Stories of Young Urbanists: Meet Paulina Fried

03.02.2023, Regina Schröter

Coming from a background in Geography, Paulina specialised in Cities & Sustainability at Aalborg University and gained experience working in mobility research at the University of Amsterdam and sustainable urban development at a Germany-based project developer. After working remotely from Lisbon during the pandemic, Paulina is now based in Berlin as a city dialogue consultant for German Railways, bringing their mission of sustainable mobility to life in collaboration with municipalities across the country. # GEOGRAPHY – THE PLAN B I have always wanted to study in Vienna since the Austrian capital has a lot to offer culturally and the low university fees make it a very livable place for students. But when it came to choosing what degree to study, geography was a happy accident and only my plan B, after I missed the deadline to apply for a Bachelor’s in event management. I decided to give geography a go and realised after two weeks that it was actually what I wanted to do! I learned fundamental knowledge about the earth, humans and the climate and I felt welcome amongst open-minded and travel-savvy fellow students. {{Pic1: Department of Geography at the University of Vienna. Photo via Paulina Fried}} #A MASTER'S IN "THE SMALL VERSION OF COPENHAGEN" After specialising in city & regional planning towards the end of my Bachelor’s, I was drawn to dive deeper into the field of urbanism and towards a new environment: Scandinavia – where state-of-the-art urban development projects are being realised. Studying a Master’s in Denmark, Sweden or Norway in English is way more affordable than the UK-based programs. My final choice ended up being the [Master’s in Cities & Sustainability]( in Aalborg, Denmark. I like to refer to it as a “small version of Copenhagen'' since it offered a comparable study experience to the Danish capital, but with rather comfortable costs of living similar to Vienna {{Pic2: Aalborg – “the small version of Copenhagen”. Photo via Paulina Fried}} We got taught with a method called “problem-based learning”, which means you learn how to approach, frame and tackle complex real-life issues, often in collaboration with partners in the city and industry. Looking back, my main takeaway is that we learnt that all problems that can occur in cities are relative to their context. When studying in Denmark – a country with a high quality of life – my fellow international students and I sometimes were irritated by the local, perceived “challenges” we worked on. But there are many urban problems that must be tackled, and the solutions to one city’s issue might be applicable to another context, so there are always valuable learnings to be gained. # INTERNSHIP IN URBAN MOBILITY FUTURES For my internship placement, I wanted to dive into the topic of mobility. I reached out speculatively to the Department of [Urban Mobility Futures]( at the University of Amsterdam. After their positive response, I moved to the Netherlands in the pandemic summer of 2020 and supported their research work by building a database with resources about how COVID-19 has shaped mobility patterns worldwide. I also helped organise conferences and lectures, where the academic network and other partners discussed new research projects. Additionally, I wrote my first academic paper on the impact of COVID-19 on women’s mobility in Amsterdam. # CONSCIOUS LIFE AS AN EXPAT IN LISBON After my internship in Amsterdam, I moved to Berlin to write my Master’s thesis with a fellow student. We explored the emotions of urban walkers in Berlin by measuring the electrodermal activity of their skin and comparing it to the urban landscape. However, due to the pandemic lockdown, I had a hard time connecting with the city and its people, so I decided to take the chance after finishing my Master's and move to the sunny south: Lisbon. {{Pic3: Soaking in the sun in the “City of Light” – Lisbon. Photo by [Clara Pietrek Photography](}} The urbanism job industry in Lisbon is hard to get into without sufficient language skills since there are few city-related jobs outside of the municipality. It became clear I would need to expand my job search outside of the field of urbanism, so I took a job as a sales development representative at a tech firm. I learnt to lead conversations, ask the right questions and listen actively to peoples’ needs to solve their challenges. I soon became aware of how I, as an expat, unintentionally contributed to so many recent problems in Lisbon – especially the rising costs of living – and wanted to find a way to give back to the community. I found out about a social startup called [Equal Food](, which works together with local farmers to prepare food boxes that would bring locally grown produce to city dwellers. Whilst raising awareness on food production and consumption, Equal Food offers locals who are struggling financially free produce boxes in exchange for their help to pack them. By volunteering, I found new friends, learnt about the community and documented my experience in an [article for the blog A City Made By People]( {{Pic4: Volunteering with Equal Food in Lisbon. Photo via Equal Food.}} # WORKING IN A REMOTE TEAM Eventually, I missed working in “my” sector and started sending out applications for jobs in sustainable urban development. I didn’t want to leave Lisbon yet and found a remote, temporary position with [URBAINITY](, a real estate development firm based in Hamburg, Germany, as a strategist in urban sustainability. Working remotely was a learning experience – it demands a high level of self-discipline, but I had the freedom to structure my day and was able to work from my sunny garden. With time, I missed the in-person exchange with colleagues over shared topics, which I found was not replaceable with random encounters in coworking spaces. I came to the conclusion that I wanted to move closer to my family and friends again and find work in which I can build a strong connection with the city and its people. The language was a deciding factor for me, as I lived in many countries but was never able to get my language skills up to a professional level. So I decided to find the next position in a German-speaking environment and gave Berlin a second chance. {{Pic5: Volunteering with the initiative “Berlin car-free referendum”. Photo via Paulina Fried.}} # BEING A COMMUNICATOR BETWEEN A CORPORATION AND A CITY I applied for various open positions in German cities and now work for German Railways, the national railway company, in the innovation unit called [Smart City | DB]( German Railways is providing the biggest sustainable mobility infrastructure in the country and is playing a major role in the transition towards zero-emission transport and mobility. In my daily role, I am in close contact with municipalities and local communities to bring their mission and services from the train stations into the cities and towns to create a holistic mobility experience. Working as an innovation unit in a company that was initially designed to build infrastructure and trains has its challenges. Processes take longer in a company with over 340.000 employees and many different departments. But I also see the advantages: I am currently leading the organisation and partnerships for a mobility-themed hackathon, which is so much easier when you have the capacities and connections of such an established company. # CONSIDERING A SHIFT INTO ACADEMIA Perspectively, I am considering shifting back into academia with a PhD because I thoroughly enjoyed working in the academic context and I am curious to dive deeper into specific topics in regard to mobility and urban space. There is no right or wrong in doing research, you always end up with a result that can open the door to new insights. Contrary to the common belief, I found working in research at the University of Amsterdam very much fast-paced, with lots of opportunities to try out hands-on interventions in urban space and produce results quickly. I am curious as to what opportunities the future holds for me!