Tesla is a ‘lifestyle’, not a solution; UK MPs mull car ban; older riders ❤️ e-bikes; ecofascist revival; & more!

Issue 100

Hey urbanists,

I did a quick recap on the Brexit situation/tragedy before getting to the other stories in this week’s issue because it’s hard to keep my eyes off that dumpster fire.

Speaking of fires, I also highlighted some pieces on what’s going on in the Amazon. Then, Singapore’s environment minister calls out Musk’s lifestyle environmentalism, e-bikes are great for older riders, U.K. is slowly turning against cars, eco-fascism isn’t new, Airbnb took action against a major Canadian host, and the 20th anniversary of “No Logo”. Oh, and check out that transit video (you’ll see it).

I’m in Dunedin and heading to Christchurch tomorrow. I did a tour to a bunch of The Lord of the Rings filming locations in Queenstown and made a moment with some photos on Instagram (and I’ll add to it as I visit more) if you’re interested in that kind of thing.

Have a great week!


Brexit madness

Leaked report shows the United Kingdom is in for absolute chaos if it has a no-deal Brexit, including a hard border in Ireland that could set off “direct action,” massive immigration and customs queues, and shortages of a ton of key products.

Meanwhile, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has proposed a caretaker government with the support of other opposition parties to stop a hard Brexit, have a second vote, and a general election, but the refusal of the Liberal Democrats and other Remainers to back it shows they’d rather economic destruction over a short-term caretaker government with Corbyn at the helm. As Dawn Foster brilliantly put it in Jacobin:

Thus, the hideous truth is now revealed, confirming what many on the Left have long been saying about the Liberal Democrats, the Independent Group, and a huge number of highly vocal centrist ultras on social media: for all their yelling that stopping Brexit is their sole concern, as long as stopping Brexit means Corbyn in a position of power — however minor and effectively powerless — they would prefer economic obliteration. Given the choice between Corbyn spending a few weeks merely acting out a pre-agreed script, on the one hand, and medicine and food shortages, a tanked pound, an economy in ruins, and widespread social panic, many centrists would choose the latter. Their hatred for Corbyn really does expand to fill so much of their mind as to incapacitate them.

Regardless, Corbyn is continuing to push for a general election and made his election pitch earlier this week, calling unelected Prime Minister Boris Johnson a “fake populist and phoney outsider” who “wants to use no deal to create a tax haven for the super-rich on the shores of Europe and sign a sweetheart trade deal with Donald Trump.” Leaks from the Conservatives show they’re planning for an election as one of their key think tanks is calling for the retirement age to be raised from 67 to 75, and Johnson is seeking legal advice to keep Parliament closed so MPs can’t extend the Brexit date. Meanwhile, British people are stockpiling and avoid large purchases.

Around the world

🇧🇷 Heartbreaking report from The Intercept describes how deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is increasing under fascist president Jair Bolsonaro with incursions on indigenous land, cuts to the environmental police, and the revival of an approach to the rainforest that echoes the military dictatorship. A leaked PowerPoint also shows the government intends to use hate speech to marginalize Amazon minorities and halt multilateral conservation projects. Why is this all happening? To feed our appetites for beef — which we should all stop eating.

Deforestation in the first months of 2019 jumped more than 50 percent compared to the amount during the same period in 2018. Half of this deforestation has occurred illegally in protected areas, including hundreds of Indigenous lands that cover a quarter of Brazil’s Amazon and provide a crucial buffer for much of the rest. […]

As the government withdraws from the forest, other forms of deterrence will be needed, including Indigenous patrols that can move and communicate unseen and unheard, and whose serrated arrows may announce themselves with a whisper. But any violence is surely to be asymmetrical, as it has always been. The Pastoral Land Commission, operated by Brazil’s Catholic Church, has recorded more than 600 land-related murders in the country since 2003, most in the Amazon region, with a 20 percent increase in 2018. Most victims are Indigenous and other traditional forest dwellers, killed organizing to protect land from illegal extractive activity.

Transit and trains

✊ “Environmentalism of personal virtue, impressive though it may be, has proven unable to deliver the change we need. […] Instead, we should be building radical structural alternatives to flying and private car ownership. High-quality, zero-carbon transport should be as effortless and enjoyable a choice as possible – not one denied to all but a privileged few.”

