Uber needs regulation, Musk hates trains, Germans ❤️ cargo bikes, Melbourne kills Apple Store, racist tech, & more!

Issue 101

Hey urbanists,

I’ve been reflecting a lot on this essay about Ursula K. Le Guin’s “carrier bag” theory of storytelling and, by extension, human evolution. She criticizes the focus on the hero, the male hunter with the spear, and argues that instead humanity depended on the gathering, on the carrier bag, and if our stories emphasized the gatherer instead of the hunter, we would also be emphasizing a different facet of human nature; a gentler, more cooperative one.

The Outline piece and Le Guin’s essay itself have made me think about how reporting in the tech industry so often focuses on male leadership figures and their big, bold ideas, while downplaying the roles of everyone else around them. Elon Musk and Steve Jobs, for example, are held up as the singular geniuses, gods of Silicon Valley, while the teams around them are effectively erased from the narrative. Imagine how our thinking about society or technology would change if we focused on the collective instead of elevating the individual.

And if we extend that to transportation or urbanism, people like Musk and Travis Kalanick have pushed damaging ideas of what the future of transportation should be, as so many other powerful men have before them — Robert Moses, Le Corbusier, etc. — while the actual needs of people are ignored. And why do we focus on the individual instead of the collective; the spear instead of the carrier bag? Because it’s easier to tell a story about the individual; the story of the hunter is easier to make compelling than that of the gatherer. Le Guin implores us to focus on the latter and change that.

Is this making sense? Feel free to drop me an email or tweet me with your thoughts.

Anyway, onto this issue. I was reading the Elon Musk book and it confirms Hyperloop was designed to kill California high-speed rail. Plus, the Germans are adopting cargo bikes, Bernie Sanders has the best transport plan, Uber and Lyft are terrible, Silicon Valley is building a U.S. social credit system, and the Apple Store in Melbourne’s public square is deader than dead. You can read my piece on Silicon Valley’s racist tools, and I recommend the video at the end — a very cool social media campaign.

By the time you get this, I’ll have recently gotten off the Interislander ferry from Picton to Wellington. I lived here for a brief time in 2017.

Have a great week!


P.S. — Just a reminder that if you like the issue, hit the little heart at the beginning or end of the newsletter to give it a boost in Substack’s rankings. Thanks!

Around the world

Uber and Lyft are trying to have it both ways. Public goods are even more regulated and controlled by government than private companies. Should we grant the premise and acknowledge Uber and Lyft provide a public service so critical to civic life it cannot be narrowed, AB5 would be just the tip of the iceberg of worries bearing down upon Uber and Lyft’s path to profitability.”

Transit and trains

🇬🇧 Heat from the Northern Line of the London Underground will be used to heat homes in Islington as part of a new scheme to recycle the heat

🗳 62% of Phoenix voters backed light-rail extension in a ballot measure despite a Koch-funded campaign to kill it

🚧 Virgin Trains on track to start construction of high-speed rail from Los Angeles to Las Vegas in early 2020

🇺🇸 California needs to complete its high-speed rail project

🚄 Elon Musk hoped pushing Hyperloop would kill California high-speed rail

Bikes and scooters

🇺🇸 Miami made Bird, Lime, and Jump collect all their bikes and scooters before noon on Friday so Hurricane Dorian didn’t turn them into projectiles

🇳🇿 New Zealand study finds e-scooter injuries are as severe as car crashes or falling from a substantial height

🇩🇪 Instead of electric cars or scooters, Germans are embracing electric cargo bikes with 39,200 sold last year, compared to 36,062 electric cars. New subsidies for bikes could be coming as a result.

🇦🇺 Sydney is adding four new cycleways to make streets safer

Cars and roads

🇺🇸 Bernie Sanders is the only Democratic candidate really talking about transportation, but even his plan needs to go further

🛑 Self-driving carmakers want U.S. laws changed so they don’t have to install a steering wheel. That seems very premature. They need to prove the tech is safe first.

🚗 “Car blindness is the mindset of not seeing that cars themselves are a major, chronic problem. It is when one overlooks the heavy price tag of driving cars and is unable to see the precariousness of car dependency.”

