The case for dumb cities; lying French billionaires; energy-efficient social housing; Red Vienna; & more!

Issue 95

Hey urbanists,

We’re skipping right to the links this week. I’m in Toronto, and heading to Hong Kong on Wednesday to spend about three months in Asia, Australia, and New Zealand, so this type of issue might be more common until at least the end of the summer.

I highly recommend the first article making the case for ‘dumb’ cities, along with Norwich’s new social housing, how French billionaires didn’t send the money they pledged for the Notre Dame, Tim Maughan on his book Infinite Detail, and feel free to check out my latest on space colonies and human potential.

Have a great week!


Around the world

🏙 Shoshanna Saxe makes the case for ‘dumb’ cities. Urban infrastructure is designed for decades, if not centuries, yet technology becomes outdated much quicker. If we integrate it into cities, are we prepared to constantly replace it? Even then, data itself doesn’t necessarily lead to better outcomes. Instead of being distracted by technology, Saxe argues we should invest in what works and make excellent dumb cities.

Transit and trains

🤦‍♀️ Innisfil, Ontario subsidized Uber instead of investing in transit. “The city has now spent more on Uber than the traditional transit option it was considering, and has dramatically increased the number of cars on its roads, with worrying implications for air quality and the climate crisis.” Its solution? Maybe UberBus.

🇩🇰 Denmark’s rail network is slow compared to its Western European neighbors, but that could change after the election of a left-wing government

🚄 Latest report on high-speed rail between Vancouver, Seattle, and Portland finds it’s financially viable and 12-20% of existing trips would switch from vehicles or planes

🚇 I’m partial to the argument for free fares, but Alon Levy makes a good argument why, on most large systems, that money would be better spent improving service

Bikes and scooters

📱 Google Maps now displays bikeshare stations and how many bikes they have in select cities. At what point do we turn this into a public utility?

🇳🇿 Cycling is up 8.9% in Auckland over last year, with a 17% jump in June alone

🛴 “So are e-scooters a vital new part of modern, eco-friendly urban transport, or are they a risky and unnecessary fad, pushed by tech investors desperate to disrupt the status quo?” European cities are reporting problems with injuries and drunk riding.

Cars and roads

🛑 Transport officials and executives are worried that Elon Musk’s decision to cut corners and mislead people about the capabilities of Tesla’s autonomous features could have negative repercussions for the rest of the industry

🇦🇺 Australia’s most popular vehicles emit 8% to 42% more carbon dioxide than their U.K. counterparts because Australia doesn’t have emissions standards

😷 Working paper on the impacts of Volkswagen’s cheating “clean diesel” vehicles finds negative health impacts on children and babies

💰 Uber and Lyft paid drivers who protested AB5, the California bill that would effectively make ride-hail drivers employees instead of contractors

🚗 Almost everyone working on self-driving cars reset their expectations after the Uber test vehicle killed a pedestrian last year. Argo AI’s Bryan Salesky says they’re 80% of the way there, but the remaining 20% “will be much more difficult.”

Environment and climate crisis

☀️ Several massive renewable projects are planned for Australia to power countries in Asia. Sun Cable would connect a 10GW solar installation to Singapore via a 3,800 km high-voltage, direct-current submarine cable, allowing energy transmission over long distances. The project won’t ramp up for a decade, but it shows Australia’s potential as a renewable powerhouse, as it also has the minerals needed to build the solar panels.

🇩🇪 Germany closed its coal industry without firing a single miner. It offered retraining, voluntary payouts for those over 50, and made investments in coal communities so they could thrive in a post-coal world.

🇦🇺 The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority says warming must remain below 1.5ºC to protect the reef. “Only the strongest and fastest possible action on climate change will reduce the risks and limit the impacts of climate change on the reef.”

🇺🇸 New York’s “Green New Deal” only shares its name with the national plan. It’s focused largely on energy, with a particular focus on expanding offshore wind energy.

🔥 Since 1972, the average area burned by fires in California has increased by a factor of five, mainly due to an exponential increase in forested areas of the state


🇨🇦 A worker earning minimum wage in Canada can only afford a one- or two-bedroom apartment in 24 of the 795 analyzed neighborhoods

🇺🇸 Housing is going up at BART stations in the Bay Area as part of its transit-oriented development plan, and while some of it is “affordable” housing, it would be the perfect place for new public housing

🇩🇪 After major protests, Berlin renationalized 670 apartments on Karl-Marx-Allee

🇬🇧 Norwich, U.K. built beautiful new social housing meeting Passivhaus standards for energy savings. Is this the future of social housing?

🇨🇳 In Shanghai’s informal housing market, as many as 24 people can be crammed into a 3-bedroom apartment, each paying $100-150 per month in rent

🇬🇧 London’s housing crisis can’t be solved without rent control

Other great reads

🇵🇷 Julia Keleher, the Republican education secretary who tried to dismantle Puerto Rico’s public education system after the hurricanes, was arrested on charges of fraud

🇫🇷 French billionaires pledged €600 billion to rebuild the Notre Dame cathedral, but when people turned their attention to other issues, they didn’t send the funds

🇸🇾 As talk in Syria turns to reconstruction, cultural and historical links must also be rehabilitated. A Facebook group of more than 52,000 people from Aleppo are sharing memories and knowledge to preserve it for the future.

🇦🇹 Despite the success of Red Vienna, support for social democrats in Vienna is shifting to the far-right because they’ll take stronger action against migrants

🇨🇦 Toronto is undergoing a mega-development boom, including a C$3.5 billion ($2.7 billion) development by a Hudson Yards partner, but it’s basically all for rich people

⚠️ In Infinite Detail, Tim Maughan imagines what happens to smart cities when the internet goes out

We’ve handed so much control over this over to algorithmic systems—and over to the internet, in effect. I started thinking, so if this system disappeared, what happens? We don’t know how to replace it.

By Paris: We Don’t Need Space Colonies, and We Definitely Don’t Need Jeff Bezos (Jacobin)

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