🇺🇸 Los Angeles commuter rail records highest ridership in 27-year history. Now if only the bus and subway could have that too.

🇦🇺 Queensland is expanding transit and train services to deal with congestion, but it’s still a few years off and some projects are struggling as different levels of government fight over funding

🌍 What are Europe’s longest train journeys?

😂 10 types of joy experienced by transit riders [Buzzfeed listicle, but I got a laugh]

Hasan Minhaj explains why U.S. public transport sucks, why that hurts poor people and minorities, why it’s so important, and how the Koch brothers keep killing transit projects around the country. Watch it here.

Bikes and scooters

🇺🇸 Chicago scooter pilot shows they’re popular in transit deserts. Transit and bikeshare should get better at serving these areas, and maybe residents should get subsidized e-bikes or scooters for personal use.

🇳🇿 47,000 e-bikes and e-scooters were imported to New Zealand in 2018, up from 23,326 in 2017, but cities are behind on the infrastructure

🚲 “For older riders like me — I’m in my 60s — the assist makes all the difference in the world. […] Since I got the e-bike, though, I’ve been riding 15 and 20 miles a day, four or five days a week. It’s been life altering, not just making me fitter, but also raising my spirits, getting me out of the house and back into the mountains.”

🇳🇱 Utrecht opened world’s largest bike parking area with 12,500 spots over three floors

🇮🇪 E-scooters may soon be legal in Ireland

Cars and roads

🇸🇬 Singapore’s environment minister after Elon Musk criticized the city state for being slow to adopt electric vehicles: “What Elon Musk wants to produce is a lifestyle. We are not interested in a lifestyle. We are interested in proper solutions that will address climate problems.”

😬 “I don’t think [Waymo and some other AV companies] are worried about anyone catching them. They’re probably more worried about whether they can make this work, or if anyone can. Is this even doable after 10 years of working on this?”

🚫 “For reasons of safety and basic urban functionality, it's time to start banning private automobiles from America's urban cores.”

🇬🇧 U.K. data scientists are urging SUV restrictions since they’re twice as deadly as cars, while the Science and Tech committee’s new report says “widespread personal vehicle ownership does not appear to be compatible with significant decarbonisation”

✈️ Uber and Lyft aren’t just making congestion worse in cities; they’re also making traffic worse at airports

Environment and climate crisis

☠️🎉 “David Koch was one of the most powerful people in the world over the last three or so decades, and he did his level best to stymie any effort to stop the biggest threat to human society.” By delaying climate action, Koch contributed to the early death and displacement of millions of people. He deserves no sympathy. Lee Fang posted a rare unscreened interview from several years ago where Koch admitted to being a climate denier and said reducing emissions would “really damage the economy” (see: his personal economic interests).

😠 Eco-fascism is not a new phenomenon. There has long been a strand of the environmental movement that embraced white supremacist and anti-immigrant politics, and it’s gaining popularity once again.

🇺🇸 Bernie Sanders’ Green New Deal plan would slap $3.1 trillion in new fees on fossil fuel companies and cut military spending by $1.2 trillion to stop defending the global oil supply. It would create 20 million jobs and get to 100% renewable in transport and power by 2030, aiming for a 65% increase in transit use and public ownership of utilities. Some say it doesn’t go far enough on land use and transit spending.

🌳 Forest animal populations around the world dropped 53% from 1970 to 2014, providing more evidence of a sixth mass extinction. Forests are essential to climate change, but they need animals to thrive. Further, forest fires are getting so bad that even animals that rely on them for survival can’t keep up with how bad they’re getting.

🛳 Polar cruises are becoming more popular, but they’re damaging the Arctic environment. There need to be restrictions.

🇪🇬 Sea level rise could put Alexandria underwater, wipe out much of Egypt’s agriculture in the Nile Delta, and inundate some of the country’s ‘new’ cities

🇮🇳 As India continues to urbanize, the urban heat island effect is getting worse because of bad land-use patterns that minimize vegetation


🙄 Amazon is making moves to start selling mail-order tiny homes and I don’t think I can roll my eyes any harder. Tiny homes are not the solution to urban housing crises and I wish people weren’t so obsessed with them.