💸 New analysis of over 14,000 Uber and Lyft fares by Jalopnik suggests the companies take up to 10% more of the fare than they publicly claim

🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 A coalition of climate and business groups is calling on the Scottish government to ban petrol and diesel cars by 2030

💰 Ford estimates autonomous vehicles will only last four years because they’ll be on the road so much. No wonder the auto industry keeps pushing an autonomous future — they’d love to replace cars every four years, instead of the average twelve.

Environment and climate crisis

🌊 IPCC draft report on the oceans warns we’re in for “a dramatic decline in fish stocks, a 100-fold increase in the damage caused by superstorms and millions of people displaced by rising seas” if we don’t significant reduce emissions

With the most optimistic emission-reduction scenarios, by 2050, many low-lying megacities and small island nations will experience "extreme sea-level events" every year […] Even if the world manages to cap global warming at 2C, the global ocean waterline will rise enough to displace more than a quarter of a billion people

🇨🇱 Farmers near Chile’s Atacama say the lagoons and their flamingos are gone and they can no long graze animals because lithium mines are draining the region’s fresh water aquifers. That lithium is headed to batteries for phones and electric cars.

🇨🇺 Cuba already has some of the world’s best preserved marine ecosystems, but an overhaul of fishing laws will see closer cooperation with the U.S., a crackdown on illegal fishing, and new ways to manage private fisheries to protect vulnerable species.

☀️ “For every degree Celsius rise in temperature, the voltage output of solar modules declines by an average of 0.45 percent.”

🇦🇺 Agency charged with managing the Great Barrier Reef says its outlook is “very poor” and action must be taken now, as the government pushes forward with massive new coal mine and port that would directly affect it

🇧🇷 Blackstone is fueling deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest


🇨🇦 After 236 years, the Molson plant in Montreal is moving to the suburbs, opening up a large urban space for new housing with 20% earmarked for public housing, 20% for affordable, and 20% for family housing.

🇺🇸 A U.S. tax break to help poor neighborhoods has actually been a boon for wealthy investors building luxury condos and hotels

🇩🇪 German real estate shares dropped after Berlin announced rent control measures. The Left Party wants to take it nationwide.

🏙 Despite their growing economies, the population of many ‘global cities’ is actually declining as they’re reconfigured to serve the ultra rich

🇬🇷 With New Democracy back in power in Greece, self-governing anarchist communities in Athens’ Exarcheia neighborhood are facing eviction

Tech dystopia

👁 “A parallel [social credit] system is developing in the United States, in part as the result of Silicon Valley and technology-industry user policies, and in part by surveillance of social media activity by private companies.”

🖕 Internal Uber metrics show people hate the company, with brand sentiment back to the lows it experienced when it was scandal plagued and the #DeleteUber campaign was in full swing.

🇺🇸 Uber and Lyft drivers demonstrated in San Francisco on Tuesday in support of AB-5, demanding the right to a union and to be treated as employees. Meanwhile, Uber, Lyft, and DoorDash pooled $90 million to prepare a ballot measure to try to deny drivers employment status if AB-5 is passed. These companies are evil.

👨‍⚖️ Anthony Levandowski, who worked on Google and Uber’s self-driving vehicles, has been charged with 33 counts of theft and attempted theft of trade secrets from Google. He faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for every count.

📉 Dara Khosrowshahi says Uber will reduce its losses in 2020 or 2021, but analysts say Uber Eats loses $3.36 on every order, and will still be losing money in 2024.

👮‍♂️ Amazon allows more than 400 “law enforcement agencies” across the U.S. to request videos from its Ring smart doorbells

Other great reads

👩 What would a city designed for women look like? From Barcelona to Kigali, cities are making changes to be more accommodating and reduce the threat of assault

🎮 How the team behind Cyberpunk 2077 designed a unique cyberpunk city

☀️ SolarCity is a thorn in Tesla’s side, but Elon Musk couldn’t let it implode because the rest of his debt-laden empire, along with his image, would go down with it

🇦🇺 Melbourne’s Fed Square has been added to the heritage register, ensuring major changes will have to be approved by Heritage Victoria. Apple has already said its store will not move forward in the square, but heritage status means it likely wouldn’t be able to anyway.

By Paris: Silicon Valley Is Bringing Back Racist Redlining (OneZero)

👍 Deutsche Bahn ad campaign pairs social media photos of popular destinations with equally beautiful spots in Germany alongside the high price of the flying to the distant location and the low price of a domestic train trip. Thanks for Cornelius for sending it!

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