Sam Ross-Brown

Sam Ross-Brown is a graduate student in urban planning and development at the University of Southern California. Previously, he served as The American Prospect's associate editor. 

Recent Articles

Disrupting Democracy: When Big Tech Takes Over a City

Google partner Sidewalk Labs wants to remake the Toronto waterfront as a privately run digital development. It may really be a digital dystopia.

Google’s smart city of the future is in trouble. For the past two years, Sidewalk Labs, Google’s sister company under Alphabet, has been in talks with local officials in Toronto to redevelop 12 acres of neglected land along Lake Ontario into what it calls a data-driven “disruption” of urban life. But as details of the project—dubbed Quayside—have begun to emerge, residents and local officials have expressed alarm about what it might mean for their city and their democracy. The final straw came on June 17 with the surprise release of the Quayside master plan: Amid glossy illustrations of a techie utopia, the stubbornly coy document described a project that had mysteriously grown from the originally agreed-upon 12 acres to a mammoth 800 acres, in which public spaces could be shaped and controlled by a private company, and where data privacy protections for residents would be shaky at best. In the plan, Sidewalk Labs also assigned itself the role of...

Democrats Get Serious About Affordable Housing

Ahead of the first 2020 presidential debates, Dems have released some of the most far-reaching housing plans in decades.

agenda_2020.jpg As Democratic candidates square off in the first 2020 debates, you might hear about an issue that has long been absent from presidential campaigns: affordable housing. With the cost of living skyrocketing nationwide, Democratic contenders have started to take housing seriously as a campaign issue for the first time in decades, releasing extensive proposals to address inequities for both homeowners and renters. “It feels like it’s about time,” says Diane Yentel, president of the National Low-Income Housing Coalition. “We’ve had Congress shortchanging affordable housing for decades. To now have candidates using their platforms to talk about the crisis itself—it’s remarkable.” So far, candidates Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, and Julián Castro—all of whom will be participating in tonight’s debate—have released extensive proposals aimed at dramatically increasing the supply of affordable housing,...

Scott Pruitt’s Replacement at the EPA Will Likely Be Worse

His heir apparent looks to be a far more effective dismantler of environmental protections.

On July 5, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced his resignation amid more than a dozen investigations into allegations of his ethical misconduct. Pruitt’s brief tenure at the agency was unprecedented both for its aggressive attacks on environmental rules as well as the myriad scandals surrounding his office. The 13 active federal investigations into Pruitt’s office range from misuse of public funds to financial ties with energy lobbyists to attacks on EPA staffers who questioned his actions. But for the environment, Pruitt’s departure represents, at best, a partial victory. Since taking office last year, Pruitt has made it his mission to dismantle not only core environmental protections, but also the EPA’s regulatory system itself. Yet, as is so often the case with this administration, Pruitt’s brazen and messy tactics have also served to undercut his anti-regulatory agenda. In his obsessive drive to kill the Clean Water Rule, for instance, Pruitt did...

Amazon's Race to the Bottom Puts Chicago Transit at Risk

(Sipa via AP Images)
screen_shot_2017-07-19_at_4.28.52_pm.png Transit has emerged as a key issue in the furious competition between municipalities to land Amazon’s second headquarters. With the company placing a premium on access to rail and bus networks, cities like Chicago put transit front and center in their applications. “ If you look at their proposal, Amazon's, and you look at what they're looking for: talent, transportation, training, technology,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel declared as the city its unveiled its formal bid last September. “Who [else] will have a transportation system, both public and aviation, that will give them the capacity to get everywhere in the world and get their workers to work conveniently?” Lost in the discussion to lure Amazon to Chicago are the deep inequities within the city’s existing transit system, fault lines that threaten to leave entire neighborhoods behind should Amazon choose Chicago for its second home base. If overlooking those...

GOP Tax Victory Puts Drinking Water at Risk

With cities already struggling to comply with federal drinking water standards, the GOP tax legislation eliminates a critical tool for financing improvements.  

In the landmark tax reform overhaul, congressional Republicans axed a critical financing tool that cities and towns have used to upgrade aging drinking water infrastructure: advance refunding bonds. These bonds allowed municipalities to refinance outstanding debt at lower interest rates. The loss of this tool—combined with historically low levels of federal enforcement and support for basic drinking water standards—could deepen the nation’s ongoing lead contamination crisis by making it harder for local governments to fund much-needed infrastructure improvements that would curb lead contaminants in drinking water. National water industry groups, including the American Water Works Association, expressed alarm about the potential impacts in a November letter to Republican Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah. The groups noted that advance refunding allowed states and local governments to refinance more than 900 municipal bonds for water infrastructure projects, saving $1.36...