City Limits: Top 10

A look back at our favourite picks from Crowd DNA’s City Limits series – now celebrating its 10th issue – and the cultural insights that are still playing out in urban life…

It’s a truism that cities move at a uniquely fast pace. For our ongoing City Limits reports about what’s happening in urban scenes around the world, our writers, videographers and researchers report on those fast-moving moments in (almost) real time.

The Crowd DNA team has produced these reports since 2018, bringing data to life with cultural stories, infographics, trends features, video and case studies. We’ve done issues focused on themes like mobility, the night economy, and small cities, and our tenth report has just been released on the LA sports scene ahead of two major sporting events in the city.

City Limits LA Sports download it here.

The video launch of the City Limits series in 2018

It’s a great time to look back on the City Limits series, to jump off from the stories and think about where the trends, passion points and emerging cultures are moving next. After all, some have become even bigger than we might have expected. Here’s our top ten articles from over the years…


1.Our first issue in November 2018 put the spotlight on how brands can combat urban loneliness. Research was showing that people experienced it more living in cities – and still do. We looked at how we are Living Alone, Together and where the urban empty spaces are being used as a backdrop to tell stories about the contemporary human experience in entertainment and branding.


2.We took a ride into the future of urban mobility for our second issue (Dec, 2018). Nearly five years later, and cities have really embraced multimodality. We have so many ways of getting from A to B today – with e-scooters, e-bikes, e-mopeds, and car-sharing. The issue also included an exploration of migration and urban movement, and how culture and brands are telling this story, from mapping diversity to social healing.


3.Our City Limits reports are also an opportunity to look backwards, as we did in an article in our third issue on Youth (March, 2019). Subcultures & The City chronicled where and how youth culture has claimed space over five decades, in swimming pools or whole districts. We also talk to young people in London and New York about their everyday – and how it might look in their tomorrows…


4.There are subjects that we feel compelled to return to, too. Our fourth City Limits about Solutions for a better future explored the divisive issues that impact on city culture – and still do. We analysed five cities around the world and what they are doing to reduce the damage done by the negative effects of gentrification: sustainable, affordable and community-led initiatives.


5.And of course we talk to people. Lots of people. In 2019, we interviewed Millennial Volunteers to find out what the new generation of volunteers care about, and what motivates them to give up their time: like Courtnee – who gives her time to the Hackney Night Shelter and speaks to a resurgence in volunteering in the UK – and who lives by the motto, ‘be the change you want to see’.



6.Our cities have seen a lot of change since we began the series – no more so than the last three following the pandemic. Yet research for our sixth issue on Retail Therapy in 2021 led us to heartening stories. One of this was how local has become so important, so we spoke to retailers in cities across APAC to hear what lessons ‘big’ brands can learn from the ‘little’ guys.


7.The City Limits series is made with input from all our specialisms. In the fifth issue about the City At Night, our semiotics team looked at how a city cloaked in darkness provides a whole new world of signs and symbols for brands to play with, and the team decoded the semiotics of the night – mythical adventures, heightened senses and the cloak of darkness – used in campaigns.


8.We know that music is the cultural life blood of cities – but there is nuance to that. Back in 2021, the seventh issue explored how second tier cities create music scenes in Durban, Hobart and China’s ancient city of Xi’an – highlighting the challenger spirit of smaller cities, and how it’s where a new sound can size contributes to the way it can embed itself quickly.


9.In the eighth issue on Destination Cities (May 2021), we felt ready to take some stock on city experiences during the pandemic. One of our stories was about a brief window in the summer of 2021, when city dwellers found themselves ambling through the empty rooms of world-class galleries that normally pack in thousands of tourists a day. We asked: what are the lasting effects of this eerie interlude?




Cities are continually recreated by the people who live in them, and our ninth issue on Super Food told this through looking at how urban diasporas use the culture of food to create their home from home. And what drinks reveal about the spirit of cities around the world – from Cologne to La Crosse.


