June 2023 / Global
Musical trams in Zürich and a new race to the moon. Plus: where to stay for Art Basel.
save the date: qol conference
As we send this issue off to press (writes Tyler Brûlé), monocle’s editors and correspondents are surveying the streets of key capitals and crunching the numbers (hours of daily sunshine is always a key metric) for our annual quality of life ranking, which will be released in our July/August issue. The team is also pulling together the format for our annual urbanism event under the same banner.
Munich will be the host city for our 2023 edition as we discuss the topics that make for better living in centres large and small over three days. If you’ve never managed to attend one of our summits, you might want to act quickly to not only secure a ticket for a front-row seat but also ensure that you get a choice room at one of our favourite hotels in the Bavarian Hauptstadt. This year, expect a panel of architects who you need to know for future projects (both personal and professional), a session on the finer points of building the perfect community and plenty of pretzels, beer and fine hospitality. For tickets and questions, visit conference.monocle.com or drop my colleague Hannah Grundy a note at email@example.com. See you in Munich.
Monocle has a network of correspondents in cities around the world. Our brief dispatches include a new transit system in Bangkok, a ‘mini-Hollywood’ in London and alfresco dining in Los Angeles.
Coming on track
Bangkok’s first monorail is launching with a snazzy fleet of Bombardier Innovia 300 trains. Nearly 65km of track will be added to the network and the trains will make it easier to travel across Bangkok without going into the city centre.
An investment company is hoping to transform a former recycling centre in north London into film studios. Some residents aren’t thrilled but might they change their minds when Timothée Chalamet turns up at the local pub?
Ray of light
A tussle between restaurateurs and the City of Los Angeles over alfresco dining has been settled, preserving rules making it easier to put tables and chairs on the street. Good. Dining outside in sunny LA is always a bright idea.
Come June, much of the art world will decamp to Art Basel – and attendees are seeking a good place to stay (writes Kimberly Bradley). While private jet-setters get themselves luxury suites at the famed Hotel Les Trois Rois and gallery staff book out most other fancy hotels way before the fair opens, for the rest of us it’s slim pickings.
Me? For years, I’ve joined a group of women to stay in the airy live-work studio of an artist friend who is based in Basel. We sleep on fold-out beds and blow-up mattresses surrounded by her works in progress and an art-theory library. In the mornings we have breakfast in a vast kitchen: the Swiss support the arts so well that some buildings, like my friend’s, are set up just for artists.
In this kitchen, year after year, I meet people who crash in art studios by night and schmooze at Art Basel by day. My breakfast companions usually come from around the world and represent the art world’s no-expense-account backbone: they are artists, critics, young curators or emerging collectors.
And maybe we’re onto something: art critic Jerry Saltz once said that Art Basel, in its various locations and iterations, was a giant adult sleepover. He meant this metaphorically but last year at Art Basel Miami Beach, the week’s best party was a massive sleepover in the Miami Design District, hosted by the app Basic Space together with educational platform Secular Sabbath. Art fair or not, we all feel better when we have some good times with our friends – and get some proper shut-eye.
Kimberly Bradley is Monocle’s Berlin correspondent.
Music to their ears
We’re all acquainted with the cacophony of public transport: the phone gossipers, the couple unwittingly dragging the whole train carriage into their argument, the toddler watching Paw Patrol on an iPad. Swiss commuters are about to experience the next auditory frontier. Zürich’s bus and tram drivers will now be allowed to play their music on Bluetooth speakers. Let’s just hope that the esteemed people carriers of Switzerland’s financial capital aren’t into Nickelback.
Line of duty
In 2010 the Royal Spanish Academy scrapped the tilde accent adorning the adverb sólo (Spanish for “only”) – the sole factor that distinguished it from the adjective solo (alone). At the time, the decision angered Nobel prize-winning novelist Mario Vargas Llosa and other language purists. But 13 years later, it looks like his pro-accent brigade finally has its way.
Much to the dismay of the anti-tildistas, who disapprove of the accent, the Academy reversed its original policy this year, restoring the tilde in sentences where there is a real risk of ambiguity. It is a tepid victory for both factions but here’s hoping this means that they can finally leave each other alone.
The field of lunar motoring is more than 50 years old. Each of the last three Apollo missions took a basic moon buggy and, indeed, left them there (low mileage, one careful owner, buyer covers delivery costs). Since then, remote-controlled lunar rovers have been deployed by Russia, China and India (though India’s Pragyan rover was destroyed when the Vikram lander crashed in 2019). Now, US start-up Astrolab wants to put new wheels on the moon. Its Flexible Logistics and Exploration Rover (Flex), which resembles a small rubbish skip on wheels, will be crewed by two astronauts and capable of carrying stuff and picking things up. It can also be controlled remotely. A prototype has been tested – by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, no less – in the deserts of Death Valley. Astrolab is confident that it will operate reliably in the moon’s colder climate.
Astrolab’s CEO, Jaret Matthews, hopes that the rover will be like “UPS for the moon”. There might be many frustrated customers of one notorious British courier wondering if that’s where their parcels have somehow ended up.
Alternative pest policies
Rats have been gnawing away at the Big Apple ever since they scurried off boats from Europe nearly 250 years ago. But their days in the city might be short-lived. Earlier this year, mayor Eric Adams appointed New York’s first “rat czar”, Kathleen Corradi, who will spearhead the city’s new rodent mitigation programme. While this might sound like an unusual position, it’s far from the most imaginative strategy officials have deployed to tackle pests. Here are three more, from cats to control rats, to contraception for pigeons and crippling crustacea.
Cheers to that!
Scottish whisky-maker Glenmorangie is helping to fund a project that aims to reintroduce four million oysters to the Dornoch Firth – the inlet along which its distillery sits – by 2030. The Dornoch Environmental Enhancement Project was established in 2014 but is now showing considerable results: it is on track to double biodiversity in Dornoch Firth.
The revival of the firth owes much to technology: Glenmorangie claims that the anaerobic digestion plant it opened there in 2017 reduces the distillery’s organic waste by 95 per cent. But the plan is that the remaining 5 per cent will be hoovered up by the returned oysters. By filtering the water in the firth, the shellfish will help to maintain the whisky’s quality – after all, you can’t make whisky without high-quality water – and clean up the inlet.
This happy synergy is yet further refutation of a persistent urban myth that oysters and whisky must never be mixed. In fact, oysters and whisky are often served together in Scotland and work well as a bracing entrée or an even more bracing hangover cure.
1. Through a programme called Cats at Work, a Chicago animal shelter placed more than 1,000 (spayed and vaccinated) cats outside residences and businesses to fight rat infestations, calling it a “green” solution to the vermin problem. And it’s possibly more humane to cut out the humans.
2. Brussels has been dispensing contraceptive corn pellets to humanely decrease the ever-growing number of pigeon births around the city. At Square Clémentine, where the first seed dispenser was installed in 2019, the population halved in just a year.
3. Dikerogammarus villosus (or “killer shrimp”) are a damaging invasive species. After being found at a UK reservoir, fishermen were asked to rinse their equipment before going elsewhere – to no avail: the shrimp are now troubling native crustacea across western Europe.
Images: Astrolab. Photographer: Marvin Zilm. Illustrator: Drew Shannon