Friday. 17/4/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Nolan Giles

Louder than words

As coronavirus wreaks havoc on independent businesses, marketing strategies have gone into overdrive. And though the reasons for this are obvious, it’s fair to say that the standard of communication has dropped as companies rush to tell the world, “We’re doing OK.” Grainy screenshots of Zoom calls posted on social media that show a workforce still hard at it; shakily filmed conversations between branding professionals in bedrooms and back gardens – these are now the order of the day.

Many of the firms that are adapting well favour authenticity and are maintaining the brand values that were ingrained in their company long before the virus brought the world to a semi-standstill. I’ve spoken to a number of successful independent-business owners this week. All of them are struggling but confident that, though the way they work is changing, their quality control is not. A luxury-travel communications consultant spoke of the value of “strategic silence”, advising clients that good news – such as initiatives to prepare free food for hospital workers – travels fast and that there’s no need for photos of the endeavour to be plastered on social media.

My most heartening conversation was with Ilse Cornelissens, whose Antwerp-based concept business, Graanmarkt 13 (pictured), championed a “slow” way of shopping, eating and drinking long before the word became so buzzy. Next week Cornelissens, together with her husband and co-founder, Tim Van Geloven, and the team behind Graanmarkt’s successful vegetarian restaurant, will be cooking and delivering top-quality meals to a local clientele that’s clearly missing the city’s usual good eating spots. There will be no Deliveroo option to boost sales and orders will be limited to what the team can realistically manage. It’s Cornelissens’ way of sticking to the values that her clients have grown to respect her for. She is communicating to her city that her business is not going away any time soon. “It’s delivering the same experience, just to the person’s door,” she says.

Economy / Germany & Switzerland

Opening season

In the past two days, two more European countries – Germany and Switzerland – have laid out plans to partially reopen their economies. Germany will allow shops smaller than 800 sq m to open from Monday, with more easing for businesses such as hair salons from 4 May. By contrast, Swiss president Simonetta Sommaruga (pictured) is allowing consumer businesses – hair and cosmetic salons, physical therapy and massage parlours, flower shops and garden centres – to open first, on 27 April; all shops could follow on 11 May. Switzerland prefers to wait until better monitoring is possible and wants every business to develop a “protection concept” before opening, rather than risk a “stop and go” process that forces a second round of closures. Both countries say that the epidemic is currently under control and agree that health precautions and physical distancing are crucial to keeping it that way. But the differing approaches signal just how challenging it is for countries to get this right.

Energy / Japan

Power brokers

Japan’s energy strategy has been something of a mess since the closure of nuclear power plants after the 2011 earthquake but some of its biggest banks are now taking the lead. This week financial group Mizuho said that it would halt new loans for coal-fired power plants and cut outstanding loans of about ¥300bn (€2.6bn) in the sector to zero by 2050; its rival Mitsubishi UFJ announced a similar shift last year.

Mizuho also plans to make ¥12trn (€102bn) worth of investments and loans in renewable-energy and infrastructure projects by 2030. Resource-scarce Japan beefed up its gas and coal energy output after 2011 but has since equivocated as it looks to wean itself off fossil fuels, even keeping the nuclear-power option alive despite strong public opposition. Perhaps the banks’ moves will nudge the government into rethinking the country’s overall approach to energy.

Urbanism / Toronto

Walk this way

To help Torontonians maintain proper distance from one another, the city’s mayor John Tory says that he is considering having pedestrians on some pavements travel in a single direction. Critics argue that there’s a better solution: shutting selected streets to cars so that walkers can spread out, a move that cities such as Oakland and Minneapolis have embraced but Toronto has resisted. The fear is that one-way pavements will encourage jaywalking as mobility is reduced – and still won’t allow pedestrians the space to pass one another safely. “The much simpler solution would be to use barricades to block at least two lanes of traffic on some major streets so that pedestrians can navigate the city safely while doing their essential activities,” says urban geographer Daniel Rotsztain, who took to the streets on Monday wearing a two-metre-wide Hula Hoop-like contraption to illustrate the near-impossible task of maintaining distance on city pavements. “Other cities are doing it, there’s no reason Toronto can’t.”

Media / Italy

On the beat

At a time when the coronavirus outbreak is affecting cities big and small, the importance of local newspapers is ever more apparent. With unmatched knowledge of their beat, personal relationships with sources and profound links with their community, grassroots journalists are well placed to chart the effects of the pandemic on everyday lives. At times like these, the work of editors at publications such as L’Eco di Bergamo (pictured) is truly essential. The paper and its 50-strong team is based in the city of Bergamo, one of the worst-affected spots in the northern region of Lombardy, itself one of the hardest-hit areas in Italy. We spoke to the team to find out how a small title can rise to the challenge of covering such a big story – read more in Monocle’s May issue.

M24 / The Menu

Food Neighbourhoods 180: Recipe edition, Samin Nosrat

Continuing our series of recipes from some of the world’s best chefs, we hear from US chef, author and broadcaster Samin Nosrat.

Monocle Films / Global

Monocle preview: May issue, 2020

Many of us will be spending more time than usual in our houses. And whether you’re busy eyeing a kitchen table, equipping your home gym or trying new recipes, our May issue explores every nook and cranny of the home – and why it matters. Plus: some home truths for when the world returns to normal. Available now at The Monocle Shop

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