Thanks for reading, we’ve certainly enjoyed making these reports. And are excited to see where we’ll end up next…

Our outputs and stories are made to inspire and invite. It’s just one of the ways we create culturally charged commercial advantage. Contact to learn more.

City Limits Is 10!

Andy Crysell, Crowd DNA’s founder and CEO, celebrates our ongoing exploration of the ever-changing urban experience…

Back in September 2018, when we were putting our first City Limits together, we only had a one-off in mind. Five years on, ten issues down the line, we’re still at it. We now call it our ‘ongoing exploration of the ever changing urban experience’ and it feels like we’ve barely got started.

Looking back at the intro I wrote for that first issue and, aside from a nod to the long gone London alternative listings mag from whom we lifted the title, a few other things stand out. 

We remarked that it’s not by accident that we term our offices as Crowd DNA London, Crowd DNA Amsterdam and Crowd DNA New York – rather than UK, Netherlands and US. Singapore, Sydney, Stockholm and Los Angeles need adding to that list now – we’ve been busy – but the principle remains the same. It’s through cities that we find meaning. Not so much countries and the onerous patriotism that comes with them.

We talked about how, by Limits, we meant the extremes, the disruptions and the innovations – where city living might take us next. And that’s stayed our ambition over the subsequent issues. From tackling loneliness to revamping mobility; pushing against gentrification; revelling in the after dark; resetting tourism and learning how urban diasporas use the culture of food to create home from home. So many cities covered. So many stories told.

A particularly big story impacted on us somewhere around issue six. Covid came and, for a while there, we were told that cities were doomed. A relic of a different age. And so a bunch of people moved out of the cities… and then an even bigger bunch of people subsequently moved into them. 

Covid didn’t kill cities, then. Not even close. But it probably did accelerate a re-evaluation of what makes them good, and what makes them bad. Fairer cities, smaller cities, more sustainable cities, less segregated cities, thoroughly human cities – there is much to work at and, here at Crowd DNA, we hope to get to play our own small part (all city and placemaking RFPs gladly received!).

City Limits has featured fabulous contributions from so many of our team. When we talk about being an editorially-minded business, it’s a proof point of exactly that. It’s exciting to think where the next ten issues will take us…

Our own city story started in a small office in east London’s Shoreditch. You can now find us in seven cities (and counting)

And if you’d like some more city-centred reading in the meantime, here’s a few books worth checking:

Jane Jacobs |  The Death And Life Of Great American Cities

Writer and activist Jacobs’ 1961 book critiqued prevailing urban planning practices and advocated for a more people-centered and community-oriented approach to city design. A prime moment in the development of modern placemaking thinking.

Will Hermes | Love Goes To Buildings On Fire

There are countless good books about music and cities. But few intersect the themes quite like this one, named after Talking Heads’ first album. Hermes goes into ultra detail on how mid ‘70s New York City provided the mix of creativity and chaos to spawn six genres running in parallel and feeding off each other: punk, disco, hip-hop, minimalist classical, the loft jazz scene and Nuyorican salsa.

Iain Sinclair | London Orbital

A 127 mile on-foot circumnavigation of London’s unofficial border, the M25. Less about the motorway, though, than a cultural criticism of the urban sprawl. Sinclair’s psychogeography is about experiencing and navigating cities in more intuitive and creative ways.

In our latest issue of City Limits we head to Los Angeles as the city prepares to host two of the world’s biggest sports events in the next five years…

City Limits Volume 10 – download it here

For the tenth issue of City Limits – Crowd DNA’s ongoing exploration of the urban experience – we’re exploring sport as another lens to focus on city culture (read previous issues on themes such as mobility and the night economy here). But this time, things are a little different, as we turn our focus onto a single city for once. With the men’s World Cup in 2026 and the Olympic and Paralympic games in 2028 both taking place in LA, the city is uniquely placed to showcase sport today – and forecast how it could look next in our ever-evolving cities. 

