Barcelona’s Car-Free Experiment, the Upside of Lending Club, and the Secret History of Bay Area…


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Barcelona’s Car-Free Experiment
 There’s no one way to turn a city away from cars. In one of the most fascinating experiments we’ve seen so far, Barcelona will use an area of the city as a prototype “superblock,” (Guardian) a neighborhood that auto traffic will be routed around. The test area will be in the Eixample district, which has a famous gridded design and officials believe is the right place to start. The city has ambitious goals: a 21% decrease in traffic intended to counter some dire statistics, like 3,500 premature deaths each year associated with air pollution. It’s a case of a city using the idiosyncracies of its own design to make positive change.

Why Uber and Apple Won’t Save The Economy
 In his weekly column, NewCo editor in chief John Battelle speaks with TIME’s Rana Foroohar about her new, deeply reported new book, Makers and Takers, which takes direct aim at the financial industry and calls for a new compact between business and society.

The Upside of Lending Club
 Lending Club is in trouble for being another unicorn that tried to maintain its status by skirting the rules, but in the midst of its problems it’s worth acknowledging the value of what it offers. In a New York Times op-ed, UC Berkeley law professor Steven Davidoff Solomon argues that connecting small borrowers with individual and institutional investors opened new ways for consumers and small businesses to get lower-cost credit and for lenders to still profit off those reasonable rates. What happened at Lending Club deserves more scrutiny, Solomon says, but “peer-to-peer lending seems to be more good for consumers than bad.” It’s a broad, sober take at a time when much of the immediate analysis focuses more on damning an entire sector than evaluating one company’s bad choices.

The Secret History of Bay Area Housing
 Michael Anderson tells the story of Eric Fischer, who transcribed 30 years of San Francisco for-rent ads. What he came up with is a secret history of housing prices in the Bay Area. Fischer’s work is outstanding — it shows what causes high prices (availability of good jobs), what doesn’t (rent control), and what can be done to tamp it down for good (you don’t want it to happen). The lesson Anderson draws from Fischer’s research: build, baby, build.

The World Bank: Words Matter
 The language we use to talk about something speaks loudly about how we think about that thing. So it’s important that the the World Bank is eliminating the term “developing country” from its data vocabulary (Quartz). The term always had a wobbly definition, and the change doesn’t mean that there aren’t countries with mature economies and those who are still revving theirs up. Of course that’s true. But changing the terminology reflects both the success of some development efforts (particularly around infant mortality and fertility) and the great heterogeneity among countries identified as developing. “Malaysia is more like the US than Malawi,” according to a senior economist in the World Bank’s statistics office. “When we lump disparate countries together in the same group, it isn’t really useful.”

Waze To Organize Carpools
 Google will soon begin testing a new carpooling service. Waze, the Google-owned traffic navigation app, said this week that more than 25,000 employees at select Bay Area companies will be able to use a service that lets them hitch a ride with Waze drivers (Los Angeles Times). Waze tried hard to tamp down any talk that the company was planning to compete with Uber or Lyft, emphasizing that it was only a pilot with a minimal financial component: riders don’t pay and drivers don’t get paid except for reimbursement of gasoline costs. It feels like an experiment, sure, but Google has a rich history of experimenting with unpublicized goals in mind. For now, at least, any attempt to reduce the number of cars on the road in a clogged urban area is welcome.

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