Observation - Issue 43 - Magazine | Monocle

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If you're lucky you might get away with reconsidering the tiles for your kitchen or perhaps a new rug for the library. If you're slightly more obsessive about these sorts of things and let them gnaw away at you there's a good chance you might find yourself abandoning your residence, torching your furniture in the street, revoking your passport and taking flight to a more magical land. But where is this domain of smart neighbourhoods, cheery residents, sunny skies, liberal-minded planning authorities and bountiful opportunity? Trust me, if we knew of such a place we'd have made it a cover story long ago or taken up residence and kept it an airtight secret.

The good news is that there are plenty of nice places to live around the world. The problem is that many of the loveliest locales are governed by short-sighted mayors and petty bureaucrats who don't read magazines let alone travel. I'm not advocating that everyone at city hall should be taking out a subscription to this magazine (though it would be nice and I'm sure local councilors from Melbourne to Manchester could learn a trick or two in our pages) but I'm a great believer in allowing people in public sector positions to get out in the world and do a bit of benchmarking on a tight leash of course. Perhaps a better idea than a subscription might be a special tour programme under the UrbanFixer brand that would allow mayors to call a diagnosis desk at Midori House (the new joint HQ of Monocle and Winkreative) and talk through their requirements with an urban ailments counselor. A sample call might go something like this:

Urbanfixer: Good morning, you're through to Santiago your UrbanFixer, how can I help?
Mayor of midsize city: Hello, I think I have a problem with my city and I don't know what to do.
Urbanfixer: Don't worry, I'm sure we can help. We get this type of call all the time. Can I ask where you‚re calling from?
Mayor: I'd rather not say, if that's alright.
Urbanfixer: No problem at all. We can work on an anonymous basis for now but the more we know about you and your city the more we can help. What's the main problem? If you had to pick one thing today, what would it be?
Mayor: Well, my city's kind of dead and no fun.
Urbanfixer: Mmmmmmmm.
Mayor: We spent all this money on organizing festivals in our downtown and getting rid of traffic but it's gotten worse.
Urbanfixer: Mmmmmmm, yes. People can react badly to festivals that just pop up out of nowhere. They're sort of like clowns.
Mayor: Yes, exactly! And now property prices are dropping and a couple of corporate headquarters are either going to move to the suburbs or pack up for Geneva.
Urbanfixer: Yes, I understand completely. You need to be careful of the Swiss. Very determined people in Geneva. Not a barrel of monkeys but good at poaching HQs.
Mayor: I have an election in 20 months and I need a fresh vision. Can you help UrbanFixer?
Urbanfixer: Absolutely. I've already been looking at some numbers and it sounds like you need to book our Global Breakneck Benchmark Tour. This programme is tailored for you and your three most visionary colleagues and can be completed in just under ten weeks. You'll travel to at least 16 cities, spend six nights sleeping in the air to avoid being caught up by nosy city hall journalists who might claim the trip was unnecessary, meet leading architects, urban planners and other mayors and experience real, living examples of city centres and neighbourhoods that work.
Mayor: Wow UrbanFixer! That sounds awesome!
Urbanfixer: Mmmmm, yes, it will be, ummm, awesome indeed. I take you're the mayor of an American city?
Mayor: You betcha! How'd you guess?
Urbanfixer: Years of experience my dear.
Mayor: So where will we go?
Urbanfixer: Well, first you'll need to pay up before we send over the itinerary but some highlights include a visit to Helsinki for a briefing on their Lo2No scheme, swimming in Zürich‚s public bathing clubs so pack your trunks, walking tours of Kyoto to study the scale of the streets and a fly-over of Toronto to see how not to do things.
Mayor: UrbanFixer, this sounds really great. Can't wait to depart.
Urbanfixer: One last question sir. You do have a passport?

Offering a mix of highly focused expeditions for cities in need of just the odd tweak and more general tours for beginners in local government, UrbanFixer's main mission would be to ensure that all stake-holders were reading from the same script by placing everything neatly into context ˆ streets that mix different types of transport good; streets that are car or pedestrian-only bad. Cities that over-regulate outdoor restaurant dining bad; cities that offer a freer hand to al fresco drinking and dining good. As always, you can throw any questions, ideas or comments our way via me (tb@monocle), my colleague Alexander Mills (ajm@monocle) or if you‚re lucky you just might even get Santiago on the phone who‚ll be sure to fix any urban issues big, mid-size or small.

For more from our editor-in-chief, read his column in the FT Weekend.

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