🇨🇦 The fourth largest Airbnb host by listings in Canada was kicked off the platform for “listing the same properties under different names, boosting each others' ratings and — according to hundreds of reviews — misleading guests about the state of the accommodations.” Airbnb suspended new bookings for two months before shutting down the account, but never notified people who already had bookings, leaving them without accommodations when the account was shut down. Airbnb only took action after Canada’s public broadcaster, the CBC, investigated the host.

🏘 “As the housing crisis continues to intensify in many cities, without one simple solution in sight, housing Twitter is a more contentious place than ever.” Fascinating piece on the factions of the housing debate and how the structure of Twitter forces people into corners. I’m not sure I’d put PHIMBY in the YIMBY category though.

🇩🇪 Germany’s Federal Constitutional Court ruled in favor of rent control. “It is in the public interest to counteract the displacement of less well-off groups of the population from urban districts in high demand,” wrote the judge.

💔 “An estimated 40% of unhoused youth in the U.S. identify as LGBTQ. In some California cities, that proportion is higher: […] 46% of all unhoused youth [in SF] are LGBTQ, nearly a quarter of whom identify as transgender and non-binary.”

🇬🇧 “None of [the U.K. housing market’s] problems will be solved by building 300,000 houses a year. The sooner we focus on the real causes of our housing woes, the sooner we’ll have a chance of solving the crisis.”

🇺🇸 U.S. student housing costs are growing as private developers move in to build flashy new dorms that will be attractive to wealthy students

Tech dystopia

👁 Bernie Sanders is calling for a total ban on the use of facial recognition technology for policing

☀️ Walmart sued Tesla over faulty solar installations that caused fires at seven stores. An investigation revealed that the systems were installed quickly and without the proper quality control, that they either were not inspected or it was inadequate, and that 18 months after bringing it to Tesla’s attention, the issues hadn’t been fixed. A few days later, Tesla finally said it would address the problems to end the lawsuit.

☕️ Facebook wants to open cafés in the U.K., becoming the latest tech company to move into physical space

🇦🇷 To Argentina’s middle classes, fed up with corruption and bureaucratic mismanagement, “Uber carried the promise of a modernity beyond local interests and petty regulations. It seems the company has effectively aligned itself with the side of ‘the people’, in a struggle against governments, unions and other interests, which appear to stand in the way of progress.”

🖕 In 2014, Uber added a $1 “Safe Rides Fee” on every ride, but a former employee says none of it was ever used for safety. It was a ploy to boost the bottom line.

Other great reads

🏳️‍🌈 The gay bar has long been the go-to LGBTQ space, but more queer cafés, bookshops, and other non-alcoholic queer spaces are opening across the United States

🇨🇦 Ottawa’s plan for 15-minute neighborhoods involves “urban intensification instead of sprawl, creating residential hubs where people can get to most of their daily destinations — schools, grocery stores, public transit, parks and libraries — within a 15-minute walk from their homes.”

🇮🇳 After events in Assam and Kashmir are proof that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is using his second term to push a hardline Hindu nationalist agenda against India’s Muslim minority. The government is building new detention camps which Muslims fear will be used to lock them up, as recently published citizen lists left off more than four million people, which scholars say were mainly Muslim.

📚 Dan Hancox reflects on Naomi Klein’s “No Logo” after twenty years, and how the pervasiveness of brands has gotten so much worse.

Consumers, marketing executive David Lubars told Klein in No Logo, in a moment of perfect candour, “are like roaches – you spray them and spray them and they get immune after a while.” Since 1999, the spray has become considerably more potent and it’s getting everywhere. Not just trainers, razors and soft drinks, but places, spaces, charities, local councils, human beings: all of them need a brand identity, because all of them are pitching themselves in the global marketplace. As the public sphere becomes ever more emaciated by cuts, corporations step in.

Brands are literally filling in holes in the road with their logos: in Louisville, Kentucky, KFC filled in a plague of potholes, stamping them with a stencil that read “Re-freshed by KFC”. They paid what is small change in advertising terms – $3,000 – to fix 350 potholes in the city, or buy 350 adverts. “Cities are struggling all over America and you do what you can,” Louisville’s mayor, Jerry Abramson, told NPR. “We’re fortunate to have such an outstanding corporate citizen in this community.”

By Paris: Self-Driving Trucks Won’t Kill Millions of Jobs (OneZero)

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