✊🏙 Berlin’s radical housing measures; Silicon Valley dystopia; public MaaS app; Hudson Yards; Auckland scooter ban; high-speed rail; & more!





Subscribe to our newsletter

By subscribing, you agree with Revue’s Terms of Service and Privacy Policy and understand that Radical Urbanist will receive your email address.

February 24 · Issue #74 · View online
Radical Urbanist
Hey urbanists,
Radical Urbanist soared passed 500 subscribers, and should hit 520 in the next few days. If you’re a new subscriber, thanks and welcome!
This is a long issue, but I think you’ll like it. I start with a look at the radical proposals under consideration in Berlin to address its growing housing affordability crisis, then shift to the increasingly dystopian conditions in the Bay Area resulting from its lack of action on that very issue.
Then, stories from around the world. I really liked the pieces on Berlin’s Jelbi app and Hudson Yards, but was frustrated by the new details how on Obama’s Presidential Library is breaking with about 80 years of tradition.
Have a great Sunday!

Berlin steps up housing action
While cities in North America debate whether to give more tax breaks to private developers or add low inclusionary zoning provisions, their European counterparts are taking much more significant action to preserve affordable rents and increase the proportion of public housing.
In issue 70, I explained why more public housing is necessary, and in issue 71 I highlighted Paris’ recent success in public-housing provision. But Berlin presents another good case to look at. Rents have recently been increasing, and Feargus O’Sullivan wrote a great piece about the response by citizen activists and various levels of government for CityLab.
Among the initiatives being considered are a ban on landlords with more than 3,000 units, a plan to transfer units from private to public ownership, and a possible five-year freeze on rent increases. Like in many cities, Berlin sold off a lot of its public housing in previous decades, but that’s being reversed in the midst of the growing affordability crisis.
The spark came in autumn 2018, when rental tenants of 680 apartments on East Berlin’s Karl Marx Allee discovered that their homes were to be sold to a major rental company called Deutsche Wohnen. […] Deutsche Wohnen owns 110,000 apartments in Berlin, and has developed a reputation for raising rents sharply by finding loopholes in Germany’s fairly strict rental laws. In the meantime, the firm invests almost half as much as state housing companies do to keep its homes in good condition. […] Tenants decided to fight, insisting that the city or borough should do something to stop the sale and ensure that their rents stayed within reasonable limits. […] This month, Berlin’s senate said it would step in and buy three buildings, amounting to 316 apartments. Meanwhile, the local borough of Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg would buy a fourth building containing 80 apartments, meaning the majority of flats for sale will be converted to public ownership.
Many of the units owned by Deutsche Wohnen were once public housing, and last month Berlin’s mayor promised to buy back 50,000 of them. That number could rise as the proposal to ban large landlords moves forward.
I recommend reading O’Sullivan’s full piece. It’s great to see what Berlin is doing to combat its affordability crisis, especially in comparison to the milquetoast policies of many North American cities. Another stat to consider when thinking of the German context is its comparatively low rate of homeownership, which may create an even bigger constituency for these proposals. That doesn’t, however, mean serious action isn’t possible in North America, especially given how the percentage of renters is rising.
Silicon Dystopia
A new report looks at the growing divide in the Bay Area and how frankly dystopian the region has become. Average earnings in Silicon Valley hit $140,000 in 2018, compared to $68,000 in the whole of the United States, but that’s not necessarily allowing a better quality-of-life; the government considers a family of four earning $117,400 to be low-income.
The degree of gender inequality is also shocking: men with bachelor’s degrees earn 43% more than women with the same level of education, and only 20% of workers at Silicon Valley’s biggest companies are women. The cost of childcare has risen by 52% since 2012 — notable because the task of raising children still unfairly falls to mothers — and the number of reported rapes jumped 25% from 2016 to 2017.
It should come as no surprise that people are fleeing the region as a result. The report notes people are moving to Austin and Seattle, but there is another group moving to the greater Sacramento area or to San Joaquin county in search of cheaper houses then commuting to the Bay Area.
