01. Call Jan Gehl now
At this point it’s hard to imagine what’s on the other side of this tunnel. Indeed the tunnel is so much longer than you had anticipated that you are beginning to have a strange thought: is there an end to this tunnel? OK, perhaps you don’t have those moments.
This week I found a calming antidote when I interviewed Jan Gehl, now 83 and the world’s best-known urban designer, for the June issue of Monocle and a forthcoming episode of The Urbanist. I called him at his home in Denmark where he is social distancing with his wife and, as he picked up the phone, he was contentedly crunching his way through a carrot. A big one. It appears that he’s both a sage and a Bugs Bunny impersonator.
Perhaps a couple of the questions were tinged with my angst: would the world be changed permanently, would social distancing rules put an end to communal living, shared space? But his response was clear.
“No,” he said. “I have a strong belief in homo sapiens as a social animal that likes other people and likes community. And so, I think that after a short scare, we’ll be back to business as usual.” Although he did believe that the world of independent shops would suffer and that, for him an upside, we could see cruise ships being banned from docking in cities.
My takeaway? Sometimes all you need to steady your outlook is someone with longer vision than yourself – and a belief that walking in your garden eating a delicious carrot while we wait this moment out is just fine.
02. Where can I sit?
There is one place, however, where surely there will be a slow return to the old ways. Recent years have seen the rise of the so-called nomadic worker: a generation of people who are able to run their worlds from a laptop while perched in cafés and hotel lobbies. And they have had their corporate equivalents: the hot-deskers; people denied their own desk in a cost-saving drive masked as some form of creative freedom. But all of this feels very uncomfortable now. If they cannot secure a clean desk that’s all theirs, many people will choose to stay working from home until the virus is not just under control but gone. And if cafés have to space out seating – cutting the number of covers – well, then the headphone set who sit there typing all day and buy only the occasional flat white will be very unwelcome.
03. This business could clean up
Here’s a good business opportunity emerging. Yesterday I watched a chic woman renting a ride-share bicycle. Before she got on, she pulled from her handsome soft-leather tote a large anti-bacterial spray probably taken from her kitchen, a disposable cloth and gloves, and did a thorough cleanse of the seat and handles. If we are going to need mobile cleansing units in our bags for moments such as this, then I predict the rise of numerous handbag-sized spray guns in fetching colours to match your style and all sorts of new leather accessories to hold cloths and gloves. But before designers spring into action, could I also request a carrot holder too please: I need the Gehl carotene hit.
P.S. Right to reply
In last week’s column I hinted that I was doubtful whether two of my colleagues would have made much progress on their aims to become proficient makers of clothing during lockdown. Some suggested that I had been unfair. So let’s hear what they have to say for themselves. Tom Reynolds, managing editor: “I confess that my sewing machine remains untouched. My wife is a stylist so I feel a lot of pressure winding my bobbin up in front of her. Maybe I will use the dust that has gathered on the machine as some sort of stuffing for the cushions that I’ll make.” And our writer in Toronto, Will Kitchens: “After amassing an unnecessarily large collection of handleless tote bags, I thought it time to turn my pin-pricked fingers to a shirt or a pair of trousers. I was wrong. What’s a dart? A sloper? A French curve? Please send instructions for the macramé plant-pot holders that you mentioned.”