With the sun shining and our cities in bloom, it’s once again time to take stock of urban initiatives the world over as we reveal this year’s liveability index and meet the municipal patrons helping to give their towns a boost. Find out where your city ranks.
When we held the Monocle Weekender in Asheville, our US editor, Chris Lord, arrived off the back of a reporting trip in Alabama. He had been there to cover the work of Rural Studio, an off-campus programme run by the state’s Auburn University. The amazing project sees students designing, crafting and erecting buildings for towns in Hale County. It all started in 1993 when two professors were passing through the area and noticed that many people were living in rudimentary homes and that the towns lacked basic structures, such as somewhere to park a fire engine. They suggested that their students build the absent infrastructure – to date, some 200 projects, including the fire station, have been completed.
As I quizzed Chris, I could hear in his voice how impressed he was by the transformation he had witnessed: a coming together of people delivering quality of life for all. And it’s this idea – that towns and cities should deliver for all, not just an elite and not just in a few cool neighbourhoods – that runs throughout this issue. You can read Chris’s inspiring story starting on page 164.
We have published an annual Quality of Life issue every year since monocle launched in 2007. Over the years, many people have written to ask why, say, Chicago, Buenos Aires or London are not in the ranking of the best cities to call home. They point out that, in their minds, sometimes a bit of grit or a wild spirit are what make cities soar. But, for example, while Rio de Janeiro is one monocle’s favourite places, security, housing and education remain out of reach for many residents. That’s why lots of cities we love are unlikely to land in our liveability index, though they do pop up on other pages.
This year there’s another issue at play: how many of the bigger cities in the US are still recovering from the pandemic. While mental health, drugs, housing and homelessness are hot topics in many places around the globe, they are in a different league in parts of the US. Just read Greg Scruggs’s essay about his hometown, Seattle, a city struggling – and often failing – to get back on track to understand the consequences of what’s afoot (see page 77). Unlike in rural Alabama, getting people to agree on a way forward is almost impossible because of the divisive state of US city politics. Let’s see where we are in a year’s time.
There are lots of stories in this issue, however, that put the spotlight on progress and on outposts that anyone would be happy to call home. In our Expo (see page 219), we head to Bratislava to meet its mayor, Matus Vallo, who is also a skilled architect and musician. He and a large, informal group of city campaigners and advocates are working to make the Slovak capital a bastion of pioneering, child-friendly urbanism while also renewing its residents’ sense of urban pride. Then there’s our business report on the shop, bar and restaurant owners who deliver life and excitement to communities and high streets around the world (see page 108) – owners who understand that it’s not just what’s on their shelves that makes for success but also how they show responsibility for what happens beyond their front door. That’s the same motivation that inspires our cast of “urban heroes”, from Tokyo organic farmers to a Helsinki courtyard fixer-upper. There are a lot of good people who you should get to know in this issue.
Speaking of which, we would like to meet you in person to talk about making better places to live in. The annual Monocle Quality of Life Conference takes place in Munich from Thursday 31 August to Saturday 2 September. The event brings our readers and listeners together with the monocle team and more than 20 speakers for talks, tours, dinners and parties. Secure your ticket at conference.monocle.com. Come and have a good time in a fascinating city.
Personally, I am looking forward to a few summer negroni moments, time pleasantly lost around the Med, travelling to places as yet unknown to me. Whatever your summer plans are, here’s hoping that you also have a blast – and find plenty of time to settle on a lounger with your copy of monocle at hand.
If you want to drop me a note, forward an idea, you can find me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Salut!