To and fro
18 Nov 2021
This week: Cities are rethinking the way we get from A to B. What does that mean for brands?
THE NEW COMMUTE
The daily commute ain’t what it used to be. Take the WFH phenomenon and add climate change considerations, and you’ve got a new focus on rewiring transit systems in major cities.
• “Berlin, Bogotá and several other cities are taking creative steps to cut gas and diesel from their public transit systems,” reported The New York Times. City blocks aren’t just getting cleaner, but quieter too. “You can hear voices again in the streets,” said Jon Asekland, a mayor in Norway. The grand vision of the near future is one without (petrol-powered) cars. “The pendulum is swinging back to returning streets to people… reimagining how our streets are used will be a positive move for city workers and residents alike,” said Michala Lander, a director for New Zealand planning.
• Over the past two years, e-bike sales in the U.S. have shot up 16x faster than, uh, slow bike sales. The global market is expected to reach $48 billion by 2028. “Since COVID, we’ve seen a massive uplift in sales, and I wouldn’t be surprised if our sales double this year,” said Jan Willem Schunselaar, Head of Global Retail for Dutch e-bike brand VanMoof. “In 2020, we opened 32 pop-ups around the world as a way to test new markets, new cities. There was a major opportunity and a physical presence was super important.” And the thinking behind the opening of their latest Paris location, grâce à Appear Here? “With our online footprint growing, we needed to expand and have more space for test rides and service.” VanMoof’s sweet spot according to their co-founder Ties Carlier? People who live around three to nine miles from their office.
• Electricity is revolutionising transport, and now we’re even talking about all-electric neighbourhoods like Potrero Hill in San Francisco, which is purportedly the first project of its kind. The stated principles of this development? Purpose, people, and proximity, with retail positioned as an amenity. “So, the retail is a partner in the placemaking of the project,” said Enrique Landa, a partner at developer Associate Capital. The goal? A walkable, diverse community. (Sounds a lot like the 15-minute city to us). “Proximity matters – and where and how we build our communities has an outsized impact on our carbon footprint,” wrote Brooks Rainwater in Fast Company.
What will we see in our cities? The transformation of urban infrastructures, supporting pedestrianised streets and easy access to the essentials.
Google queries for “where to buy” + “near me” have been trending upwards for years. Of all the things we could ask the internet, nearly 46% of all Google searches seek local info. Proximity matters, indeed.
Commuting is down because, as it turns out, hybrid working is sticking around. So-called “second” cities from Manchester to Miami, where the living is easier and travel radii smaller, continue to shine.
“Migration trends were down in 2020 but are moving back up in 2021,” reported Forbes.
• It would appear that we are all, in fact, going to Miami. Microsoft and other global companies are opening up offices, and record numbers of remote workers have flocked to Florida. Sweetgreen – the staple salad for office folks – recently opened up in both Miami and Austin, two Sun Belt cities that haven’t lost their remote worker buzz. “Sweetgreen’s filing to sell its shares to the public provides a window into how remote work could reshape office urban centers,” reported Quartz. The American Midwest is seeing a surge in startups with those cities “crushing their 2020 venture capital tallies,” per TechCrunch.
• How, and how often, people are getting from A to B is changing – and ultrafast delivery is one sector that’s aggressively growing its urban presence. Heard of the Instant Needs category? U.S. delivery platform Gopuff is launching in the UK, and kicked off with a Shoreditch pop-up to spread the word. (Partnering with yours truly on the location, of course). Their focus is on offering near-instant delivery of a localised product range. “As a small business, we are always looking for new and innovative ways to connect with our customers and reach new ones,” said JP Leclef, co-founder of coffee shop Noxy Brothers, and one of Gopuff’s partners.
• 59% of global workers prize “flexibility” more than salary, according to a Harvard Business Review study. And it’s not just cities being transformed as a consequence, but outer boroughs and ‘burbs. “Remote work is bringing the city to the suburbs,” ran a headline in Vox. “Even in the suburbs, people still want to be able to grab a quick coffee and a sandwich, and maybe a midday workout… That demand has huge repercussions for commerce and construction,” wrote Rani Molla.
Although restrictions have long been lifted, Brits are more likely than Europeans to continue working from home. While London’s network of residential neighbourhoods have always had a village-y vibe, will we see the continued rise of local indies?
John Bright, founder of menswear brand and Appear Here stalwart The Good Neighbour, has based his brand concept on being exactly that: popping up on select high streets and interacting with local shoppers and businesses.
As for the reason he chose his latest spot in Crouch End? “It’s very close to where I live.”
Words by Amy Tai, creative consultant and native New Yorker now based in London.