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What links a panda looking for a new home, a wounded farmer, a town hoping to revive its fortunes, a Canadian city wanting to polish up its welcome and an Antony Gormley sculpture on the move? Well, they’re all dependent on the glories of modern transport and they all make an entry in this issue of monocle, which takes as its theme how we – and the things we want – get from A to B.

But a panda, you ask? Yes – let me explain. This transport issue is not so much about kicking tyres and looking under the bonnet; it’s more about what the world of transport adds to every aspect of our lives. And the panda is a passing character in this month’s Expo, which looks at the business of logistics and in particular the strange, often nocturnal world of air freight.

We persuaded the Cathay Pacific Services team at Hong Kong airport to let us see what emerges from the bellies of its cargo planes when they land each night after the final passenger flights have departed. It turns out that in addition to a whole ark of animals – including pandas being dispatched from mainland China to the world’s leading zoos – they are unloading the finest ingredients for the city’s top chefs and transhipping the latest tech products as they make their way from the factories of China to the world’s hottest retail markets. Hong Kong is the biggest air-cargo centre on earth (it shifted 4.4 million tonnes in 2014 alone) but this is also a trade that is usually hidden behind a wall of impenetrable security – until now.

But we also introduce you to the wounded farmer. He appears in our report in the Affairs pages on essential air services: the subsidised air routes that allow remote communities to exist and thrive (and get to hospital when an emergency strikes). For our story we visited communities in Wales, Montana and Queensland and witnessed how for many people, air travel is not about luxury but survival. It’s the only way that their livelihoods and communities can exist. You should head over to page 61 to meet the pilots who are real life-savers.

A similar story unfolds in Japan in the town of Kanazawa and a report in our Business section. Kenji Hall, an editor in our Tokyo office, has written a great piece about how a new Shinkansen line from the capital has brought fresh hope and money to this once-remote outpost. The Hokuriku line has made the people of Kanazawa look at how they sell their city and triggered renewed interest in restoring old machiya townhouses. It’s also prompted a jump in property prices, rekindled fading trades and inspired a whole slew of ambitious new enterprises. And it’s allowed people to travel to Tokyo in two hours and 28 minutes instead of four hours. It’s refreshing to see how commitment to big-scale infrastructure projects can deliver so many high-speed results. What’s impressive too is that the city burghers are focused so sharply on making sure that it’s the people of Kanazawa who are the real winners, not just outside players.

We see that Toronto has also wised up to economics and the branding potential of a well-considered transport project, as you will see in our Design section. The new UP Express links Pearson International Airport and the city’s downtown Union Station in 25 minutes. But beyond the handsome branding and great stations there is a bigger ambition at play here: changing visitors’ takes on the place. The UP Express project is about rolling out a red carpet and making people instantly see that this is a city that is about good design, getting things right and being connected to the world.

But let’s return to the world of freight. No, not the panda but the shifting of art works from studio to fair, museum to collector. When the small painting in your hands might be worth millions it could be a daunting process to stick it in a box and hand it over to a man in nice overalls but that’s what happens every day. However, it’s not just any courier company you call. This is a rarefied world of logistics where a few players dominate and knees don’t accidentally go through canvas. Find out who can be relied on to move an Antony Gormley in our well-packed Culture pages.

A few other essential reads in our transport-themed issue.

  1. Transport Top 25
    The key developments coming your way – and the things we like.

  2. Ljubljana transit
    The small capital making a big urban-planning impact.

  3. Perfect duty-free
    Monocle’s ideal airport retail zone.

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