Everyone loves an urban village but few cities know quite how to get the mix of retail, services and residents right. London recently decided to grass over Trafalgar Square temporarily to celebrate its urban villages while onlookers wondered what it had to do with their increasingly dull local high street. *Monocle* has taken inspiration from its favourite neighbourhoods to engineer the perfect precinct.
Monocle’s perfect neighbourhood is contained but well-connected, cosy yet cosmpolitan. The scale is intimate and takes its cues from the best parts of Copenhagen (the vibe around Elmegade), stretches of Barcelona (the scale and quality of apartments around Carrer de Johann Sebastian Bach), sidestreets in Tokyo’s Daikanyama (around the station) and London’s best urban villages (Marylebone High Street and Chelsea Green).
At its core there’s a transport hub supporting a tram stop, taxi rank, bike garage complete with watchman, newsstand, café, post office, immaculate public loos and a 24-hour branch of Natural Lawson complete with a DHL depot, ATM and outdoor seating.
The main thoroughfare is divided into eight lanes – pedestrians at the outer edge, then bikes, cars and finally low-slung trams. The transport hub is at one end and a large park is at the other. The scale of the surrounding area is mostly low-rise. Five-storey buildings along the main streets support shops, restaurants and services on the ground level and residential, ateliers and small offices on top. Zoning laws require all buildings to have green space, solar panels and water collection on roofs. Side streets are cosier, with single residences either opening up directly onto the street or fronted by small, walled gardens. Cars, other than taxis and delivery vehicles, are for the most part discouraged. The majority of residents walk, ride bicycles or use scooters. Those with cars keep them in one of several underground municipal garages.
The park mixes the best design features of Tokyo Midtown with the lush nature of Turó Park in Barcelona. There is an elaborate playground, four tennis courts, two football pitches, running trail, dog enclosures, seating everywhere and privately owned kiosks for ice creams and coffee. The key feature is the urban country club that boasts a natural lake/pool, tanning decks, Korean bathing house, treatment rooms, conference facilities and dining rooms. Wellbeing and human contact are core values of this community and the facility is supported by an accessible membership fee.
Other municipal facilities in the neighbourhood include a police box designed by architect Peter Zumthor, a fire station by John Pawson, medical centre by Kengo Kuma, day care by Andreas Martin-Löf, kindergarten by MACH Architects, primary school by Bünzli & Courvoisier, high school by Tadao Ando and library with adult education centre by the firm Iredale Pedersen Hook. At street level, pavements are smooth and even – no patchwork of filled-in cracks and resurfacing. Local planners are tolerant and receptive to an array of architectural styles rather than just being conservation-minded.
On the commercial side, our neighbourhood combines a healthy mix of small and independent with the global and interesting. Retailers and service establishments have to follow a tight code of covenants (shopkeepers take care of their own patch of pavement) and small businesses are encouraged rather than squeezed out. Key independent shops include a covered farmers’ market that’s home to 24 independent vendors (fishmonger, Thai vegetable stand, Polish deli); a hardware shop full of men in workshop coats armed with solutions and products; a dressmaker/tailor to mend, hem, alter and copy; a linen shop; an outstanding florist; a newsstand bursting with inspiring reads and a cavernous bookseller stacked with volumes ancient and fresh. As for the rest, take a walk through our neighbourhood and see where you can sip, socialise and spend.
Emmerys - Deli
This small chain of Danish delis is bucking the craze for cut-price superstores and has everything we look for in a corner shop. Combining a chic grocer’s with a first-rate coffee shop, Emmerys sells delicious bread, cakes and store-cupboard goods as well as lattes and sandwiches. (For more info, see Monocle issue 02.)
Lesley McKay - Bookshop
This Sydney bookshop is a welcome addition to our high street. Forget piled-high, sold-low “three-for-two” offers, its floors are stuffed with a huge back catalogue of literature. You’ll find that rare novel here and, because its calm interior (wood floors, fresh flowers) engenders browsing, stumble across new talent.
