Thursday. 21/5/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Tomos Lewis

Making the grade

May is graduation season in the US. For school and university students across the country, the elaborate ceremonies to mark the occasion represent the close of one chapter and offer – through the noise, pomp and hurling of mortarboards into the air – the promise of what lies ahead; it’s a first, tentative toehold on the next rung on the ladder. And while graduation ceremonies have all been cancelled, postponed or moved online this year, one particular fixture has remained: the commencement address.

Television stars, political figures, scientists, musical heroes and business leaders have all graced the podiums of past ceremonies to impart rousing words of wisdom to those about to take their places in the working world or next step into academia. This year’s addresses have gained particular potency: speakers have had to offer encouragement and advice to a generation for whom an economy cratered by the coronavirus pandemic has made the future uncertain. But they have also aimed to demonstrate why leadership is crucial – particularly in a time like this.

Last Saturday, Barack Obama gave two commencement addresses online: one to university graduates of the many US colleges that are historically black; and the other (pictured), alongside Timothee Chamalet and Lady Gaga, to high school pupils across the country. In those speeches the former president offered a moment of clarity in a confounding time. He urged his audience to take charge of their lots because, he said, many of those currently in power “aren’t even pretending to be in charge”. Commencement speeches are meant to galvanise and inspire a new generation. And that will be invaluable as the US emerges, like the graduating class of 2020, into a much-changed world.

Construction / Italy

Building hope

After a number of decrees promising economic support for industries and families, Giuseppe Conte has turned his attention to a new measure that should help to speed up tenders for infrastructure projects in Italy. The so-called Simplification Decree 2020 will apply to construction as well as administrative procedures. Italian bureaucracy is infamously burdensome, so perhaps it’s unsurprising that it has taken something as disruptive as the pandemic to prompt the prime minister to act. The scheme is likely to streamline proposals in a similar way to the emergency measures adopted for the reconstruction of Genoa’s Morandi Bridge, which collapsed in 2018; a replacement crossing (pictured), designed by Renzo Piano, should be ready to open in July. Maybe the solution to Italy’s bureaucracy was simple all along.

Health / Japan

Doctors at a distance

Japan’s biggest messaging service, Line, will launch an online medical-diagnosis app this summer. The Japanese government, reluctant to allow patients to see doctors online in the past, has relaxed restrictions amid the pandemic. In April it cleared patients to seek online consultations from any doctor (before then only patients with an established face-to-face relationship with their doctor could book online appointments). But pulling this off requires some technical ingenuity: hospitals and patients need to use the same system for everything to run smoothly, from making appointments to payment and filling prescriptions. This is where Line comes in, with its massive network of 80 million users, a cashless service called Line Pay and plans to recruit more than 2,000 doctors – and its many mascots, including Buchou (pictured). The scheme could ease the pressure on frontline medical workers and help doctors treat patients with issues unrelated to coronavirus who are avoiding hospitals during the pandemic.

Transport / Miami

Lightening the load

DHL Express drivers in Miami are trading their delivery vans for cargo bikes – well, four of them are at least. Last week the city launched a pilot project to test four electric-assisted cargo bikes for citywide deliveries as part of a partnership with mobility firm Reef Technology. DHL tells Monocle that it’s exploring the potential for similar schemes in other cities; next up is Chicago. Each of the firm’s bikes (pictured) can carry 180kg of cargo and replace one delivery van on city streets; the vehicles in the pilot are expected to save 101,000kg worth of carbon-dioxide emissions a year. While they are more commonplace in Europe, cargo bikes remain rare in car-loving North America. But as cities shut streets to vehicles, prioritising pedestrians and cyclists during the coronavirus pandemic, it’s a smart time for delivery companies to test pedal-powered solutions.

Society / Global

Lead by example

Daniel Kahneman has made a living out of focusing on the little things: the small behavioural changes that can have a major impact on our economies and societies. As the Nobel Memorial prize-winning psychologist explains in Monocle’s June issue, which is out today, leaders are key role models when it comes to influencing our actions. “The behaviour of citizens is largely controlled by governments,” he says. “When we receive messages from our leaders, we want them to show respect for the evidence and to model appropriate behaviour.” Setting the right tone matters all the more as lockdowns ease and smaller spikes in the number of coronavirus cases likely becomes the norm. “People struggle to make big adjustments in their behaviour for small numbers, because small numbers feel like small threats,” says Kahneman. “But with exponential growth, as we see with coro­navirus, small numbers can mean a great deal.”

M24 / The Urbanist

Deutsches Haus, Ho Chi Minh City

James Chambers brings us the story of a building complex in the centre of Ho Chi Minh City that forms a symbol of relations between Vietnam and Germany.

Monocle Films / Global

Time to collect

From design to art, magazines to furniture, we all know the pleasure of collecting. But how do we ensure that passion beats pure investment? This was the question that Robert Bound posed to the speakers at this year’s Quality of Life Conference in Vienna.

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