Talk of the town | Monocle

thumbnail text

In 2007, when we ran the first Quality of Life Survey, the debate about what makes for a good city was contentious but nothing like it is today. The metrics that any organisation uses to rate and rank cities are now picked over and scrutinised by folk keen to unearth bias, or suggest that you sit on some extreme of politics.


I recently travelled to Bratislava with our Vienna correspondent, Alexei Korolyov, to attend an urbanism summit called Start with Children (see here), which posited the benefits for all if you placed kids at the heart of the urban-planning process – will it, for example, make streets safer, reduce childhood illnesses, make the city somewhere that parents will want to raise their offspring? As the various speakers came to the stage, it was clear that this approach had another benefit as a unifying idea, a filter that those on the left and right can often look through and agree on a way ahead: “If it’s really going to make my children’s and my grandchildren’s lives better, I’m in.” Restricting access for vehicles, removing car-parking spaces, can suddenly be seen as fair and needed and not a plot against civil liberties. My fear is that cities are going to face many flashpoints as they try to deliver on climate-change challenges – you can see it in the demonisation of the notion of the 15-minute city and in the attempts to pit cyclists against drivers. What’s key is making everyone welcome in this debate.

Yet we still believe that there is immense value in taking an annual survey of how key cities are performing and looking at how the changes that they are implementing are working out – and if that’s contentious then we are up for the debate. Beyond the city ranking, we dive into lots of other elements of good urban design too. In our Business pages, we look at the work involved in keeping our cities clean – from jet-washing monuments to eradicating graffiti and clearing garbage from our rivers. It’s hard to maintain urban pride if you live in a place where rubbish fills the streets and mindless tagging scars great architecture, so the lessons to be learned in these pages are to be adopted – and sent to your elected officials. 

In Design, we look at Urbidermis, a street-furniture company that was originally part of Spanish lighting brand Santa & Cole. Again, the provision of, say, park benches might not be something you have often pondered but, done right, street seating changes the pace at which we take in our cities, offers the weary and old places to linger, and even engineers social encounters. And in this month’s Expo, we look at neighbourhoods that work: places where people have a good place to buy food, a bar to hang out in, a restaurant where they’ll learn your name and a pace of life that offers both calm and excitement. I particularly love our dive into Naples, a city that might struggle on some metrics but which its residents love with a deep passion – you’ll see why when you turn the pages.

The bigger idea of how we begin a conversation about how our cities should function, one that doesn’t descend into opprobrium, is the subject of our illustrated monocle Manifesto, which unpacks the elements of the social contracts that you need in place so that everyone can go about their day feeling safe, at ease. It contains a series of simple moments of care and attention that hopefully just about everyone can subscribe to.

This is, of course, our double issue, which will be on newsstands for some eight weeks. But we have plenty of other media moments to keep you engaged over the coming weeks and, hopefully, add to your own quality of life. Look out for our Paris Edition and Mediterraneo newspapers for starters. As for the monocle team, we’ll hopefully be heading off to sample some summer moments in cities slick and alluring, gritty and passionate – though there are a lot of projects and ideas to bring to fruition this summer too. Whatever your plans are, we look forward to keeping you informed and entertained. Have good summers (or winters to our friends south of the equator).

If you would like to send over any ideas, thoughts and recommendations, then feel free to drop me a line at — L

Share on:






Go back: Contents

The Agenda: Global briefings


sign in to monocle

new to monocle?

Subscriptions start from £120.

Subscribe now





Monocle Radio


  • Monocle on Design