At CityLab, The Atlantic’s sibling site, we write about people in cities and other urban spaces who are trying to build a better present, as well as better futures. In today’s Books Briefing, we’re highlighting books that reveal what happens when these efforts go wrong. To use a trite but always resonant aphorism about literature: Truth can be stranger than fiction. The seeds that could grow into the dystopias of tomorrow are being planted right now.
San Francisco is fertile land for such parables. Super Pumped, by Mike Isaac, traces how one little company called Uber, led by a flawed founder, pledged to disrupt urban transportation—and ended up trampling on city policy, abetting corporate malfeasance, and draining public-transit ridership. In Uberland, the tech ethnographer Alex Rosenblat further unravels how Uber’s promise to reshape the nature of work has created a gig economy made of disenfranchised and surveilled people.
In Generation Priced Out: Who Gets to Live in the New Urban America, Randy Shaw zooms out to the hills and valleys of the city where Uber and other tech companies were born, and argues that, in hoarding land and enforcing strict zoning codes, suburban Boomers have teed up a future in which few others can afford to live. Radical Suburbs, by CityLab’s Amanda Kolson Hurley, works to dispel the narrative that’s been built around suburbs—that they’re cookie-cutter, homogenous, and sprawling. The legacy of these particular experimental communities failed to live on, but some of their core ideals could still be revived.