These are going to be the first global sports events that Gen Alphas experience as young adults, and the world’s entertainment capital will surely know how to get their attention. Our City Limits reports on how preparations are taking place for this, and what it could look like both off-pitch and on…

The City Limits LA Sports issue combines Crowd DNA’s new research on the Future Of Sport with talking to people on the ground across the city itself, as well as looking at issues like the impact of big events for marginalized urban communities, and brand initiatives during big sports events.

The full 13-page report includes:

_27 emerging trends in sport

_We talked to 500 people across the US for a full survey on the Future Of Sport 

_The conversations about sporting events impact on a city and its community

_A semiotic analysis of what event design reveals about action off the field

_LA right now as Angelenos speak up about what matters to them

City Limits Volume 10: download it here 

Hunger For Tradition

Crowd’s Teresa Young looks at how being trapped in the past threatens the future for Singapore’s hawker food

City Limits Volume Nine – download it here.

In our latest issue of City Limits – our regular exploration of changing urban experience – we look at how heritage and change rub up against each other. One of our spotlights was on how Singapore’s hawker food is fighting to survive as well as innovate.

Like many cities in the world, change has never been alien to Singapore. While Singaporeans have become rather desensitised to the speed of change, there’s one thing they are reluctant to see change in at all – and that’s hawker food. What started out in the 1800s as scrappy and unorganised street food sold by migrants, hawker food has since morphed into open-air hubs located at the heart of everyday life. Established hawker centres were built in the 1970s to formalise the cuisine.

Here in the bustling outdoor courts, locals and tourists get good, affordable food. Joining queues for flavorful Singaporean specialities and Michelin-star dishes for under $10 (like the signature noodles with minced pork at Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle stall) is an unmissable feature of the city’s culture and identity. Hawker food has become part of the furniture – and it’s perhaps unsurprising that Singaporeans tend to be highly protective of it.

But there’s been a real fear in recent years that hawker food is on the brink of disappearing due to factors like an ageing population, unattractive working conditions and the pandemic. The 2020 UNESCO inscription (that commits Singapore to protecting and promoting it to future generations) was thought to be a lifeline to the trade, but some argue this was a red-herring route to go down. While nostalgia is a strong driver behind the survival of traditions, the fixation with the past can sometimes do more harm than good.

In the case of hawker food, we can see that nostalgia is laced with complex socio-cultural expectations and generational differences. It traps Singapore’s hawker food in the past and threatens its future.

“Omg, my chicken rice is now 20 cents more.”

Hawker food is expected to never cross the invisible boundaries of class. Low prices over the decades have created an ingrained perception that it’s less ‘atas’ (Singlish for sophisticated and high class) and should always remain so. Increases in prices can create a feeling that it might be more ‘worth it’ to eat at a restaurant (ironic as most hawker dishes today still come under $6 while restaurants and international franchises are $15-25). Social expectation around price severely hampers its survival amidst inflation, with the immense challenge of being forced to remain ‘low class’ with low prices while maintaining a profit.

“This one doesn’t taste original.”

Apart from price, there’s also an expectation for hawker food to remain unchanged in form and flavour to live up to the concept of ‘authenticity’ – as if it’s a timeless artefact. Changes in operation – from simplifying preparation methods to handing down to ‘the kid’ – are often met with uncertainty, cynicism and fear that the ‘authentic flavour’ will be lost. Meanwhile, younger hawkers who choose to venture out (eg with fusion food) receive little recognition as a part of the city’s hawker culture simply because they are not ‘traditional’. Again, the intense nostalgia surrounding hawker culture is preventing any type of innovation.

So what’s the way forward for Singapore’s hawkers stuck in a nostalgia trap? Of course, nostalgia is still crucial to the survival of traditions. But in the case of hawker food, it has made definitions too narrow to accommodate new joiners into the scene. This in turn threatens preservation. Cities change, tastes change. Accepting this will keep hawkers filling our bellies for decades to come. 

City Limits Volume Nine – download it here.


