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✊🏙 Build more public housing; scooters as a public service; Uber killing transit; LGBTQ cities; EVs; socialist utopia; & more!

January 27 · Issue #70 · View online
Radical Urbanist
Hey urbanists,
This week I’m diving into how government disinvestment from public housing is partially responsible for our housing crises and asking whether the micromobility model will work long-term.
Plus, a lot of great stories near the end, including how the founder of Gillette wanted to build a socialist utopia, a new study quantifies Uber’s negative impact on transit, and the head of the IEA says EVs aren’t going to save us.
Finally, I’ll be at the Micromobility conference in the Bay Area this week, so feel free to say hello if you’re attending, and I’ll have a recap next week.
Have a great Sunday!

Cutting funding for public housing was a terrible idea
Across the Western world, the neoliberal period brought a disinvestment from public housing, resulting in far fewer truly affordable units being added to the housing stock, while governments asserted that private developers would meet the demand for housing. Several decades later, cities in Europe, North America, Australia, and beyond are crippled by housing crises caused by a shortage of units and soaring home prices and rents. The decision of governments to slash funding for public housing, and in some cases even sell it off, has proven to be a terrible decision.
In Canada, a recent report about the situation in Toronto was particularly dire: as rents have soared, people lost their homes, creating a homelessness crisis where shelters are full, services are underfunded, and more than 100 homeless people are dying in the streets every year. Scenes like this are repeated across many cities in the Western world, and the story lays blame at the feet of governments:
Between 1965 and 1995, an average of 3,900 units of social housing were built each year in what’s now the [Greater Toronto Area]. One of every eight new houses or apartments was subsidized. In 1993, the federal government cut funding for the provincial and municipal NGOs that built this housing. The Chrétien Liberals delegated responsibility for overseeing and maintaining existing social housing to the provinces, and Mike Harris’s Conservatives passed those responsibilities on to the municipalities. In 1997, for the first time in nearly 50 years, no social housing was built in Ontario. In the years since, new social housing programs have emerged, but only at a fraction of the scale of what once existed. Today, on average, 500 units of social housing are built in the city each year.
But Canada isn’t the only country facing these problems. In the United Kingdom, Margaret Thatcher slashed funding for council housing and implemented “Right to Buy,” a scheme to sell off council houses and expand home ownership. 42% of the homes sold off under the scheme in London are now in the private rental sector and councils pay £22 million per year renting back council houses they were forced to sell in order to house low-income people. The Tories promised that private developers would build more as council housing declined — but they didn’t, and when they do, the new units are often targeted at the high-end luxury market of people buying expensive condos as investments that they might not even live in. It’s not just that the number of units being built decreased, but more and more units don’t even have people living in them; they’re investments, not homes.
Source: “Rethinking the Economics of Land and Housing,” ZED Books
Source: “Rethinking the Economics of Land and Housing,” ZED Books
Finally, in the United States, there are approximately 1.1 million public housing units, with about 250,000 having been lost since the mid-1990s. Along with slashing funding for public housing, Ronald Reagan’s 1986 tax reform slashed the top marginal income tax rate from 50% to 38%, and to help pay for it he got rid of an important subsidy for apartment construction. But the problem began when Richard Nixon put a moratorium on new public housing in 1973, and was made worse when Bill Clinton signed the Faircloth Limit to cap public housing at 1999 levels — and don’t get me started on HOPE VI. Meanwhile, national housing construction only returned to 1980 levels (when the population was 25% smaller) in 2015, but about 40% of new units now fall in the luxury category and efforts to promote private “affordable housing” are simply not working. For example, a hedge fund tycoon recently bought a Manhattan penthouse for $238 million — the most expensive real estate transaction in US history — and it was only possible after the landlord evicted dozens of middle-class people living in rent-stabilized units.
Governments need to start reinvesting in the mass construction of public housing to meet the housing needs of the population and actually provide good homes for everyone to live in — because private developers certainly aren’t interested in housing people who don’t generate large profits.
Source: People’s Policy Project
Source: People’s Policy Project
Does private micromobility make sense?
Dockless bikes and scooters are generating a lot of hype (along with some backlash) and making it easier for people to try motorized active transport — which could lead them to embrace active mobility to replace car trips. But what’s best for cities can’t get lost in the hype; we need to ask whether VC-backed private services are what our cities need and what residents want.
Monthly cost of various transportation options in SF (avg 3 trips/day)

