Stories of Young Urbanists: Meet Franca Fellmann

29.09.2021, Regina Schröter

Franca Fellmann grew up in Switzerland supporting progressive ideas from a young age. During her Bachelor’s in Geography and Sociology, she discovered her interest for sustainable urban development and moved to Rotterdam for a Master’s degree in Urban Management and Development. Franca is currently interning at the Cantonal and Urban Development division of Basel-City Canton. # WORKING AT THE BASEL SMART CITY LAB I am currently interning at the Cantonal and Urban Development Division of Basel-City where I am involved in the buildup of [Smart City Lab]( Basel, among other projects. The Lab is a joint effort by Swiss Railways and the Canton of Basel-City and located close to Basel main station in former cargo storage halls. We are providing this space for free to startups working in the field of sustainable urban development for them to test their ideas and prototypes, such as collecting data with sensors all around the space, and have a coworking space upstairs where you can work independently, hold meetings or host workshops. # CONNECTING STAKEHOLDERS FOR SUSTAINABILITY In my understanding, a “smart city” is not only a digital city but also a networked city, meaning that the city government is not the only stakeholder acting towards urban development. Many private partners as well as the citizens can cooperate with each other and enable more sustainability and “smartness” in cities. For example, one of our partners in the Lab is [Upvolt](, a startup that refurbishes used batteries from e-bikes so that they can be reused. Currently, when their battery power goes below 80 percent, they get discarded. Upvolt takes them and replaces the broken battery cells and thereby brings their power back to a usable level. We connected Upvolt with the Cantonal Police Department, which recently acquired a fleet of e-bikes and can now change their batteries in a more sustainable way. {{Pic1: Changing e-bike batteries. Photo by Himiway Bikes}} # GOING GREEN AT A YOUNG AGE As a teenager, I went to a school where I was surrounded by many people who were interested in sustainability and other “green” topics. Together with friends, I joined the Young Green Party of Basel City because I supported their ideas and goals. After having been a relatively passive member for some time, I took on the position as Deputy Director of the Green Party of Basel-Countryside in November 2020, when they were looking for a maternity leave replacement. I had just graduated and had never worked in campaigning before, but I was very motivated. It was an enriching experience with a lot going on in politics at this time in terms of sustainable mobility and climate change mitigation. # INTERNING POST GRADUATION Since the position as Deputy Director was limited to 7 months, I was quickly applying for new roles again. Finding a job in the pandemic without much working experience was very challenging. The most frustrating part was that I wasn’t even getting rejections, so I kept up my hopes indefinitely, which was mentally exhausting. Even though it was not my plan to be an intern post-graduation, I applied to the Canton of Basel-City’s internship offer with the intent to gain some work experience that would fit my educational profile. In Switzerland, anyone can do an internship, even when they are not a student anymore, and they are usually paid. Coming from a background in Geography and Sociology, it was always said that it is necessary to have internship experience. Nevertheless, it is frustrating that having graduated with a Master’s degree is not enough anymore to get a job right away these days. {{Pic2: Strolling through Paris. Photo by Mélanie Krebs}} # FALLING IN LOVE IN AND WITH PARIS I had been to Paris as a teenager almost every year, when we stopped over to change trains on our way to family holidays in Bretagne. As my brother and I got older, my parents decided to stay over for some days to explore the city together. The atmosphere in and architecture of Paris made me fall in love with the city instantly. Unsurprisingly, I eventually chose Paris for my Erasmus semester – also because there were teams for Ultimate Frisbee, a collective sport which I had been playing for years already. I joined the Ultimate Frisbee team closest to my home, the Révolution’Air, and I met my boyfriend there. I also met most of my Parisian friends in this team. So I can only recommend joining a group sport when moving to a new city. {{Pic3: Ultimate Frisbee. Photo by WonzPhotography}} # LEARNING ABOUT GREEN CITIES After my Bachelor’s, I returned to Paris, took French classes there for the DALF-C2 diploma and did the English TOEFL test there in preparation for my Master’s. While in Paris, I signed up for a short course at Erasmus University Rotterdam called “[Green Cities for Eco Efficiency](”. In this course, I got in touch with sustainable urban development, and I also had the opportunity to “test out” the Erasmus University of Rotterdam and confirm that I could see myself studying my Master’s degree there. When I began the [M.Sc. in Urban Development and Management]( a few months later, I realized that the short course had already covered one of the specializations offered within the program, so I chose another one: Urban Environment, Sustainability and Climate Change. # MASTER’S EXPERIENCE IN ROTTERDAM The course was very international, we had about 90 people from 45 nationalities, and the program was a very intense year. There were lots of group projects, in which I became very aware of my own cultural background, as well as others’. I turned out to be the diplomatic one who is always taking a neutral standing point – very much a Swiss cliché! I was only studying in person in Rotterdam for six months, when the pandemic hit and all students left the city overnight. Finishing the Master’s remotely gave me the chance to spend time in Paris with my boyfriend. Even though I felt much more at home there, I would have liked to stay in Rotterdam for the whole duration of the Master’s to have a complete experience. {{Pic4: Highrises of Rotterdam. Photo by NJ Choi}} # CITIES’ ROLE IN CLIMATE MITIGATION For my Master thesis, I investigated the case of New York City compared to the federal government of the USA on the topic of climate change mitigation policy. At that time, Trump was president and set out of the Paris Agreement. On the federal level, there was an institutional inertia – or even an opposition to climate topics. My claim was, that if the national government does not take action, the municipality can step in. In this case, it was very interesting to see how New York City responded to the federal inertia and stepped up to work on climate change issues. This really underlines the importance and potential of cities as political entities and drivers in climate change mitigation and respective policies. # ASPIRING TO BECOME A SLOW MOBILITY OFFICER Taking together my experience from living in the Netherlands and my everyday life in Basel, I came up with my dream profession to be a Slow Mobility Officer. In my imagination, I would be working very hands-on on expanding the infrastructure to prioritise slow mobility: pedestrians and non-motorized vehicles such as bikes, electrical wheelchairs and even the controversial e-scooters. {{Pic5: Slow Mobility Street. Photo by Etienne Girardet}} After having lived in Basel and Rotterdam, where sustainable mobility infrastructures such as bike lanes are already functioning quite well, I am more drawn to work in Paris, where cycling is still more of a challenge. I wouldn’t enjoy working as much on a high level of perfection like in the Netherlands. But getting a job in Paris as a non-native is difficult, so I am open to any opportunities that come my way, that would give me the possibility to keep working on the topic closest to my heart: sustainable urban development.