How ‘zero-waste’ became the new immersive dining experience – Crowd’s Phoebe Trimingham looks at our appetite for sustainable haute cuisine…

City Limits Volume Nine – download it here.

In our latest issue of City Limits – our regular exploration of changing urban experience – we look at solutions to world problems in the food business – from climate labels on menus to floating farms. One of our spotlights on sustainability is the rise of the zero-waste restaurant as not only a call to action, but an immersive experience for the diner.

Cities around the world are full of immersive dining experiences. From eating dinner in a makeshift aircraft, to sipping cocktails in the cupboard of a pawn-shop; going out for a meal is no longer just about the food. For those looking beyond standard dining experiences, meals are accompanied by a spectacle. So much so that experience fatigue has set in. 

So where do you turn when all the ‘experiences’ have been had? When you’re served yet another once-in-a-lifetime theatre show while trying to eat your soup? You turn back to the real hero: the food. Forward-thinking restaurants in global cities are shunning the temptation for distracting entertainment, and letting the food become the experience again. 

Enter the zero-waste restaurants: establishments attempting to do away with food waste entirely. Here, the food becomes the focus as diners buy into the admirable attempt at fully sustainable dining. While the issue of waste is certainly not a recent obsession for the restaurant industry – lots of places have been experimenting with sustainability for decades – what’s new is the front and centering of the efforts, and the glamorisation that goes with it.

Silo in London, for example, is designed ‘back to front’ with the bin in mind (irony being they don’t actually have a bin, they don’t need one). All food is used in its entirety – think cured mushroom stems and yeast treacle. Any leftovers are composted and sent back to their hyperlocal suppliers. Like Silo, Helsinki’s Nolla (‘zero’ in Finnish) sends compost back into the system, but guests are welcome to take home a scoopful too – a different kind of doggy bag. It’s philosophy of ‘refuse, reduce, reuse, and only as a last resource, recycle’ is consistent, from a reusable coffee container and a composter (above) to not accepting food that comes in single use plastic.

Meanwhile, Mume in Taipei has a dedicated sourcing manager (rare in a small, Asian restaurant) with the mission to champion underrated Taiwanese ingredients and zero-waste cooking practices.

These places strive to avoid food leftovers, but also any scrap of rubbish. Rhodora in Brooklyn – a fully sustainable wine bar also ‘waging a war against waste’ – shreds wine boxes into compost material and donates corks to an organisation that turns them into shoes. Everything is transported on bikes. Back at Silo, plates are made from plastic bags, wall lights from crushed bottles, and ceiling fixtures from dried seaweed. This all-in approach to the zero-waste concept is what makes these restaurants a fully immersive dining experience – no gimmick-y entertainment required.  

But these restaurants aren’t cheap: they’re all mid to high-end. This is interesting for two reasons. Firstly, sustainability is definitely something to be coveted, but why is the experience of it not more accessible? Secondly, could the price points actually work in sustainability’s favour? Making zero-waste dining a sexy, high-end experience brands the concept as an aspirational lifestyle. Like the Tesla car model, fancy zero-waste restaurants could, in turn, make the thought of intensive recycling more desirable – eggshell compost and all.  

Saying that, it is a bit odd to glamorise something that should be an everyday activity. If people are playing at sustainability when they dine out, are they less likely to practise it at home? The very act of going out for a meal that has been beautifully prepared for you distances it – managing food waste becomes something to passively experience and admire, rather than actively do. 

Either way, city diners are hungry for new, immersive experiences – and zero-waste restaurants are a welcome addition to the menu.

City Limits Volume Nine – download it here.

Our relationship with food doesn’t only reflect our culture, it also helps to define it. In our latest issue of City Limits we invite you to enjoy our appetizers and insightful mains on city food…

City Limits Volume Nine – download it here.

