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✊🏙 Amazon scraps NYC plans; Sidewalk’s full Toronto ambitions leaked; CAHSR (not) canceled; Lime; Egypt; Uber; & more!

February 17 · Issue #73 · View online
Radical Urbanist
Hi urbanists,
This was a big week for tech backlash with Amazon leaving NYC and new revelations about Alphabet that could see it under fire very soon. There was also some confusion about California high-speed rail this week, so I wanted to clarify that and see what’s next for the project.
And, as always, there are a bunch of other great reads at the end.
Have a great Sunday.

Techlash goes urban
There’s no question that the backlash against the tech industry accelerated through 2018, with growing discontent over Amazon’s labor practices, Apple’s soaring prices, and Facebook’s clear disregard for its users privacy — among other things. But this backlash isn’t confined to the digital realm; it also has spatial consequences as residents push back against tech’s incursion into their public spaces, neighborhoods, and cities.
Last year, Stockholm successfully defeated an Apple Store and Melbourne seems poised to do the same; while Berlin’s Kreuzberg neighborhood fought off a Google office that would have accelerated gentrification. And the story doesn’t end there.
Earlier this week, Amazon confirmed it was canceling plans for its HQ2 in Queens after fierce opposition by activists in New York CityJ. David Goodman and Karen Weise described how the deal fell apart for the New York Times. They argued that NYC doesn’t need Amazon if that means having to pony up $3 billion in tax incentives and accept its anti-union practices, especially when it could accelerate gentrification and further push up rents and house prices. Google and Apple are expanding their NYC footprints, but aren’t going to the government for handouts. Jeff Andrews writes in Curbed this could be a turning point for corporate welfare, while Olympia Kazi and Samuel Stein position it in Jacobin as a blow to neoliberal urbanism.
FYI my dinky little bookstore pays more in federal taxes than Amazon. You know, the taxes that pay for our roads and firefighters and the nation's defense. Think about that next time you say, "oh I'll just buy it on Amazon."
The backlash against Amazon, however, won’t be the end. On Friday, Elizabeth Dwoskin broke a story in the Washington Post that Google reaped millions in tax breaks by using shell companies to hide its identity as it expanded its real estate holdings across the United States. Much more distressing was the revelation by Marco Chown Oved in the Toronto Star and Fatima Syed at the National Observer that Alphabet subsidiary Sidewalk Labs was planning a massive expansion in the scope of its project in Toronto — which has already been subject to major backlash.
Instead of limiting itself to the 12-acre Quayside plot, which is all that’s included in the existing agreement with Waterfront Toronto, Sidewalk Labs wants a hand in the 350-acre Portlands where it would work on expanding transit and housing, while expecting a cut of property taxes, development fees, and the increased land value. After it was revealed, politicians shot down the company’s oversized ambitions. David Skok writes in Maclean’s that it’s hard to see how the project can go forward from here, and Bianca Wylie dissected the spin by Sidewalk CEO Dan Doctoroff since it leaked.
Bianca Wylie
Powerful people think it's fine to subvert democracy because they'll be fine no matter what, and they think the end justifies the means. This is practicing selective politics. It happens from a place of safety and privilege.
CAHSR is (not) canceled
There was a lot of confusion on Wednesday when California Gov. Gavin Newsom gave his State of the State speech and the media framed his comments on high-speed rail as a significant reduction in the scope of the project. But that isn’t the case.
Newsom acknowledged the problems with the project, committed to building the Central Valley segment, and completing the environmental review on the full SF-to-LA plan. It looks like he may be hoping the Democrats retake control on the federal level in 2020, and that more funds for high-speed rail will follow.
However, this presents the opportunity to reassess the project and ensure the best route was actually chosen. For Slate, Henry Grabar wrote about the long line of terrible decisions made by the project’s management, which have contributed to skyrocketing costs. Alon Levy also looked at the project’s route and how this pause could provide an opportunity to reroute the connections to Los Angeles, San Francisco, and beyond. But, probably best of all, Jacob Bacharach made the best argument: “American infrastructure is this costly because of immense, endemic, universal public-private corruption … a system of tolerated kleptocracy that may be the only thing that America still does better than anyone else in the world.”
Peter Flax
Trying to put impact of LA-SF high-speed rail into perspective

A decade ago Madrid-Barcelona was busiest air route in Europe. Now high speed rail covers the 400-mi distance in 2.5hrs & 5 million people ride the train annually

Combined population of LA/SF is 10x Madrid/Barcelona
Around the world
“Inhabitants of the smart city are never just performing the digital labour of providing data, they are also ‘working’ to help test and debug the current version of the product.” — Kenneth Tay
Bikes and scooters
🚲 Amsterdam’s 9-year-old junior cycle mayor has plenty of ideas to make cycling easier for other kids
👋 Lime is getting rid of bikes. It will swap them out for scooters, and in cities where scooters aren’t allowed, it will cease operations.
🛴 With spring on the horizon, Bird and Lime are planning a rollout to at least 14 countries, including a number of Canadian cities
Trains and transit
🇳🇿 Could a Quebec pension fund, currently building Montreal’s REM, be about to get involved in Auckland’s proposed light rail?
🚌 Should transit be free? Service quality should be the priority, but congestion pricing could fund both.
🇪🇬 Egypt is planning high-speed rail, but the routes sound terrible. They bypass Cairo for the New Administrative Capital and a satellite city.
Cars and roads
📱 Uber says scooters and bikes are cannibalizing ride-hailing trips, but we need to focus more on its platform monopoly ambitions
📉 Uber lost $3.3 billion in 2018 and its revenue growth is slowing
🛣 U.S. cities don’t need more highways — they need congestion pricing
🚨 In 2017, an NHTSA report claimed Tesla’s Autosteer reduced crashes by 40%. Last year, it distanced itself from the findings. After a legal battle, the raw data is out on the flawed study: Autosteer actually increased crashes by 59%. I bet we won’t see Elon Musk correcting the record.
Buildings and homes
💔 Welbeck Street car park, a beautiful brutalist building in London, is slated for demolition
Why do new apartment buildings all look the same? They’re built with stick framing, which makes them much cheaper than using concrete or steel.
🇦🇪 Dubai’s plans for a new supertall skyscraper: Burj Jumeira will be 550 meters (1,804 ft) tall, rising from a lake shaped like the leader’s fingerprint
Other great reads
🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 Edinburgh is bringing in a tourist tax, and more U.K. cities could follow
🛑 Richard Florida keeps pushing U.S. urbanism as a global model, despite its cities being in crisis
⚡️ Many communities in the Canadian North are powered by diesel, but there’s a growing push to adopt renewable alternatives
🏳️‍🌈 Comic: Where can you go in Bucharest to kiss your same-sex partner without feeling weird?
🐈 Cat ladders make urban life easier for our feline friends
Inside China's High-Tech Dystopia
✊️❤️ Thanks for reading. You can follow me on TwitterMedium, or Instagram for even more!
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