Jack White’s Cass Corridor storefront plugs into a growing maker movement in Detroit.
Jack White’s Third Man Records is a perfect example of a business deeply embedded in its community. Even though the record company’s first retail store opened in Nashville in March 2009, the business began in 2001 in Detroit, where White was born, raised, and formed his most famous band, The White Stripes. Last year Third Man opened a flagship location next to Shinola in Detroit’s Cass Corridor section, site of much rock’n’roll history in the Motor City. It’s quite the multipurpose site: record store, novelties lounge, performance stage, old-fashioned recording booth, and – coming soon – a vinyl pressing plant.
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.
Cities are changing, but our expectations of what cities can do for us might not be changing so much. Planet Money founder Adam Davidson’s New York Times Magazine essay shares what is now a quaint story: the author’s ancestors moved a century ago to the central Massachusetts city and worked their way to the middle class and beyond. Davidson’s great-great-grandfather started as a fruit vendor and tonic salesman, selling to fellow immigrants who worked in factories. Each generation built on the previous one’s successes: the fruit vendor’s children worked as stenographers and bookkeepers; their children in turn became lawyers, accountants, and executives. Davidson acknowledges that manufacturing center “Worcester wasn’t anybody’s first choice,” but it was “an engine of betterment,” a place where reasonable dignity was reasonably possible — and a place with a way out. Despite today’s “dead industry and collapsing buildings,” Worcester still attracts those priced out from popular coastal cities. And the story ends with a beautiful line from Ahmed Yusef, an Iraqi immigrant who put down roots in Worcester and sees it as a place to build a better life. “You like Worcester,” Davidson says to him. “No,” Yusef responds. “Not like. Love. I love it. I have a future. New York is for dreams. Worcester is for working.” Working and dreaming, another generation enters the city …
Copenhagen Finds The True Cost of Cars It’s difficult–but important–to consider all the costs involved when you’re making a business or policy decision, which makes this report on how Copenhagen is using data to move from cars to bikes (Fast Company) so heartening. When the city makes basic decisions about transportation, it doesn’t just compare the cost of a bikeway to a road for cars, it also includes “the cost of road accidents to society, the impact of car pollution on health, and the cost of carbon emitted to the atmosphere.” As researcher Stefan Gössling from Lund University notes, “If we want people to cycle, then we have to change our approach towards urban infrastructure. Cyclists will only cycle in large numbers when they feel physically safe and when it’s fast.”
The Tech-Government Revolving Door There are plenty of high-profile examples of companies challenging governments (most recently Apple and Microsoft), but how can tech truly challenge government when the two are connected by a revolving door? In The Guardian, Danny Yadron traces the Valley’s long and close relationship with the U.S. government and how some are thinking differently about it now that Twitter has hired Kathy Chen, once an engineer for the People’s Liberation Army, to run ad sales and bizdev in China. It’s complicated, of course — you do recall that Twitter is currently banned in China if you don’t have a VPN? But it’s a reminder of how inextricable tech and government, in particular the military part of government, have become.
The Truth Beneath Our Cities If you want to understand a city, dig into its sewage. That’s what researchers at MIT’s Senseable City Lab do, turning sewage into data that reveals multitudes about a city’s health and more. The Senseable Lab is best-known for its work above ground, showing that NYC cab rides could go multipassenger and cumulative trip length would still go down. But the Lab thinks it can learn even more about how cities work by using robots to sift through human sewage. As The Guardian notes, “analyzing a city’s wastewater could allow outbreaks to be anticipated, antibiotic resistance to be mapped, and public health interventions to be monitored in almost real time.” The Lab started investigating the sewers of its hometown Cambridge, Mass.; it has a $4 million grant to go below Kuwait City later this year.
More Banking, But Fewer Bankers It’s a bit late for Citigroup to release a report called Digital Disruption (PDF), but its projections are significant: the U.S. financial industry, already down 300,000 jobs from its pre-crisis peak of 2.9 million, will lose another 800,000 by 2025. It’s even worse for European banks. If you look deeper in the report, though, it’s a loss but it’s also a shift: the report’s authors point to the rise of fintech startups as the primary driver. There will certainly be job losses, but plenty of people will still be working in the banking industry, just not as many for the incumbent banks. What the Citigroup report mourns is the shift of power more than the absolute numbers.