We’ve seen so much in our City Limits series – Crowd DNA’s ongoing exploration of the urban experience – since it began in 2018. Over five years, it is our opportunity to bring together thoughtful reporting of what is happening now in cities and forecast how it could look next in compelling sectors like city living, youth culture, and mobility, to city-centric solutions and the night economy

We’re now back with our ninth issue and to ask what’s happening in the food and drink business in cities around the world after a challenging few years. It explores how what we eat and drink impacts on a city’s culture, ways that urban plays its part in a product’s story, and how food is such a pleasurable taste of change as it happens in our ever-evolving cities. 

We go to restaurants in Tokyo where Kaiseki fine dining means fun and frivolity, find out why Singapore’s hawker food culture is being harmed by nostalgia, enjoy slow moving cuisine in London, and taste when food gives community to the diaspora in cities around the world – and ultimately, to us all.

The full 17 page magazine includes:

_A semiotic analysis of how city sights and sounds are used by three food brands – even when made elsewhere

_Spotlight on what we drink reveals about a city culture

_How things are getting better (or at least not worse) with problems facing our food environments

_Five emerging trends in urban food 

_Interviews with local business people, with learnings for grassroots engagement in towns

City Limits Volume Nine – download it here.

City Limits, our editorial series exploring the ever-changing urban experience is back, and this time we’re venturing away from the ‘powerhouse’ cities...

Checkout the full pdf here.

In our first ever City Limits, in late 2018, the headline stat was one of phenomenal urban growth: 30 percent of the global population living in cities in 1950; 53 percent today; an estimated 66 percent by 2050. Then came the pandemic and an incredible shift to the narrative: suddenly cities were done-for, apparently surplus to human needs. 

We doubt that somehow. We’re as certain as can be that urban environments still hold many of the solutions we seek, still cultivate progressive thinking; and – as per our company maxim – still are where so many things become culturally-charged. Yet, as much as we do love the sheer clout of the heavyweight cities (we’ve chosen a few for our office locations, after all), we recognise that now, more than ever, small can be beautiful and the outer fringes can be stimulating.

Hence this issue is all about cities in terms beyond just scale, might and ‘powerhouse’ credentials. The smaller cities, where great ideas permeate through amicable communities and life becomes more liveable; the suburbs, where codes of social consciousness are now bubbling to the surface (thanks, Real Housewives Of Atlanta). We examine the diffusion of startup culture, share our love letters to small(ish) cities around the world and celebrate the challenger sounds of the tier twos. But we also ask, just how do you keep things weird when your once unchecked conurbation is routinely popping up in Monocle’s Small Cities lists?

Thanks, as ever, to the many amazing City Limits contributors – truly a team effort across all of our offices, and testament to how passionately and articulately we report on culture. Whether thinking big or small, centre or fringes, we cannot wait to get started on issue eight.

Andy Crysell, Crowd DNA founder.

We’re anticipating less sofa-bound times ahead in our latest edition of City Limits, all about the future of offline retail...

City Limits Volume Six – download it here.

So far in our City Limits series – Crowd DNA’s ongoing exploration of the urban experience – we’ve looked at city living, youth culture, mobility, city-centric solutions and the night economy. We’re now back with our sixth edition, exploring the future of offline shopping. In what has been a savage time for the retail industry, we hope to provide some much needed respite, inspiration and kudos to a sector so integral to urban culture.

Shopping has always played a huge part in the fabric of our cities. And while much does look bleak for the high street, we firmly believe all is not lost. Our Retail Therapy edition of City Limits goes in search of innovations and experiences that celebrate IRL shopping in all shapes and sizes. There are tough times ahead, but we steadfastly believe there will always be a place for browsing in real stores; for seeing, touching, feeling products, and gaining a deeper sense of connection with the brands and we love.

The full magazine includes:

– A semiotic analysis of shopping in the context of the experience economy

– Interviews with local retailers in APAC, with learnings for global brands

– Four emerging trends to keep an eye on in the new era of retail

– Spotlights on the lasting appeal of pop-ups and the resilience of shopping malls

– A round up of concept stores that will get us heading back into cities in no time.

City Limits Volume Six – download it here.