1. Walk: $0
2. GoBike: $13-15+
3. Bike: $30
4. Muni: $78
5. JUMP bike: $180++
5. E-Scooter: $270+++
6. Scoot: $290++
7. Lyft Line: $500-900+
8. Car: $770 + parking

(+ : cost up w/ longer durations)
There are growing questions about the business models of these services — scooter that last mere weeks, but take months to recoup their costs — while a few months of using them regularly would cost as much as buying a scooter or e-bike outright. Given the billions of dollars being funnelled into these private services, maybe the government should simply subsidize e-bikes as an initiative to get people out of cars?
Wendy Liu recently wrote about scooters from a socialist perspective, arguing that they could make a great free public service provided at the municipal level, but in order to do so, some other aspects of our society would have to change. I’m intrigued by the idea of scooters becoming part of public bikeshare, potentially with a hybrid docked/dockless model, so Liu’s piece gave me some things to think about.
As 2019 progresses, micromobility services will continue to grow, which is why we need to consider whether they’re ultimately serving the public good. We can’t allow them to steamroll into cities and only find they’re not bringing the benefits they promised too late, as happened with Uber — and Uber’s push into bikes and scooters should be accompanied with a more critical appraisal of the services. Luckily, if they don’t to fit into the larger mobility plan, they’re much easier to get rid of than Uber.
Asher 🚶🏰🔰
Bird scooter trips per day (from @ido_co): ~2k per day, Tel Aviv (metro = ~40-50% of Israel population)
Electric scooters sold to date: ~40k in Israel

Wait why are Israelis buying scooters for $500 when they can pay $3 a mile? :P
Around the world
🏳️‍🌈 Cities around the world have vibrant LGBTQ communities — even in places you might not expect — but there are still significant challenges
💵 As congestion pricing gets a renewed push in NYC, LA Metro is working on its own congestion pricing plan with several different proposals
🇬🇧 What would Buckingham Palace look like if it was turned into communal housing? (They can abolish the monarchy while they’re at it.)
🇦🇺 Australian state of Victoria pushed to adopt ambitious climate targets
🛢 EVs are not the silver bullet: IEA chief says oil demand will increase by 1.3 million barrels/day in 2019, driven by trucks, planes, & petrochemicals.
💁‍♀️ The closure of a Seattle highway that carried 90,000 vehicles/day was deemed “Viadoom,” but it actually wasn’t a problem: the cars “disappeared”
🛴 Study on scooter injuries doesn’t provide conclusive answers; 249 scooter users treated, compared to 195 bicyclists and 181 pedestrians
🙌 In 1894, the founder of Gillette proposed building a money-free socialist utopia near Niagara Falls to house everyone in North America
📉 Study confirms Uber and Lyft have a cumulative negative impact on transit ridership: rail drops 1.2%, buses by 1.7%. Researchers estimate Uber and Lyft have have a negative 12.7% effect on San Francisco bus ridership.
🇨🇳 Wuhan, China experiences bad flooding because it paved over most of its lakes; now the government wants to turn it into a “sponge city
🇧🇷 Fascist Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro tells Davos he cares about the environment despite plans to open the Amazon up to further deforestation
🇯🇵 Tokyo’s plan to reduce metro overcrowding? Free food for off-peak travel, but only if enough people participate.
🇪🇸Can Spain’s street stalls maintain their social role in the face of a tourism boom and lower newspaper sales?
🚆 Japan’s experiences shows that California high-speed rail could help push down house prices
🇪🇬 Egypt’s strongman president orders all apartment buildings must be painted uniform colors depending on their location
🇩🇰 Denmark is allowing e-scooters and hoverboards in its bike lanes — and not everyone’s happy about it
🇻🇳 Historic buildings in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam are being demolished in the name of progress, and many are sad their history is being erased
🚇 Fascinating comparison of Soviet and Western transit planning
🖥 How Geocities used narratives of settler colonialism and suburbanization to build out its neighborhoods in cyberspace
Apr 11, 1896 - High Street in Marseille, France (speed corrected w/ added sound)
✊️❤️ Thanks for reading. You can follow me on TwitterMedium, or Instagram for even more!
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