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Cities in Mind: 20 weeks later - Issue #11
What I have learned so far, what I will keep improving, where I'd like to go next.
Hello everyone, welcome to Issue #11 of the Cities in Mind newsletter. This week, no deep-dive into an urban-related topic but a reflection on my 20 weeks running the Cities in Mind newsletter and podcast.
As we all need to recharge batteries, the newsletter and podcast series will go on a summer break, starting this week. I am taking this opportunity to do a quick throwback of Cities in Mind’s first 20 weeks.
2️⃣0️⃣ weeks (or 4,6 months to be precise) might seem like a short amount of time but I can assure you that I have learned lots of things throughout this first phase.
Growing (completely organically) from 0 to 350 subscribers has been an enthralling journey and as I am thinking about where I want to bring Cities in Mind next, I am happy to share with you my top 5 learnings:
Finding Freedom: Launching Cities in Mind was for me a unique opportunity to write and research topics I am passionate about. That’s, I believe, one of the biggest perks of running your own newsletter/podcast: being able to go in the directions you want, curating content the way you like, developing your own editorial line, playing with different formats. I have enjoyed every bit of that feeling of freedom and agency.
Building New Habits: Throughout these 20 weeks, I have also learned how demanding it is to create content alone, develop interesting stories, research new topics, record and edit podcast episodes (GarageBand, my new best friend), write on social media.. But I have also discovered the power of new habits, i.e. the many ways you can train yourself to read and write more regularly, plan deep work sessions and meet your goals. I have always been skeptical about productivity tips but I am now convinced that you can achieve (almost) anything if you forge new habits.
Striking a Balance: Writing about cities is no easy feat. I still find challenging to balance context, content and stories, and bring novel and useful information in an accessible, digestible and memorable way. When reporting on the new forces that shape our cities, I indeed need to combine different things: providing facts and figures, framing a problem, summarising the state-of-the art, sharing resources and references, suggesting areas of further investigation, all that through a compelling format that will stick in people’s minds. There is not secret recipe but, in the coming phase, I’ll strive to learn more about storytelling as a way to communicate more effectively.
Leveraging those Soft Skills: Running Cities in Mind has also confirmed my belief that soft skills are paramount. Writing, communicating through an array of channels (from emails to social media to audio), engaging with an audience, engaging with experts, active listening (if I were to pick one skill I have improved a lot, it would be this one).. I have enjoyed practicing and honing my soft skills on a daily basis and now I take every opportunity I have (a new article, a podcast episode, a social media post) to become a better conversationalist.
Staying Humble: Last not least, those 20 weeks have helped me to cultivate my humble leadership. Humility and leadership are words not often used in the same sentence and, yet, developing content on a regular basis makes you realise that you have limits (like everybody) and that’s perfectly fine. You don’t know everything, you’re not a Pulitzer Prize, a writing machine or a social media wizard. What matters is to stay true to yourself and stick to your goal. Mine is to share with you my journey learning about the future of Asian cities and exploring why we should pay attention to urban trends in this part of the world.
🧑💻 Speaking of topics, I have done a quick mapping exercise of all the different contributions of Cities in Mind since day 1, to see in which directions I was going.
Big circles with # are podcast episodes and small circles are newsletter posts. It should not come as a surprise that most of the contributions are interrelated. As with all things urban, a problem, challenge or solution always call for another problem, challenge or solution.. As a media discussing our urban future, Cities in Mind is no exception.
This exercise revealed 3 main areas of investigations, that I intend to further examine:
👾 Taming technology (bottom right on the figure / purple-blue): how Asian cities are responding to the rise of Big (and small) Tech and fast-spreading super-apps; bridging the digital and physical worlds and finding the urban purpose of technology.
🌡 Getting climate-ready (bottom left / green-yellow): as one of the most vulnerable regions on earth when it comes to climate change, Asia is preparing for a different climate future, adapting its urban food systems, leveraging nature-based solutions and stepping up its green recovery efforts.
🤝 Forging communities (top middle / red-orange): If 2020-2021 taught us one lesson, it’s that social resilience is key. Asian cities are focusing their efforts in building strong, diverse and resilient communities, through neighbourhood design, adaptive reuse, tactical urbanism, placemaking.
In the future, I’ll keep exploring the intersections between these three areas (the most interesting stories are often in the intersections). I’ll also strive to write shorter stories, adopt a more personal writing style, find ways to engage with my audience, listen to your suggestions and feedbacks, and keep having fun in what I do!
Small teaser of the topics we’ll cover next: 🚇 Underground urbanism 🇨🇳 China’s urban future 🗺 Maps for the next billion users
Episode 01 - Creative Cities in the Social Media Age 📱 with Dr Ludovica Tomarchio, Singapore University of Technology and Design
Episode 04 - The Rise of Q-Commerce in Asian Cities 🛍 with Luc Andreani, Managing Director of Food Panda Singapore
Episode 05 - Futures Thinking: the Secret Weapon of Resilient Cities 🔮 with Cheryl Chung, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore
Episode 07 - Cooling Cities - The Rise of Climatic Urban Design in Asia 🌡 with Lea Rüfenacht, Project Coordinator of Cooling Singapore
Episode 08 - Putting a mid-sized city on the map: the journey of Penang, Malaysia📍 with Ahila Ganesan, Special Projects Lead at Think City Malaysia
Episode 09- When Nature is the Solution: Cities in Green & Blue 🌊 with Dr Perrine Hamel, Nanyang Technological University, Resilient and Inclusive Cities Lab
Episode 10 - Tactical Urbanism in Asia: the City at Eye Level 💡 with Lorenzo Petrillo, Founder of LopeLab
And also 📚
Before leaving, let me also share with you my summer reading list (I’ll be proud if I manage to finish all these books).
The Ministry for the Future by sci-fi author Kim Stanley Robinson - “An international task force tackles global heating in this chilling yet hopeful vision of how the next few decades might unfold”.
How to Win Friends and Influence People by late Dale Carnegie - Not a book for sociopaths (title is a bit misleading) but a classic self-help read from the 1930s, stressing the importance of emotional intelligence.
Coming Home by graphic novelist Tita Larasati - After being away from her home country of Indonesia for almost a decade, Tita returns to Bandung with her Dutch husband and two young kids in tow. As the family adjusts to this new life, Tita also rediscovers her hometown from a fresh perspective.
Curbing Traffic: The Human Case for Fewer Cars in Our Lives by urban mobility advocates Melissa and Chris Bruntlett - In 2019 the Bruntletts started a new adventure in the Netherlands. They emigrated with their children from Vancouver to Delft to experience cycling cities as residents rather than tourists.
Post Growth: Life After Capitalism by ecological economist Tim Jackson- “Capitalism is broken. The relentless pursuit of more has delivered climate catastrophe, social inequality and financial instability - and left us ill-prepared for life in a global pandemic”.
That’s it for today. As usual, a small 🧡 at the bottom of the page goes a long way.
If you like this newsletter and podcast, feel free to recommend it to a friend or colleague!
Thanks again for your support and I wish you all a nice summer break (if you’re taking any). See you very soon for a new podcast episode. Stay tuned.