Tuesday. 7/4/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Christopher Cermak

Managing expectations

At the start of this year, on the eve of Sebastian Kurz being inaugurated once again as Austrian chancellor, I wrote a column musing about where I went wrong in failing to become a world leader in my thirties – and wondering whether my fellow thirtysomethings were really capable of governing responsibly. That question seemed even more relevant just two months later as national leaders the world over were thrust into managing one of the biggest challenges in most young people’s lifetimes.

So what’s the verdict? Well if Kurz (pictured) is anything to go by, we thirtysomethings can be pretty impressive when we want to be. Austria has acted resolutely in curbing the spread of coronavirus: earlier closures/restrictions and comprehensive testing, for example, have led to a lower death rate than in many other countries. This allowed Kurz to yesterday lay out a step-by-step plan for reopening businesses (small shops from 14 April, larger ones 1 May, restaurants mid-May and larger events not before the end of June; wearing masks required for all shop visits). Not only is this plan more detailed than most European countries have been able to present but Kurz’s timing was clever since it came with a caveat: if Austrians fail to stay home over the crucial Easter weekend and the virus spreads further, these easing measures won’t be implemented.

Right now it’s the uncertainty that can make all of this feel so unbearable. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has had forlorn discussions along the lines of, “When will all of this be over? Will we have to do this for a whole year?” Given that, Kurz’s speech felt like a masterclass in managing behaviour: a carrot-and-stick approach that includes an end point on the horizon – and how it will be reached – coupled with exactly what needs to be done for that timeline to be kept. If you want to keep people in their homes, it helps to map a clear path to better days ahead.

Society / Japan

Technical difficulties

After a month’s break, Japan’s new school year should have resumed yesterday (and did in some places) but for students in some cities, including Tokyo, where infections continue to rise, schools will now remain closed until 6 May. While pupils in some countries are continuing their education online, few Japanese children have that option: a government survey found that 78 per cent of schools weren’t using remote-education systems and 73 per cent had no plans to introduce them. Although some technology companies, including Google, have been distributing computer tablets, few schools have sufficient high-speed communications networks. Some action is being taken: the country’s big three mobile-phone carriers – NTT Docomo, Au and Softbank – are reducing high-speed fees for students aged under 25 and the government plans to provide wi-fi routers to speed up sluggish connections. It’s too late to resolve the problem immediately but the crisis has at least prompted the government to look at the issue of teaching outside the classroom.

Design / Switzerland

Delivering the goods

Solidarity has been the hallmark of this pandemic as volunteers sign up to help with everything from the emergency services to food deliveries and neighbours in need. Swiss Post marked this community spirit yesterday by launching a beautiful new collection of stamps. Proceeds from the Covid-19 Solidarity series will be distributed by the Swiss Solidarity charity and the Swiss Red Cross. The stamps cost CHF5 (€4.60) each or CHF50 (€46) for a block of 10.

“Swiss postal design has always been strong and this stamp continues that tradition,” says Monocle’s creative director, Richard Spencer Powell. “So far the graphic language of the pandemic has been imagery of microscopic germs or curves on graphs. This new stamp design is more emblematic of hope; depicting people of the world arm in arm and the Swiss flag shining like a beacon.” It should provide a little bit of brightness through people’s letterboxes during these long weeks.

Urbanism / Australia

Boom town planning

The Australian state of New South Wales is looking to safeguard its construction sector against the economic downturn by fast-tracking planning and development applications, and investing AU$70m (€40m) in essential infrastructure. It is hoped that the acceleration in the building of roads, public parks and housing will create more than 30,000 construction jobs over the next six months. While this is good news for the sector, which accounts for 10 per cent of the region’s economy, there is a need to remain vigilant about quality as designs are pushed through the planning system at speed. That scrutiny of major projects will be up to the state’s Design Review Panel, a team of architects, landscape architects and urban planners. The panel should ensure that new projects balance immediate economic interests with the needs of the city; important work given that buildings and roads can dramatically shape the make-up of our neighbourhoods for decades to come.

Culture / Global

Accessible art

Gallerist and art dealer Larry Gagosian yesterday unveiled a new initiative that’s designed to highlight the works of artists who, despite months or years of preparation, have had their upcoming exhibitions shelved. Gagosian operates 18 galleries globally but it’s his online platform that will host “Artist Spotlight”. Every week one artist – ranging from the likes of Theaster Gates to Damien Hirst and Jenny Saville – will take centre stage with just a single artwork (along with its price) displayed for 48 hours only. The pieces will be accompanied by editorial and video content about the artist’s process and inspirations that will complement and contextualise their works. The new series kicks off tomorrow with US sculptor and installation artist Sarah Sze (pictured).

 We invite you to take a look – and perhaps consider making a contribution.

M24 / The Stack

A celebration of print

This week we celebrate print in these difficult times for the industry. We speak with the president of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers. Plus: Gert Jonkers from ‘Fantastic Man’ on its brand-new issue, and Jeremy Leslie from Magculture.

Monocle Films / USA

Dallas street style

Texas is about big money, big cars and big characters; we meet the new generation adding some welcome cool to the cowboy chic.

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