Tomorrowland - Fashion
Established in 1978 to cater to chic men and women alike, this Tokyo-based retailer would fill a gap on our high street offering its own bespoke suits, special-edition John Smedley knitwear and outstanding service. Tomorrowland also has some of the best-looking staff in the world of retail.
Flat White - Café
Flat White coffee consists of a shot of espresso served with textured milk. Aussies and Kiwis (who we revere for being true coffee snobs) wouldn’t drink anything else, so a group of them opened Flat White in Soho, London in 2005. Also serving bagels and ANZAC biscuits, this café is one of our high street’s friendliest hangouts.
Michio (M-Salon) - Hairdresser
Good haircuts are never rushed, which is why you need to give yourself a good 90 minutes when easing yourself into the chair at M-Salon in Mayfair – or its Aoyama branch. There’s a 10-minute wash, precision cut, a soothing rinse, shiatsu massage and then a finale of wax and spray at the end. Unbeatable.
Bape Café!? - Restaurant
We may be a bit old to pull off wearing our A Bathing Ape sweatshirts any more but Nigo’s Bape Café is a haunt we’d import from Harajuku for its special burgers and throat-burning bottles of Wilkinson ginger ale (see Expo). The desserts are also perfect for a post-Saturday-night hangover soak-up.
UBS - Solid Swiss bankers
In our perfect little world UBS would expand its retail operations far beyond Switzerland’s borders and show the rest of the world's major players that it's not all about e-banking and chopping head counts. We’d ensure our local brand offers all the services we appreciate at its ski-boot-friendly St Moritz branch.
Apple Store - Communication technology
The Apple Store concept continues to annoy the competition and would be a welcome addition to our high street – in a more boutique, bijou format. We’d ensure it launched just in time to receive first shipments of the iPhone and any other autumn releases it might have up its sleeve.
Drawer - Fashion
A division of Japanese retailer United Arrows, Drawer is one of the most elegant, thoroughly lady-like boutiques we know, selling European designers and its own label. On our high street we’d want them to add a special floor for men who’d like to see their take on lean suits, sharp denim and smart accessories.
Rose & Poppy’s - Mobile florists
Our florist has fresh, seasonal blooms with not a dyed carnation, spray of gypsophila or cellophane wrapper in sight. Find naturally grown and fragrant roses, peonies, lilies, agapanthus and narcissi as well as orchids and simple ikebana-style branches. It is also linked into a high-end worldwide delivery service.
Storm - Fashion
Rasmus Storm is one of the best buyers north of Italy – his Copenhagen emporium is more mini department store than edited boutique for discerning boys and girls. Selling everything from Dior to Dries to local Danish finds, Storm has a keen eye and always pulls together a series of brands that he makes his own.
Riddarbageriet - Bakery
Everyone, including the Swedish royal family, seems to agree that Johan Sörberg’s bijou bakery makes Stockholm’s best baguettes – as well as many other breads, croissants, cakes and coffee; he also writes bestselling bake books. We want him to recreate the intimate snug of his elegantly painted shop.
Art/design ateliers - Art supply & studios
As ours is a creative neighbourhood there’s a need for pastels, leads, canvases, acrylics and everything an artiste might need to keep his class or clients satisfied. With retail on the ground floor, a gallery on one and low-rent ateliers up top, it would be a local anchor and keep the street alive round the clock.
Sadaharu Aoki - Patisserie
Trips to Paris haven’t been the same since Japanese pastry chef Aoki opened his first shop in 2001, selling unique confections that blend fine French patisserie with some surprising Japanese ingredients. Our residents always have their cake and eat it: whether to take home or enjoy in store. (See Monocle issue 04).
Tsutaya - Media
You’ll find a branch in every Japanese neighbourhood but in ours it will also offer a full range of books and a newsstand that never closes. With a mission to offer culture to “anybody, anywhere, anytime”, it’s the perfect round-the-clock hub for students, news addicts and all those who find downloading impersonal.
