Molly Turner is an urban planner who teaches urban innovation at the Berkeley Haas School of Business. She was the first policy person at Airbnb.
In Episode 1 of our new podcast, we ask: Why did investors pour so much money into urban tech? And is all that venture capital good for the people in cities?
Remember when we had to ask strangers for directions? It’s hard to believe the iPhone launched just over 10 years ago. It’s not a coincidence that startups like Uber and Waze launched shortly thereafter. In the last decade, smartphones unleashed thousands of apps that have disrupted not only incumbent industries, but also our city streets. They’ve delivered everything to our doorstep so we never have to go to a store, turned spare rooms into hotel rooms, and pulled some urban-dwellers out of cars and subways and onto scooters. Steve Jobs may not have imagined just how important apps that rely on smartphone technology would become to urban life, but did the people who invested in them?
Billions of dollars have been poured into the startups behind these apps. Didi Chuxing raised $20.6 billion, Uber $22.4 billion, and Lyft $4.9 billion, according to the latest numbers from Crunchbase. Bike-sharing startups Ofo and Mobike raised $2.2 billion and $928 million respectively. And real estate disruptors Airbnb and WeWork raised $4.4 billion and $12 billion, according to Crunchbase. All together, Richard Florida estimated that in just a three-year period ending in July, more than $75 billion was invested in urban tech. That’s about 17 percent of global venture-capital investment, more than pharma and biotech combined.
Why are tech investors so interested in disrupting cities? And is all that venture capital good for the people who live there?
These are questions we’re tackling in the first episode of Technopolis, the new podcast from CityLab about how technology is disrupting, remaking, and sometimes overrunning our cities.
Throughout the season, we’ll be your guides on this techno-urbanist adventure, exploring how tech might solve more problems than it creates. We’ve worked inside both government and tech, and have also studied them from the outside. These experiences have left us hopeful about the promise of tech innovation, and the power of the private sector to fill cities’ deep budgetary gaps on affordable housing, transportation, and infrastructure. But, well, our experiences have also left us with some concerns.
Every week new startups raise millions of dollars and launch without permission on city streets. Can any city keep up with this pace of disruption? Do these innovators (and their investors) understand what urban problems need solving or what the unintended consequences of their interventions might be? And what does it mean for the rest of us who live in cities?
Welcome to Technopolis. Each week this season, we’ll be discussing what’s happening in Silicon Valley and in city hall, from autonomous vehicles, to battery-powered buildings, automated landlords, and the future of restaurants. We’ll get at the heart of what tech is trying to do, why, and what it means for the rest of us.
As co-hosts, we’ll share our inside knowledge of what startups and cities are thinking and debate what that all means for our urban future. We’ll interview guests who can tell us what it’s like to be on the inside of these ventures and policy debates. We hope to ask the questions that nobody is asking, and uncover how all this tech might transform our cities in unexpected ways.