Take Me to the River Urban planning can do bad things to communities. For example, some New York suburbs feature low bridges intended to keep out busses and the poor people who ride them. And, The Nation reports, the revitalization of Los Angeles’s neglected 51-mile riverfront “has gone from social-justice crusade to money-soaked land grab.” Will the Los Angeles River Become a Playground for the Rich? answers its own question with a resounding “It’s already happening.” Reclaiming the riverfront is a beautiful and beautifying idea, but according to this report, it’s happening in a top-down fashion that threatens to upend communities closest to the gentrifying area. There’s still time to get it right, and the Mayor’s office has already reacted to community pressure by hiring consultants to help them give affected communities “a sense of ownership” in the project, but more than “a sense” is required when projects of this scope are considered.
Managing the Risk of Innovation If necessity is the mother of invention, could the father be … insurance? The romantic conventional wisdom about innovation is that it’s more likely when you’ve got your back to the wall, but Robert J. Shiller, in How Wage Insurance Could Spur Innovation(NYT), argues that wage insurance, now focused on Americans who have lost their jobs to foreign workers, should be expanded and could help “spur innovation in the economy.” Shiller continues: “Rational people would want to pay for this benefit so that they could take promising but risky employment opportunities.” There are potential downsides (moral hazard, anyone?) but there are many, many people stuck in BigCos who are afraid to take a risk. This might even the playing field and let these people loose. And before you argue, let’s remember that Shiller’s a Nobel Laureate who called two of the last two downturns — and we’re not.
Most accelerators have a set date range (typically a few months) and workspace, trade funding for equity, offer mentorship, and end with a Demo Day. It’s an intense process intended to speed the learning and funding curve for entrepreneurs.
Last summer a City Council-appointed committee in Los Angeles ruled that tiny homes are illegal on public or private land in LA and can be destroyed by public works officials. One city councilman went so far as to call them doghouses. Despite that, GoFundMe campaigns by a man named Elvis to build more such homes have raised more than $100,000 in the last 10 months.
The tiny home movement started in LA in the 1990s as a way for people to live a simpler lives but it’s now being touted as a way to curb homelessness. These homes typically lack running water and electricity but they offer a roof and place to sleep and store personal items.
When Elon Musk dropped a 57-page proposal for Hyperloop, a new kind of transportation system, in 2013, some thought his concept was a great idea. They just didn’t think it would ever happen. Hyperloop utilizes pods to transport people or cargo in a low-pressure tube, which cuts down on friction, at nearly the speed of sound. It’s unaffected by weather. There are no direct carbon emissions. It’s fast. Musk didn’t have time to build it on his own and open-sourced it, hoping someone else might pursue it. Turns out, Hyperloop Technologies Inc. (HTI) is building it right now. The first pieces of HTI’s test tracks are already resting on desert floor 30 miles north of Las Vegas. HTI maintains it will complete its first “full system, full scale, full speed test” by the end of this year.
Musk proposed Hyperloop, in part, because of his disappointment in California State’s plan to build a “high-speed” rail system for $68.4 billion. “If we are to make a massive investment in a new transportation system,” he wrote, “then the return should by rights be equally massive.” Founded in 2014, HTI came out of “stealth mode” in 2015. Uber backer Shervin Pishevar is the company’s co-founder and executive chairman. His Sherpa Ventures fund led Hyperloop Technologies’ $11.1 million Series A. Pishevar is reportedly to thank for Musk revealing Hyperloop in the first place. Former SpaceX engineer Brogan BamBrogan, also a co-founder, began as CEO, but moved to CTO after the company hired former Cisco president Rob Lloyd in 2015. Although HTI is building tracks, the project remains a “multi-decade effort and movement.” Challenges include massive infrastructure projects, land rights, funding, and convincing lawmakers it’s safe.