City Limits Volume One

Introducing City Limits – a series of pieces exploring urban experiences around the globe. First up, we shine a light on loneliness, take a step into the future city, and ask how brands are representing 'urban'...


It’s not by accident that we term our businesses as Crowd DNA London, Crowd DNA Amsterdam and Crowd DNA New York – rather than UK, Netherlands and US. It’s through cities that we find meaning. And it’s in cities where, increasingly, we are all living: 30 percent of the global population lived in cities in 1950; 53 percent today; an estimated 66 percent by 2050.

As much as we may talk longingly about the great outdoors, cities are important to us in myriad ways. And they’re certainly central to our work at Crowd DNA – projects take us to many of them worldwide; briefs often seek to understand how people survive/thrive in these complex spaces; how products and services can learn from our coping strategies to answer needs; and where the global commonalities of urban living give way to fascinating local nuance, unique challenges and inspiring opportunities.

City Limits* is the name we’ve chosen for a series of pieces in which we’ll explore these ever-growing hubs of humanity; places that we find so thrilling and rewarding – but often so draining and punishing. By Limits we mean the extremes, the disruptions and the innovations – where city living might take us next.

Andy Crysell, group managing director, Crowd DNA


                        * With apologies to the 1980s London listing mag of the same name

Welcome To The Era Of Cities

We’re head first in city century. 21st century urbanisation – aka the era of cities – has exploded across the globe, with new and existing areas still set to swell at a staggering rate. And you can feel it. Be it the enormous commuter crushes in Tokyo; the ever-evolving skyline of Lagos; or the mushrooming megacities of Bangalore and Guiyang, more of us are squeezing into urban environments than ever before – and even more will soon.

Back in the 1950s, only 30 percent of the world’s population lived in a city. Fifty years later that had all changed. In 2001, the United Nations reported that, for the first time in history, more people were living in cities than rural areas. That number had risen to 53 percent by 2016; bringing the pace of 21st century urbanisation clearly into view.

The global urban population is growing at one million

people each week (AppMyCity)

Now, it’s all about scale. AppMyCity – an online contest for city living apps – claims that the global urban population is growing at around one million people each week. Add that to the latest UN predictions, which expect the overall population to grow by around three billion in the next 30 years (equivalent to the current size of India), and the idea that humans might one day be an exclusively urban species isn’t that weird. By 2050, it’s projected that a full 66 percent of the population will live in a city.

One thing is clear: cities matter now more than ever. While it’s true that urban planners and city-centric brands need to keep up with the overwhelming pace of urbanisation, the small, everyday details of city life shouldn’t be overlooked. Popping into a shop, getting from A to B, exercise, out-of-home advertising, a city’s distinct character, negotiating between public and private space are all set to be disrupted. How, for example, will people find ‘alone time’ in a city of 21 million?

Urbanisation has seen areas all over the world mushroom in size, putting undoubtable strains on infrastructure and resource. But the 21st century is also the era of tech innovation and it’s worth exploring the advantages of urban density, too. Urbanisation has the potential to correlate with wealth creation and better living standards for all, as well as exciting new activation spaces and opportunities for brands. After all, a city – no matter what shape or size – is where change happens.

More of us than ever are living in cities. As urban environments continue to swell, how will people find ‘alone time’ in a city of 21 million others?

Five Key Shifts In Cities Of Today

All cities are made up of different parts, clearly, but constant connectivity and globalisation-on-tap has led to stark similarities too. Similarly, as more millennials grow into influential positions and reach their peak impact years, their distinct mindset and set of expectations are changing the foundations and blueprints of cities as well. From the way we live, work and travel, to the new ways we’re connecting and find time for one another, here’s five key trends changing the shape cities today.

1. Living

Cost of land, price of living and the huge wave of urbanisation have led to smaller and smaller spaces to call home. Smart storage solutions and blended living areas have paired with a move toward minimalism across other categories. Why surround yourself with loads of products (or, indeed, loads of living space), when you can have one perfectly optimised experience?

2. Working

Coworking spaces complete with gyms, social areas and, increasingly, crèches, are commonplace. A single-use office block or a soulless business district already feels stale. Instead, ‘work’ is part of the multifunctional urban campus, thrown thoughtfully together with lifestyle offerings and activations to match. The experience of working in a city is now blended with all aspects of the urban day-to-day, such as socialising, exercising and raising a family.

3. Travelling

Traffic and air quality are top of mind, thanks, in part, to new commuter belts and extensive cross-country connections. While that’s definitely true for cities worldwide, new forms of transport are also helping people move around in more sustainable ways. Brands like oBike and Zipcar offer PAYE mobility and speak to a rejection of ownership in favour of experience, while reducing congestion and pollution at the same time.

4. Connecting

Technology has undoubtedly changed the way we interact with our environment. These early stages of so-called ‘smart cities’ are fairly low-fi: think intelligent LED street lighting, which automatically dims when there’s no one around. But, as tech innovations develop, expect more automated municipal services, such as driverless buses, and the inevitable debate over data privacy when popping to the shops.

