Two people walk behind a fence surrounding a covid test centre in copenhagen.

Fjellfolk Weekly Roundup – 4th April 2021

Thought for the week

As the public sector and the private sector collaborate to respond to the need for quick and reliable testing in the face of the Covid pandemic, it is interesting to see armies of young people, relatively invulnerable to the most severe effects of the virus, working in a coordinated and orderly fashion to provide the testing facilities that we depend upon in order to maintain some degree of normalcy in society.

After a modestly challenging search for the location of the test centre, which moves frequently from parking lot to parking lot across the city, my most recent testing experience was a smooth and light-hearted experience. Smiling, even if visibly under-stimulated, youngsters wore a uniform of surgical masks, yellow jackets, ubiquitous flairs and Fila trainers. I was guided from station to station as my nose was repeatedly violated in pursuit of the vital negative result, which acts as a passport to so many activities in today’s mid-pandemic world. The whole process took less than five minutes and was utterly frictionless, in large part due to the unfussy demeanour of the workforce, unburdened as they were by the fear of the possibly serious consequences of their own infection.

There have been many positives from this otherwise catastrophic situation, and seeing societies youngest generation of adults working so visibly and effectively to enable our response is certainly one of them.

Sustainable Food

Oatly, the Swedish oat milk brand, is both the brand leader in the growing alt-dairy market, but is also our personal favourite milk alternative here at Fjellfolk. The decision to establish a significant production capacity in the UK, as reported in the Guardian, is both a positive indication of the growing demand for milk alternatives, and an interesting illustration of the changing dynamics of trade in a post-Brexit Europe. We are by no means pro-Brexit here at Fjellfolk, but there is no denying that repatriating production and industry is both good for local economics and good for sustainable food production.

Cities Building Bridges

Copenhagen is geographically relatively isolated, with a chain of islands to the west, and the relatively sparsely populated and expansive south of Sweden to the east. Building connections to the closest economically significant cities in the neighborhood is therefore somewhat challenging. Hence the hard-won tunnel project, which will significantly shrink travel times between Copenhagen and Hamburg to the south-west. This week it was annouced that ground investigation work for the 18km long tunnel, an immersed tube running along the sea floor, has been completed. This is a key milestone for the €7.1bn project, which is due to be completed by 2029. With rail travel growing in popularity due to the climate crisis and the COVID pandemic, any improvement to travel times is welcome and worthy of investment.

Urbanism & COVID

Dining out, cafe culture, and nightlife are important pull factors for city living. The bars, cafes, and eateries left reeling from necessary but costly COVID responses across the globe are now looking for more resilient and safe ways to host their socially deprived customers. Al fresco dining, already a success during the summer reprieve between waves of the pandemic, is a strategy growing in popularity. In the UK, not a country well known for it’s outdoor dining culture, the idea is catching on, as reported in this article in the Guardian.

Innovating within a city’s existing mobility culture

From LA’s car culture to Amsterdam’s renowned cycle culture, the under-served mobility “value-pockets” in the gaps between existing mobility solutions represent the best lens through which to envision future mobility innovations in cities the world over. This is according to ReD Associates’ Ian Dull and Gehl Architects’ Jeff Risom, who have written a piece challenging the approach of mobility innovators in recent years.

Recognising that the success of mobility innovators has been exposed as relatively fragile in the midst of the COVID pandemic, and that mobility is about more than getting from A to B – it is also about the experience: the sights, sounds and interactions which stimulate the billions of city dwellers globally – Dull and Risom summarise an alternative approach for future innovators in this growing sector.

The real opportunity for mobility disrupters – and mobility services generally – is to prove how indispensable they can be for improving those social, cultural, and physical contracts in each city.

Fancy a Dip?

Three photos to wrap up this week, from the jetty at Hellerup in the north of Copenhagen. With temperatures back around freezing after a brief reprieve in March, winter bathing is a pursuit which we are lucky to be able to enjoy well into spring.

Find more carefully curated industry news from the front lines of urbanism, technology and sustainability on our newsfeed.

