Thursday. 19/3/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Chiara Rimella

Leadership gains

Giuseppe Conte has undergone a radical shift in public perception in the past few weeks. Italy’s prime minister (pictured) was once overshadowed at press conferences by his vocal deputies and largely considered a dull figure. But the former lawyer, who is not affiliated with any specific party but is currently leading a government formed by the centre-left Democratic party and populist Five Star Movement, has become Italy’s reference point in dealing with the coronavirus crisis. Despite inevitable criticism from some for the speed with which the country dealt with the situation, Conte’s personal approval ratings have been creeping up, rising to 45 per cent from 42 per cent in the past week.

As the epicentre of the outbreak in Europe, Italy introduced lockdown measures before any other state on the continent and Conte delivered the news in a calm, decisive and concise manner via televised addresses. But he has also maintained an empathetic touch that resonates with the population. “Let’s stay further away today to hug each other with more warmth tomorrow,” he said as he concluded one of his speeches.

After months of uncertainty, wobbly governments and political in-fighting, Italians are in dire need of a solid figure to lead them. However tough it might be to follow the strict quarantine rules, most understand why such decisions have been made and, according to a recent survey published in La Repubblica, 86 per cent of them would support further measures. Once the worst is over, Conte’s stringent approach is likely to keep bearing political fruit.

Politics / New Zealand

Fern response

Leaders around the world have been rushing to announce economic aid packages to bail out both businesses and individuals during the coronavirus outbreak. In New Zealand the government has committed to spending more than NZ$12bn (€6.4bn), amounting to about 4 per cent of GDP, on measures including health provision, a cash boost for some of the most vulnerable workers and grants to help businesses stay afloat. One of the interesting aspects of New Zealand’s plan is the inclusion of guaranteed sick pay for freelance contractors who are not covered by their employers. “The response from both business and unions was really positive,” Laura Walters, a New Zealand journalist, told Monocle 24’s The Globalist. “There was immediate, unanimous support.” That reaction is, in part, a nod to prime minister Jacinda Ardern (pictured), who consulted both groups and has won plaudits for her clear communication and clear communication during the crisis. In such uncertain times, co-operation, at both an international and national level, is key.

Business / USA

Meal tickets

As many US restaurants shut their doors in a bid to slow the spread of coronavirus, restaurant-industry PR veterans Helen Patrikis and Steven Hall have launched the Dining Bonds initiative, a nationwide campaign to help independent restaurants to stay afloat. The scheme is inspired by wartime savings bonds and the idea is similar: if restaurants sell a “bond” at a discounted rate today, say $75 (€68), it would be redeemable for $100 (€91) in the future.

“We realised that many of our clients are going to be deeply affected and face the potential threat of shutting down permanently due to the loss of business,” says Patrikis. “So we’ve tried to figure out how to give restaurants some much-needed cash now.” More than 100 restaurants – from New York to Los Angeles and even Jackson Hole, Wyoming – are participating in the programme, which launched on Monday, and the list is growing quickly. Hopefully the initiative will inspire other sectors to take similar measures.

Hospitality / Japan

Green shoots

You might be surprised to hear it but a new hotel opened in Japan’s ancient capital yesterday: The Hiramatsu Kyoto by Tokyo-based hospitality company Hiramatsu. Its roots go back to 1982 when Hiroyuki Hiramatsu, an entrepreneur, chef and hotel-school graduate, opened a French restaurant in Tokyo. Only in 2015 did the firm start opening hotels. For this new venture, Hiramatsu commissioned celebrated Kyoto carpentry company Nakamura Sotoji Komuten to augment a centuries-old townhouse with contemporary additions. The five-storey hotel has 29 guest rooms designed with modern Japanese finishes and two restaurants serving traditional Japanese and Italian dishes made using local ingredients. The launch comes as daily activities remain far from normal in Japan but it’s also a sign that life, as elsewhere in the world, must find a way to continue.

Design / Denmark & Australia

Harbour ambitions

Having already created a grass-covered town hall in the Faroe Islands and helped masterplan an all-timber neighbourhood in Denmark, the latest win for the Copenhagen-based firm Henning Larsen presents it with a different kind of challenge. This week it won a competition to design a sprawling – and towering – development in Sydney’s Darling Harbour (pictured). It gives the sustainability minded and socially conscious firm the chance to alter the dialogue of development down under. Alongside abundant natural beauty, energy-sapping concrete towers continue to rise across Australia, while sustainability goals and benefits to the public realm tend to be an afterthought. Henning Larsen aims to help change this by proposing a huge elevated park that will link disconnected parts of the harbour city and offer the use of green space to Sydney’s citizens.

M24 / The Menu

Food Neighbourhoods 176: Cork

Monocle’s Charlie Jermyn talks us through the rich and varied culinary delights on offer in Ireland’s second city.

Monocle Films / Sweden

The secret to building affordable homes

As part of our 'Secret to...' series we visit the architecture practice of Andreas Martin-Löf, which is reinventing residential housing in Stockholm.

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