Kaï - Katsu-curry restaurant
Kitada-san is one of our favourite restaurateurs and his establishment on Paris’s rue du Louvre doubles as our Paris bureau. We’d like to invite him on to our high street to offer a couture collection of katsu-kare, pickles and sticky rice. Opening hours would be from 11.30 to long past midnight – daily.
Arrow - Bicycles
One of our top-five bicycle companies in the world (see issue 03), this Japanese bicycle-maker wins out as the best for an all-rounder urban bike: timeless, sturdy lightweight, logo-free and available in a range of colours. Jinbei Yamada spurns mass-production and makes just 1,000 bikes a year – right up our street.
The Good Indian - Restaurant
Our perfect Indian has a menu of inventive regional Indian cuisine – from Kerala to Calcutta, Assam to Goa – that changes monthly, using home-cooked ingredients. No microwaved sauces or water-pumped chicken here. There’s also great takeaway Indian street food for lunch and a free scooter-delivery service till midnight.
Apotheke Helvetica - Pharmacy
With local heroes such as Roche and Novartis (see Monocle issue 02), healthy Switzerland knows how to put together a good pharmacy. Our Apotheke never closes and dispenses everything we need for swollen heads, ankles and bellies. They also give away nice samples to try in our baths or dab on our wrists.
Tailor’s - Local workshop
In our opinion a good neighbourhood also has a bit of light industry with businesses that run apprenticeships. Our tailor cuts a lean two-button suit, low-slung trousers and a handsome Crombie and draws clients from around the world. He has a waiting list of young talent wanting to train with him.
Regime Sports - Sports shop
With a first-rate park offering tennis, football, running and swimming and excellent bike routes, our residents like to keep active and dress accordingly. Stocking the sharpest sports kit – Tretorn, Fred Perry, Sounds Good, Comme des Garçons for Speedo and Tomas Maier – plus slick equipment, Regime’s right on the ball.
Coop - Grocers
Coop is the second-largest Swiss supermarket, with around 1,500 branches. The chain remains true to its cooperative principles but is also responsible for selling half of all the organic food in Switzerland. Coop operates smaller local stores – ideal for all our residents’ grocery needs. We love its soft lighting by Regent AG.
Ludwig Reiter - Shoes
In a virtually car-free area, you need a sturdy but stylish pair of leather shoes. In Monocle’s opinion, this fourth-generation Viennese cobbler makes the best Goodyear-welted brogues on the market – as well as Oxfords, Chukka Boots and hybrid trainers. For summer loafing, we have designs on the suede espadrilles.
Vine Society - Wine shop
Far more than an off licence, this is an independent wine merchant that can help you devise a cellar plan as much as suggest a bottle of Pinot Noir on the hoof. Expert staff source the best old- and new-world wines, the rarest beers and latest spirits. It provides a slick bar for parties and cheeky staff to keep things interesting.
Nitty Gritty - Fashion
Having defined Stockholm’s Söder district, Nitty Gritty has brought a much needed shot of elegance to the Swedish capital’s nether regions and would do the same for our tiny little ’hood. With bits of Prada, Miu Miu, APC and more, it would also incorporate all the other touches that make it tick like a salon and well-run café.
Lavanderia Milano - Luxury laundry
If anyone knows how to take good care of clothes, it’s the Italians, and our man from Milan combines a dry-cleaners with a first-class but inexpensive laundry delivery service. Get your linen and shirts washed, pressed and starched weekly, your cashmere dry-cleaned and clothes expertly altered or mended.
Schumann’s TagesBar - Café
If we had a bureau in Munich, it would either be above or right inside Schumann’s – corner table preferably. The coffee is pure Torino and the staff are cast rather than just hired. We’d like our branch of this world-class café-bar to open at 07.00 and perhaps not close until sometime around never.
The Sovereign House - Fashion
For all those gentlemen who need a great three-piece to make an impression in the boardroom, knitwear for chilly stretches on Lufthansa and an array of accessories, Sovereign House would be our top pick for a grown-up men’s store. A member of the United Arrows family, it also does a small bespoke line for ladies who ask nicely.