5. Being

The quest for honesty and transparency that typifies millennials has also extended into urban activations. New sustainable business models have emerged, enabling people to live and consume consciously within the city. Whether it’s urban farms using vertical growing technologies, the rise of biophilic design or, simply, the use of reusable coffee cups; sustainable urban living is a clear feature in a cities of today.

Loneliness In The City

The ‘loneliness epidemic’ is growing as our cities become ‘smarter’ and ever-present technology reduces the need for us to interact and connect with real people, in real life. We’re constantly connected to those around us – but we’re also at our most alone. Here’s how loneliness plays out in the urban world; also how some brands are helping combat one of the biggest health issues of the 21st century.

‘Affection-for-hire’ industries are on the rise in Tokyo, with a marked increase in cuddle cafés, cat-rental and hire-a-friend agencies over the last five years.

A third of people in NYC live by themselves, but it’s even more pronounced in European cities – 58 percent of people in Stockholm live alone, a figure considered one of the highest in the world.

Robots in industrial use increased fourfold between 1993 and 2003 in the US and Europe. What will this look like in 2030 when it’s expected automation will account for nearly 40 percent of jobs?

Video: Brands Combating Urban Loneliness

The ‘loneliness epidemic’ is growing as our cities become ‘smarter’ and ever-present technology reduces the need for us to interact and connect with real people, in real life.

City 2060

Running projects in far-flung locations means we constantly hear people’s hopes and fears for their city’s future. What do you reckon this city will be like in 50 years? There’s no better subject to quiz a cab driver on in a three hour traffic jam – particularly when you’ve exhausted football. And, while there’s thousands of think-pieces from trend forecasters, architects and urban planners on the subject, there’s much less from the urbanites themselves. Setting aside the beautifully rendered CGI cityscapes and notions of accelerating technological change, what do actual, everyday consumers expect their cities of the future to be like?


Living Alone, Together

Come 2060, there’s an expectation that more and more people will live alone in cities. People will be less likely to live in extended or nuclear family set-ups; technology will allow work and leisure to happen in physical solitude; the milestone of ‘marriage and kids’ will have ceded to greater individualism; and, as we see in most APAC markets, parents will be wealthier (and so won’t need supporting in the traditional way). For social brands, this will mean working hard to remain part of digital connections and conversations, as well as finding new ways to encourage people in cities to interact IRL.

Cities Of Extremes

Our urbanites often share visions of a city with even greater polarisation than we see today. Cities are expected to become more ‘global’ and ethnically diverse as a result of migration and ageing population-related skills shortages. People worry about an ever more pronounced wealth gap, with more privatised space and de facto segregation (no smart implant? No entry!), as well as the inevitable security concerns that come with social stratification. On a more positive note, there will be goodwill to be earned from helping people bridge divides, celebrate diversity and find common values.

Office, RIP

There’s a widespread prediction that working will have been transformed: hyperconnectivity, perfect VR, the decentralisation of business and on-demand servicing of material needs. Employees will be able to work anywhere. Sadly, however, it’s not all weekday lie-ins. Technology and the ability for people to ‘self-teach’ will mean upping the pressure to remain work-optimised. Scary stuff, but an opportunity should also open up for brands to help urbanites stay ahead in the ‘work game’; by helping them network, upskill and cope with workplace competition.

Emerald City

Reassuringly, the people we meet are optimistic about the future environmental health of their city – with both developed and emerging markets cracking down on pollution, recycling and transport. They widely expect the 2060 city to be a cleaner, greener, healthier place, thanks to vertical gardens, urban greening, micro-farming and tech-enabled smart energy conservation. For optimists, the city is lush and more ‘human-shaped’. For pessimists, it’s heavily air polluted, crowded and congested, thanks to the planning failures of today. Any activation that will help make the city more green and ‘human’ will win out – even if it’s just offering a brief haven in a polluted, noisy quarter. Similarly, brands that champion urban health and fitness will surely prosper.    


Three Essential Apps For The Future City

So you’ve got your hardware: VR headset, AR glasses and iPhone 73s. Here are a few urban apps you’ll need to really fit in with your discerning Futurecity mates:


A new smart-sensor that alerts when your neighbour’s putting out the bins. Goodbye, awkward eye contact!


Who needs roads with a surfboard in the sky? Locate your nearest PAYE docking station and Hoversurf away!


A mini drone that flies ahead to check if that smoking hellhole’s actually a new street food experience.

How Brands Are Speaking Urban

People are always looking for new ways to talk the language of the city. They represent ever-changing hubs of inspiration, culture and trends that, when spoken to ‘correctly’, offer back lasting conversations of influence and discussion. Here we explore the emergening visual language of urban spaces, as represented by brands and popular culture.

Stepping Out

A desire to break out of the urban norm is being expressed via spaces of social, emotional and physical escape.

Diverse Tribes

Urban tribes are moving from segregated to hyper-inclusive; highlighting our strength in a unified difference.

The Empty Space

Empty urban spaces are used as a backdrop for the contemporary human experience, offering a stripped back and focused exploration of society.

City As A Playground

Urban spaces aren’t just about the rat race. They’re spaces of opportunity and fun – if you know where to look.

Tales of Escape

People search for a deeper connection with community, the natural world and themselves, by finding pockets of escape from everyday urban experiences.