Big Tech's Growing Imprint on Urban Life

Examples like Elon Musk's subway plan in Chicago, app-driven electric scooters littering sidewalks, and Amazon's general preponderance may point to a tech-dominated urban future. But are localities ceding too much power to the private sector?

1 minute read

July 8, 2018, 5:00 AM PDT

By Philip Rojc @PhilipRojc


Electric Scooters

Karl_Sonnenberg / Shutterstock

Farhad Manjoo takes cities to task for allowing tech firms like Uber, Amazon, and, more recently, Bird, to steamroll in and essentially disrupt the civic processes that restrict everyone else from doing what they please with urban space.

Federal and state authorities, Manjoo says, haven't stepped up to confront housing shortages and infrastructural problems. That gives tech firms an opening to court public opinion. At the same time, online media increasingly drives public attention toward national issues at the expense of local ones.

"One reason tech companies can command greater say in local issues is that many other local institutions, from small businesses to local newspapers, have lost much of their influence — thanks, in large part, to the internet."

The case can be made that tech-driven transport alternatives are a boon for cities. Take the ridesharing explosion, alternative modes like electric scooters, or even projects like Elon Musk's Loop in Chicago. But as Manjoo writes about companies like Bird, "the real problem is that they just appeared out of nowhere one day, suddenly seizing the sidewalks, and many citizens felt they had no real agency in the decision."

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