The most brilliantly effective ideas are usually the most simple. Trams to deliver goods, field tests for aid programmes, and free access to contraception in Africa – these are some examples that Monocle believes will have civic leaders and governments asking themselves, ‘Why didn’t we think of that?’
Trams instead of lorries
We like trams – they’re quiet, green and reliable, and preferable to commuters clogging urban arteries with their cars. So why not use them to rid city centres of lorries too? From this spring Amsterdam will use its tram tracks to ease in goods normally loaded onto lorries. Once in the city, the supplies will be decanted to a fleet of electric vans for delivery to shops, hotels and businesses.
CityCargo, the firm behind the scheme, believes it could take half the lorry traffic off Amsterdam’s streets. And as they trundle behind passenger services, they won’t interfere with commuter timetables. If negotiations go to plan, the Hague, Rotterdam, Prague, Riga, Tokyo and Brussels will be next to remove heavy vehicles from their roads.
Trains in the sky
Urban planners are realising that the cable car is not only a time-saving device for tourists, but an old-fashioned solution to a modern-day problem: commuting. “Aerial tramways” have minimal fuel emissions, take up little space, and are just about the most scenic way to get to work.
Besides long-established routes in Istanbul, New York and Vancouver, a €42m route was opened in Portland in 2007, transporting almost 1.4 million passengers a year up 1,005m from the waterfront to the Oregon Health and Science University campus. Plans have also been mooted for a cross-Thames cable car in London, carrying up to 5,000 passengers an hour between Beckton and Thamesmead in time for the 2012 Olympics.
Delivering the message
Trying to get children in a feeding camp in Sudan to listen to him, aid worker Johnie McGlade stumbled across an idea. Puppets, he discovered, are an ideal way to get kids to pay attention. “Children are spellbound by anything that is animated, and puppets can be used to give out life-saving messages much more effectively than an adult could,” he says.
Together with two puppeteers from The Muppet Show, McGlade set up No Strings, a charity that makes educational films for children in poor and troubled parts of the world. From HIV in Africa to landmines in Afghanistan, the puppets have been used to teach children about the dangers they face. The films can even be watched in remote areas on mobile projectors.
The baby blues
Rwandan women have on average six children each and the country has the highest population density in Africa (more than 320 people per sq km). The population, estimated at nine million, could double by 2030. Fearing that such a rise could destroy the country’s chance of development, the government has introduced a “three children per family” policy. The initiative is encouraged rather than enforced. The government provides free access to contraceptives and has launched a nationwide programme, explaining the economic dangers of unchecked population growth.
Other east African countries will be watching closely; a typical Kenyan woman has six children, a Ugandan has seven.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Poverty Action Lab is at the forefront of a new movement in development economics – and it’s changing the way we think about aid in the process. Led by professors Abhijit Banarjee, Esther Duflo and Sendhil Mullainathan, the idea is simple: design controlled field experiments to test aid programmes in much the same way as pharmaceutical firms test drugs.
Results are often surprising. In Romania, one test found that offering free computers to poor children led to lower academic performance. “One of the reasons aid and development policy doesn’t work very well is that people shoot in the dark,” Banerjee says. “Our agenda is to get some guidance from hard knowledge.”
Jobseekers on the move
Pavement-pounding French job hunters could soon be a thing of the past in France if the country’s secretary of state for employment has anything to do with it. In October, Laurent Wauquiez announced two new ideas that could make a dramatic difference for many. The first of these schemes, tested in the region of Aubagne-La Ciotat just east of Marseille, has job centres renting out cars and scooters by the month, at €30 and €15 respectively. The second scheme, in the Normandy department of Seine-Maritime, will help jobseekers who don’t have a driving licence to finance driving lessons. Wauquiez says a similar scheme has proved successful in getting people back to work in Corsica.
Ditch the wrapping
While presentation is important, it’s clear that food packaging is getting out of hand – just look at wrap-happy Japan. Monocle thinks supermarkets should follow Italy’s example. At grocery chain Crai, shoppers can use the recyclable bags provided to buy pasta, rice and coffee by the kilo from food dispensers (there’s also detergent and liquid soap for sale in reusable containers). The company estimates it will save six million pieces of packaging a year.
Wake up to pedal power
It’s time for city officials to take out their chequebooks and invest in initiatives to get people to cycle more. One scheme that’s working is Copenhagen’s “green wave”, bike lanes with synchronised traffic lights that let two-wheeled commuters zip along busy thoroughfares at 20km/h. Local taxis also offer racks to transport one’s Skeppshult home should the need arise. Such measures have paid off, as 36 per cent of Copenhageners now pedal to work.
From Berlin to Blackpool to Beijing (where the idea came from), councils are turning to public playgrounds to keep their older demographic healthy and happy. Instead of slides and swings, it’s about stainless-steel apparatus for use by the more senior of joints. Rules – from no-smoking policies to height regulations – are in place to keep troublesome teens away. In Nuremberg, for example, entry is refused to anyone under 65. With each park costing around €20,000, you can understand why.
Leaders fly commercial
Freedom of movement should be a basic human right. Freedom of movement in private aircraft should not. Come January, when the world’s leaders descend on Davos, and Zürich airport is filled with government jets mini and massive, Monocle would like to see a new watchdog (govjetgrounded.org ?) blowing the whistle and even impounding aircraft owned by governments that should be flying commercial. Is a 767 necessary for the president of Turkmenistan? We think not.