Observation - Issue 58 - Magazine | Monocle

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There’s a fine line between leaving the fate of millions to good old common sense (when many lack this most basic yet essential trait) and numbing society’s alert sensors with too many health and safety rules. During my five-block walk to work I encounter a number of little snags and snares that could easily trip a dopey person wired to headphones or chatting absent-mindedly into the gutter (they would fall into the lacking common sense = had it coming to them camp) but could just as easily trip-up a sweet old dear and send her for a tumble. While I don’t think that every bit of the pavement needs to be perfectly even and heartily believe that anyone who takes to the open road (on foot or otherwise) needs to be at their most alert, there are some stretches of pavement that end up costing the tax-payer a fortune as too many people trip over a join or go flying on slick surfaces.

Just around the corner from our office there’s a 20-metre stretch of tarmac sidewalk that gets so slippery in the rain that even the most goat-footed local could easily end up on their can if they don’t tread gingerly. On many a morning, no matter what the footwear, I’ve often found myself in full flight before sloppily recovering my balance and dignity. On several occasions I’ve seen locals, toddlers and unsuspecting businessmen all smack the pavement. This is a good example where a quick re-surfacing of Paddington Street would save on medical insurance, lost man-hours in the workplace and time occupying valuable hospital beds.

When we think about the health of nations, there’s often an imbalance between preventative measures versus necessary/critical care. And too often preventative only takes the form of medicine and exercise regimes rather than a total view of the environments we live in. Attend many a media conference these days and technology (in all its forms from fibre networks to apps) will be put forward as the magic tonic to all of society’s ills. While I’m all for satellite systems that can relay patient details directly to hospital or radar that can help medevac helicopters take off and land in most conditions, I’m not sure my grandmother really needs an app to help with snow removal.

The tech wiz on stage will surely tell a compelling story as he stands in front of a jumbo screen that further animates his point. In his scenario Ottawa gets the greatest dumping of snow it’s ever seen and the city is simply not capable of dealing with all the white stuff. Cut to apartments and homes across the city with the “Scapp” (snow clearance app) where residents are registering their requirements for snow clearance on their street. “It’s 24 hours since the snowfall and my sidewalk is not clear. Can you please plough and grit the sidewalk?” messages one. “I need the street in front of my driveway cleared asap as I can’t get to the store and my kids need to eat,” messages another. At this point the lights will go up, he’ll twirl his mobile device and reveal how this simple bit of technology can save on costs, appear more responsive and, most important of all, take the strain off much-stretched resources. The key point that will be glossed over, however, is that the streets, no matter how big the snowfall, should be cleared with urgency in the capital of one of the snowiest G8 nations. Moreover, all this technological wizardry shouldn’t displace spending on getting the basics right in the first place – ploughing streets, mending pavements, replacing lightbulbs atop street lamps and ensuring there are enough benches for weary bones.

Once the fundamentals are sorted, all kinds of other preventative programmes can be adopted to ensure the urban landscape has been designed to keep populations healthy and free from daily dangers. Developers should be required to think in terms of adding special housing for the elderly in mixed-use developments and carving out business space for people who might want to scale down their operations while still being active members of the business community.

Medical facilities don’t necessarily need to be bundled into one mega-facility but should offer more satellites that can respond to less urgent medical requirements while also offering walk-in facilities for regular check-ups. Just as Japan has its koban police stations in most neighbourhoods, we’d advocate a similar first-aid style set-up for neighbourhoods where a nurse would be on hand to change dressings, dispense pills, deliver holiday jabs and offer consultation on basic aches and pains – all for an affordable fee that would keep hypochondriacs at bay.

Our editors haven’t worked on the numbers just yet (we’re not that good with a calculator if we’re perfectly honest) but we think this approach to community building is what many a citiy requires as mayors and national leaders attempt to square medical budgets against spending.

As this is the last page to ship to the printers, I’m at long last happy to report that we finally signed the lease on our café and will throw open the doors to the Monocle Café London at 18 Chiltern Street in early December and we’ve just launched our first hotel kiosk at Hyatt Regency’s The Churchill Hotel on Portman Square. We look forward to seeing you at our daily Kaffeeklatsch. Questions and comments on a postcard or email to me at tb@monocle.com or my assistants Tommy (tse@monocle.com) or Isabel (ik@monocle.com). Thank you for your support.

For more from our editor in chief, read his column in the FT Weekend.

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