Erin Baldassari reports for the Mercury News how the northern part of California’s Central Valley is essentially becoming a suburb of the Bay Area, creating a new megaregion where commutes can exceed an hour and a half each way as people travel 60 to 120 miles (100-200 km) to get to their jobs. It saves them money and is revitalizing (and likely gentrifying) some of the communities where they’re heading, but at what cost in time and health?
And what about the companies themselves? A new report this week revealed that “Amazon, Google, and Microsoft have all struck lucrative arrangements—collectively worth billions of dollars—to provide automation, cloud, and AI services to some of the world’s biggest oil companies, and they are actively pursuing more.” Despite touting warehouses powered by renewable energy, Big Tech looked at the IPCC’s report on how we need to slash emissions by 2030 and decided to help big oil companies reduce their costs because profit. I’m beyond fed up with these companies, but as Kashmir Hill recently showed for Gizmodo, they’re pretty much impossible to escape.
Existential Comics
The focus on CEO salaries when talking about wealth disparity obfuscates how wealth is generated. No one becomes a billionaire from the salary they draw from working. The billionaires are the people paying the salary, and they get it from owning stuff.
Around the world
📱 Berlin public-transit provider BVG’s new Jelbi app will bring together transit, ridehail, bikeshare, scooters, taxis, carsharing, and carpooling. It will be the “Amazon for transportation” — exactly as I’ve been calling for.
Bikes and scooters
🛴 Kiwis embraced scooters, but Auckland has issued a temporary ban over safety. 155 cases of wheel-locking have been reported, injuring 30 people. Since October, ACC has paid NZ$566,405 for over 1,200 injury claims.
🚲 Dockless bikes are retreating from Britain, but in Sheffield they caused docked bikeshare to be removed and it won’t be returning after they leave
💸 U.S. states could lose $1 billion in federal funding for bike and pedestrian infrastructure because they’re not spending it quick enough
High-speed trains
🤦‍♀️ Trump admin is canceling $929 million in remaining funding for California HSR; will seek legal avenue for return of already spent $2.6 billion
🇲🇽 Mexico’s left-wing president promises Mayan Train will promote tourism, but locals are worried about environmental, cultural, and archaeological impacts
🇮🇳 India’s semi-high-speed train malfunctioned on its inaugural Delhi-to-Varanasi trip, and PM Narenda Modi got angry at those who mocked it
Current Affairs
If you look for "climate change books" on Amazon, the first result is a book about why climate change is a hoax. The ability to buy your way to the top of search rankings leads people to believe nonsense. Thanks @amazon! https://t.co/G5fsXY67Cw
Troubling developments
😠 Obama’s Presidential Library won’t have a research library or records, and it will be run by the Obama Foundation instead of the federal agency usually in charge. Those breaks with the past have some people worried.
🛑 Sidewalk Labs and Waterfront Toronto “have weaponized ambiguity throughout this process” — Bianca Wylie
Hudson Yards, NYC: “The confluence of history, politics, and money has yielded an acropolis of global capitalism, an elevated monumental complex that will endure long after the faith has been forgotten.”
Social harm
🔥 After the Chinese ban on recyclable imports, many U.S. cities are burning plastic, creating toxic pollution in poor neighborhoods near incinerators
☠️ In the U.S., pedestrian deaths are increasing: even though more people are walking and cycling, roads are still dominated by fast-driving cars
🍺 After heavy industry left, Britain’s post-industrial cities turned to alcohol and the night-time economy, but that’s produced significant social harm
🇰🇷 Seoul will soon demolish its manufacturing heart — home to 10,000 shops and 50,000 tradespeople — to build more offices and apartments
😞 Business improvement districts make life a living hell for homeless people. Should they have the power of displacement?
Other great reads
🦂 Yellow scorpions are invading Brazilian cities and officials are failing to respond. Scorpion stings rose from 12,000 in 2000 to 140,000 in 2018.
🏗 Seattle is still building a ton of apartments — half of those in the center city were built in the past decade — but rents are still creeping up
🇮🇶 Pictures: Baghdad’s hipsters are sporting “gravity-defying quiffs.”
🇭🇰 Like stairs? Hong Kong has you covered.
The Bus. From GO. The GO Bus. #GOxAutoShow
✊️❤️ Thanks for reading. You can follow me on TwitterMedium, or Instagram for even more!
Did you enjoy this issue?
In order to unsubscribe, click here.
If you were forwarded this newsletter and you like it, you can subscribe here.
Powered by Revue