Thursday 12 October 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Thursday. 12/10/2023

The Monocle Minute

The Opinion

Image: WEF

Mobility / Carlota Rebelo

All the right moves

Civic leaders, activists, civil society and the private sector have been gathering in Detroit over the past three days to share best practices, showcase solutions and learn from one another. They’re at the World Economic Forum’s Urban Transformation Summit, which wraps up today, to address the challenges posed by rapid urbanisation.

With the event taking place in Motor City, it’s unsurprising that the future of urban mobility has been high up the agenda. “It’s essential to think holistically about who’s bearing the cost of accessibility,” Shelby Rust Busó, San Diego’s chief sustainability officer, tells The Monocle Minute. Her city has launched a series of free, on-demand shuttle programmes known as “circulators”, which are funded through paid parking.

But mobility challenges remain – and they go well beyond finding last-mile solutions. As technology and innovation take over the sector, municipalities still struggle with providing efficient public transport for their residents. “It’s a problem that’s exacerbated after dark,” says Corean Reynolds, director of nightlife economy for the City of Boston. “We need to think about how those who work late-night shifts and in the health sector can get to their jobs in an affordable, safe manner.”

More than 55 per cent of the world’s population lives in cities, a figure that is set to grow to 68 per cent by 2050. In order to make sure that these places are resilient and sustainable in the future, it’s vital to get back to basics and address how people move around at all times of the day. Only then can a serious conversation about improving residents’ quality of life take place.

Carlota Rebelo is Monocle’s senior foreign correspondent and producer of ‘The Urbanist’ on Monocle Radio. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.


Joe Biden delivers remarks on the Israel-Hamas conflict at the White House

Image: Alamy

Affairs / Israel & Palestine

Walking the line

US secretary of state Antony Blinken is in Israel today as part of a three-day visit to the Middle East, which includes a stop in Jordan tomorrow. Washington’s position remains clear: unequivocal support for Israel, which yesterday agreed to form an emergency unity government. More than 1,200 Israelis have been killed in the conflict so far, with at least 14 US citizens among the dead. More than 900 people in the Gaza Strip have been killed by Israeli air strikes.

There have been calls for de-escalation but such a development appears to be a remote possibility. The UN has warned that cutting water, electricity and food to a mass of civilian people in Gaza is a breach of international law, a message that has been reinforced by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell. The US, meanwhile, has been exploring ways to provide inhabitants of the Gaza Strip a safe passage to Egypt. But the prospect of limiting operations in the region, where the death toll continues to rise, is unlikely to receive Washington’s overt support any time soon.

Politics / New Zealand

Together again?

As New Zealand heads to the polls this Saturday, Kiwi voters are bracing for the dramatic return of populist politician Winston Peters and the New Zealand First party. After the party was wiped out in the 2020 general election, Peters and NZ First are expected to re-enter parliament and pick up a handful of seats that could prove crucial to the centre-right’s hopes of replacing the current Labour government. Should Peters be called upon by the National party and its traditional conservative ally, ACT New Zealand, to form a coalition, the kingmaker of Kiwi politics will be on familiar ground. The 78-year-old has entered coalition governments on both sides of the political spectrum since founding his party thirty years ago, including in 2017 when he sided with the Labour-led coalition, handing Jacinda Ardern the premiership. This time, the major difference is that Peters has only one potential king to make; Ardern’s successor, Chris Hipkins, has categorically ruled out another Labour deal with NZ First.

Culture / UK

Fashion statement

Gucci’s Cosmos exhibition is now open at 180 The Strand in London, just steps away from the Savoy Hotel in which Guccio Gucci worked as a porter in 1897. “I like to imagine Gucci in this claustrophobic room,” says Es Devlin, who designed the show space, including a room that resembles the red lacquered Savoy lift. “He’d either chat to guests and learn everything about their travels or go quiet and observe their luggage.”

Image: Gucci

The exhibition follows Gucci’s return to Florence to design his own luggage, as well as the brand’s evolution on the runway. A final room dressed in the label’s burgundy branding hints at the house’s future under its new creative director, Sabato de Sarno. “This was an opportunity to get to the core of a brand that has had so much influence over the fashion world and to understand why it has spread with such ferocity,” Devlin tells The Monocle Minute.

Beyond the Headlines

Image: Mirella Frangella

Q&A / Arne Schepker

Express yourself

Best-selling language-learning platform Babbel has evolved to adapt to new technologies but remains committed to using human interaction to help its users. Here, CEO Arne Schepker explains how and why.

How much has Babbel stayed true to its original founding principles?
The product and the business have pivoted multiple times. We didn’t invent language learning but we did invent online language learning. We made the first app that allowed you to be taught through modern digital methods. Now there are many similar apps available. We stay relevant by taking the next step of moving users from self-study to what we call blended study, which allows them to converse within a live environment in their own time.

Many digital companies still struggle to make a profit. But Babbel has made its subscription-based model work consistently. How is that?
The subscription model is attuned to how learners perceive their learning journey. The most motivated learners know that progress will not come easily. Learning a new language is a journey that takes time and effort – and they are happy to invest money into it.

How do you ensure that app-based learning stays relevant?
We constantly create new content and courses, as well as podcasts that provide new material for live classes. We also handcraft all our content through experts to ensure that users will successfully achieve their learning goals. The courses are designed to culminate in a full conversation between two human beings.

For the full interview with Babbel’s Arne Schepker, listen to the latest episode of ‘The Entrepreneurs’ on Monocle Radio.

Image: Hatsumi Ajinomoto,

Monocle Radio / The Stack

Surf photography and the best in books

We speak with Gaspard Konrad about his new book Surf Porn, showcasing the best of surf photography, and Joe Rubbo, managing director of Readings, which Monocle voted as Australia’s top literary outpost.


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