatives.

🚂 CityLab’s Laura Bliss drove a steam locomotive and ruminated on how tech’s mobility ideas are “united by their disposability and impracticality” as U.S. transport authorities are stuck on short-sighted issues that keep them from thinking long term

Bikes and scooters

🙄 Part-time NYC mayor Bill De Blasio wants to continue his war on cyclists by requiring Citi Bike riders to wear helmets and all cyclists to have a license

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 10-year Edinburgh plan could see roads closed to cars, significant expansion of cycling infrastructure, and a tram extension

🛴 Spin, the e-scooter company owned by Ford, has made a “labor pact” with Teamsters Joint Council 7, promising it will not block unionization of its workers and will “help in any way we can.” It’s all to try to win a San Francisco operating permit.

🇺🇸 U.S. e-bike sales are up almost 60% year-over-year, with older riders driving the increase

Cars and roads

🛑 “We desperately need to treat driving as the extremely costly and privileged activity it is, and regulate it far, far more heavily. Healthy air, a stable environment, and safe and accessible cities should be ours by right.”

🏙 What would it look like if Barcelona’s superblock concept was applied to Manhattan’s street grid? Sounds like heaven.

🇫🇷 Paris has a new plan to ticket loud vehicles, but the tools it’s using are more often applied to detecting gunshots

🚗 National Transportation Safety Board finds Tesla’s Autopilot “permitted the driver to disengage from the driving task” causing a 2018 freeway crash

📱 NYC report shows only 0.2% of crashes involved distracted pedestrians

Environment and climate crisis

🇬🇧 New evidence reveals the connections between Big Oil libertarians, far-right groups, and the British politicians driving Brexit

🛢 Oil and gas companies have invested $50 billion in projects that would undermine efforts to avoid runaway climate change. “Every oil major is betting heavily against a 1.5C world and investing in projects that are contrary to the Paris goals.”

🔥 Scathing indictment of liberal environmentalism that conveniently ignores the impact of cars and meat, while going on about plastic straw bans

🇮🇩 Indonesia’s plan for a new capital has environmentalists worried it could accelerate deforestation

🇺🇸 Las Vegas is the fastest warming city in the United States, and it faces a future where people can’t even go outside for long stretches of time. Its poor and homeless residents are particularly vulnerable, and heat-related deaths are increasing.

🇦🇺 Renewable energy projects are revitalizing rural towns in Australia

Housing and homelessness

🏘 “Co-living is purely a new way for developers to squeeze profit from an already broken housing market. Co-housing in its purest form is about communities being control of their housing.”

🇪🇸 Controversial shipping container apartments are going up near La Rambla in Barcelona, but they may not be a good decision for tenants, nor the city

🇬🇧 U.K. Labour may propose a private-sector Right to Buy which would force landlords to sell properties to tenants who want to buy their homes at a fair price

😔 New study shows low-income kids in gentrifying neighborhoods are more likely to experience anxiety and depression

Tech dystopia

🇺🇸 After rumors he wanted a compromise, California Gov. Gavin Newsom came out in favor of AB5 on Labor Day. The bill would extend employment status to gig economy workers, and is fiercely opposed by Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, etc. The bill passed the Assembly and is expected to pass the Senate on Sep 13. The companies are now preparing a ballot measure to repeal it. If it passes, ride-hail prices could increase by up to 25% and global bookings would fall 1-2%, or 5-9% if rules are extended nationally.

📖 “I don’t think you have to be an asshole to build a great company. That said, I do wonder if you have to be a jerk in order to build Uber.” — Mike Isaac on his new book, “Super Pumped: The Battle for Uber.”

🌍 “While some see much hope in Africa’s participation in this brave new world [of technology], others see the old patterns of extraction reasserting themselves in a new guise. Instead of oil, they say, companies such as Jumia are plundering data and profits. You might call it ‘techsploitation’.”

🙄 Uber and Lyft refused to provide Chicago with a list of their drivers, arguing it’s a trade secret. The Illinois attorney general is investigating.

💸 Uber may start offering predatory payday loans to its drivers

Other great reads

✈️ The growing flight-shaming movement (flygskam in Swedish) draws attention to the structural changes we need to decarbonize our societies. If we continue operating an economic system where people need to travel long distances on work trips or have a week or two of vacation so they need to get to their destination really quickly, flying will remain necessary. On top of improving rail frequency and speeds where possible, we also need to change the structure of society to embrace slower lifestyles so we can take our time going long distances — even crossing an ocean like Greta Thunberg.

📚 Public libraries aren’t going anywhere; they’re evolving to meet the needs of their communities

🇨🇰 The Cook Islands will change its name to remove any association with Captain Cook, instead opting for a name in the local Māori language

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