The urban impact of 5G

The next generation of mobile broadband data network is being discussed in almost every context you can imagine, from technology to healthcare to sociology to urbanism. 5G is coming. But what is it, what does it enable, and how is it relevant to the citizens of urban places? And therefore, what does it mean to those designing and moulding the cities in which we live?

5G will replace or augment your existing 4G connection, providing exponentially greater bandwidth alongside massively reduced latency – the time it takes for data to get from A to B.

5G operates across a broad range of frequency spectrums. Lower frequency ranges (below 6GHz) provide a more reliable signal but are limited in their bandwidth. These ranges are nearing saturation in many cases from overloading of existing 4G networks. 5G also leverages higher frequency spectrums, which provide massively increased data rates and much lower latency, but which are quite limited in their ability to penetrate buildings, and the coverage area for a single antenna is limited, thus necessitating much larger numbers of antennae to achieve uniform and reliable coverage.

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Sankt Kjelds Plads

Copenhagen is developing a resilient neighbourhood in the north-eastern district of Østerbro. Climate resilience, particularly the challenges associated with heavy rainfall, is combined with a social objective to create valuable communal spaces which reinforce strong community.

The first adapted space in the area as part of this programme was Taasinge Plads, completed in 2014. It combines a multi-faceted rainwater management solution with a new piazza and elements of nature integrated with both the accessible space and the stormwater management ponds.

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Aerial view of Tokyo cityscape

What is an urban area?

Almost every article, briefing, lecture or essay on matters of urbanisation seems to make reference to the extent of urbanisation in the world today and the expected urban population globally in the future. Often, such material specifically refers to the well established benchmark of the UN World Urbanization Prospects publication1.

So it is perhaps surprising to find that the level of standardisation of the urbanisation figures, or specifically the methodology used to derive them, is very low. In the case of the “official” UN figures, national methods are used and aggregated without a huge effort to ensure there is a degree of alignment between the various approaches. 

This recent OECD paper2 goes some way to both understanding the deficiencies in existing metrics and in proposing alternatives which might provide a better baseline for understanding a) what “urban” really means in the context of measuring populations, and b) the methods which can be deployed to effectively measure on this basis.

An extensive review of approaches covers population density by area and by administrative designation, designation by infrastructure provision and finally rural employment. None is “correct”, but for a globally deployable methodology only the first makes sense. Several limitations of a naive approach must be overcome however.

The proposed methodology, a population grid with units of land designated as city, town, suburban or rural, overcomes some of the inconsistencies identified with the existing approaches. The authors address unit size when defining the grid, acknowledging that manipulation of the grid resolution will dramatically effect the output of a given survey. Density, as the primary factor in the assignment of categorisation to each cell, allows urban areas to be identified by applying additional rules about clusters of contiguous urban cells and the total population within these designated clusters. 

Demonstrating the categorisation of land around Cork, Ireland. 3

Dealing with density variation

Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia, is a city with 1.4 million inhabitants. The area of the municipality is particularly big with 4,700 sq km. As a result, the density of this municipality is very low: less than 300 inhabitants per sq km. Purely relying on municipal densities would inevitably mean that Ulaanbaatar would be classified as rural.4

To overcome the issue illustrated by this example, specifically the designation of urban population in areas with low density, the authors proposed additional categories which allow low density urban clusters to be designated as such. This approach disambiguates such areas from, for example, sub-urban zone around a more densely populated urban centre. In selecting regions for analysis of the potential of experiments or initiatives which make an assumption of density, this additional granularity will enable significantly more accurate forecasting of efficacy. 

It is clear that there remains work to be done to establish a recognised means of designating urban areas and differentiating between urban populations with materially different characteristics. However, in this paper I found answers to many of my own questions about the degree of urbanisation in the world today, and a rigorous analysis of the shortcomings of the data being both existing measures and the new proposal. In the conclusions set out in the paper, it is clear that the new method raised few surprises in the Americas, Europe and Oceania. However in Africa and Asia the findings demonstrate a clear discrepancy in the interpretation of “urban” which may, with better data, lead to a much higher measure of urban population today than previously thought.