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✊🏙 Urban heat is a growing problem 🔥 Vienna named “most liveable city” 🏆 Are e-scooters a safety threat? 🛴

Hey urbanists, This issue's a long one, but I think you'll like it! First we look at urban heat, and
August 19 · Issue #47 · View online
Radical Urbanist
Hey urbanists,
This issue’s a long one, but I think you’ll like it! First we look at urban heat, and the difference between the claims of climate “skeptics” and what we really need to be concerned with. Then we turn to the “most liveable city” contest, which Vienna has won this year. Finally, we take a quick look at whether e-scooters are a safety concern.
As usual, you’ll find a bunch of other great reads at the end, and a video about how blockchain and Bitcoin enthusiasts are trying to impose their ideology on the people of Puerto Rico. 😬
Before closing, a big welcome to all the new subscribers! If you like the newsletter, I welcome you to share it with a few friends you think might enjoy it as well.
Have a great Sunday!

AC won't solve the urban heat problem
Last week, I watched a panel discussion on Al Jazeera’s Inside Story about this summer’s record heat waves. Everything seemed fine, until they announced the third guest: Bjorn Lomborg.
If you’re not familiar with your climate “skeptics,” Lomborg isn’t exactly a denier, he just pushes for people to largely ignore mitigation to focus on adaptation — for example, the message he kept pushing in the discussion was that shifting away from fossil fuels is too expensive and we need to invest significantly in air conditioning instead.
Having recently watched the panel, I was then concerned to see a big focus on heat and air conditioning in the Guardian this week, but luckily they didn’t adopt Lomborg’s point of view, pointing out the link between heat and inequality. As a piece on addressing urban heat islands put it,
A typical response on a hot day might be to turn up the aircon. But this fuels a vicious circle of heating the outdoors to cool the indoors, making external spaces more uncomfortable still, and at a significant cost.
It’s actually quite a good piece with a number of suggestions on how to reduce heat sinks in urban centers.
If anything, the Guardian’s series is a critique of the idea pushed by Lomborg that we need more air conditioning, not to actually tackle climate change head on. Another piece in the series details how air conditioning has had a negative effect on architecture, causing us to ignore traditional techniques to regulate heat because we can rely on air conditioning instead.
Environmentally speaking, air conditioning is anti-social. It buys its owner comfort at the cost of shifting the surplus heat somewhere else, on to surrounding streets and ultimately into the atmosphere of the planet.
Strict planning regulations which require heat to be considered in new buildings is presented as a solution, with the recognition that “[a]ir conditioning is costly to install, and costly to run.” Australia’s bushfire season now begins in winter, in part because sprawl is causing more construction in areas which are prone to fires — a short-sighted effort to expand the housing stock.
Heat is a very important consideration, particularly in major cities which can trap heat and be much warmer than their surrounding areas. However, simply ascribing more air conditioning is not the solution. Rather, we need much more significant changes in how we build, and we do need to rapidly get off fossil fuels.
Vienna named most liveable city
The Economist put out its annual ranking of the world’s most liveable cities, and Vienna nabbed the top spot from Melbourne, while Canadian and Australia cities took six of the top ten spots.
However, as I usually do when I see these lists, I can’t help but ask “most liveable for whom?” because the cities that dominate the list are incredibly expensive, including for locals, and are among those which typically feature in stories about outrageously expensive and limited housing. Vienna is well-known in urbanist circles for its social housing which accommodates many types of people — not just the poor — but that doesn’t mean it isn’t an expensive city.
Looking at my home, Canada, a number of things stand out. I love Vancouver, but it has higher housing costs than Toronto, yet has a significantly lower average wage; Montreal is still quite affordable but isn’t in the top 10 (I didn’t pay the outrageous sum for the report, so can’t tell you where it stands); and it still boggles my mind how Calgary makes it onto these lists.
It’s worth noting that among the factors considered by the Economist are access and quality of private education and healthcare, which will play a role in skewing the ranking.
One thing we can say, at least, is that some Melburnians are pretty happy to give up the title.
Are e-scooters a safety concern?
On Friday, CNN published an op-ed from a physician claiming that e-scooters are causing a major safety crisis on city streets — a massive exaggeration if I even saw one.
He provides one anecdote about someone getting hurt while using a scooter — the user was hit by a car, but the author didn’t bother blaming the driver — and claims that doctors are reporting an increase in e-scooter-related injuries — which is to be expected when hardly anyone was using them a year ago.
The critique of rolling out the service without consulting city governments isn’t one I would argue with — I’ve made it myself — but the physician details how cities are already implementing or preparing regulations to deal with the problems the scooters are causing, leaving me to wonder why he’s being so alarmist.
Instead of a legitimate warning, the op-ed seems like a massive overreaction to change. The physician lets cars off the hook, while acting as if scooters are a massive danger — but they aren’t. Sure, they have some issues that need to be addressed, but that’s already happening.
Streetsblog has a much better take: “the hyperventilating about e-scooters obscures an important fact: Cities must focus safety efforts on drivers, who kill and injure urban residents at numbers that are hundreds if not thousands of times higher than the supposed danger of e-scooter users.”
Other great reads
❌ Self-driving cars can’t detect pedestrians. Now the tech’s boosters are adopting the auto industry’s “jaywalker” strategy.
🚕 Taxi strikes in Spain shut down the main thoroughfares of Barcelona and Madrid to oppose licenses for Uber drivers
🏗 Neoliberalism starved governments of infrastructure funding. The Genoa bridge collapse is yet another tragic consequence.
🥈 In 1991, United Airlines chose a city for its new maintenance facility, but the real winner was the runner-up. Will the same happen with Amazon’s HQ2?
🇦🇺 New Melbourne tower would be tallest in Australia — but only if the state will override planning regulations
💸 Trump’s FTA is withholding $1.4 billion in transit funding
🗳 Toronto’s former chief planner is running for mayor, but so far her campaign isn’t hitting the right notes
🤔 Uber & Lyft “agree” to new tax in San Francisco — but why should the city seek the approval of the companies?
🇳🇿 New Zealand has banned foreigners from buying houses
By Paris: Climate-related mental health issues will become more common as extreme weather events increase and action isn’t taken.
Crypto investors want to build their “utopia” in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, but locals worry they're simply bringing a new form of colonialism.
✊️❤️ Thanks for reading, and feel free to follow me on TwitterMedium, or Instagram for even more!
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