As summer comes to a close, our editor-in-chief turns a fresh page by taking to the road across Europe and rethinking four-wheeled travel.
As the sun rises a bit later, darkness falls a bit earlier and this 67th issue draws to a close at Midori House we’re gearing up for both the start of an intense autumn and a proper grand tour to mark the launch of our first book – The Monocle Guide to Better Living.
Before bidding farewell to summer, I’ve managed to squeeze in a few days between filing this very last page of the issue and making my way to Berlin for our party with publishers Gestalten. With a nod to grand tours of yore, I’m driving around the lakes of northern Italy to catch a final few rays of sun, stock up on some fine wines by Südtirol producer Alois Lageder and also top up my wardrobe at A Gi Emme in Como.
This summer’s been a bit different from the past few years as it’s involved a little less long-haul travel (for pleasure, not work) and the addition of four wheels to a parking space that’s been used for storing the odd piece of furniture and bulky items bound for the recycling depot.
The last time I owned a car was about 10 years ago, just as cities around the world were consummating their love affairs with bicycles and urban planners were pushing through pedestrianisation schemes all over the Continent. I feel lucky that I caught the very tail end of an era when a car was still a welcome fixture in the urban landscape and was seen as a necessary part of the commercial metabolism that helps a city/town/village thrive.
A decade on and the private automobile is regarded as a force for evil by many a mayor and city councillors delight in unveiling short-sighted plans to ban cars and open up their city centres to cyclists and pedestrians. For the record, the editors of monocle are all for more cycling lanes, proper bike garages, leafy promenades and cobbled sidewalks but we’re equally strong advocates of 24-hour cities, vibrant streets and thriving centres.
Across the pages of this issue we’ve highlighted the shop owners, developers and buyers who not only do a sharp job running their businesses but also contribute to the vibrancy of their areas. At the same time, we also argue the case for good (inspiring, well mannered and profitable) retail as a cornerstone for communities.
As independent retail continues to come under threat from muscular chains and e-commerce, whole neighbourhoods are also threatened by poor planning that puts too much emphasis on getting cars off the road while ignoring the importance of passing trade. For sure, urban paradise is a place where we can all live within five minutes walking distance of essential shops and services and there’s car-sharing and efficient public transport right outside the front door.
It’s also for sure that it won’t happen in most major cities – and for good reason. Take away private four-wheel motor transport from areas of commerce and a number of unattractive things happen.
First, spontaneous passing trade drops off as vehicles are re-routed. Second, businesses start to close down because there’s a loss of custom. Third, residential property prices start to fall because there’s no longer a vibrant high street. Fourth, the desolate high street becomes a scary place to be both in and out of business hours. And finally, a mall springs up in the nearby suburbs to appeal to all those moms who want convenience and safety.
On top of this, many planners have also found that removing private transport makes it very difficult for people to move house (how are students supposed to move furniture to a new flat when they need to leave their car five blocks away?), raise children in the city centre and also deal with a surge in deliveries thanks to a boom in e-commerce.
In an effort to help reconcile the need for four wheels while also promoting pedestrianisation and pedaling, we sat down with one of our favourite architectural duos (Brisbane-based Richards & Spence) to plot a new type of neighbourhood that’s made for consumers of various transport persuasions. With the help of monocle newcomer, illustrator Mariko Yamazaki, and some architectural inspiration borrowed from Sabaudia we’ve developed Midori Lanes as a commercial/shopping/residential centre that could easily evolve within the fabric of an existing city or form the heart of a new community well beyond the green belt of a great metropolis.
A main avenue would welcome peppy electric bmws and Audis alike while a grid of shaded lanes would be reserved for those on bike and foot. Above the shops we’d encourage owners to take up residence in well-planned apartments and there’d be an array of shop and office footprints to encourage start-ups to secure good locations and more space for trusted brands.
Back to the topic of touring, we’re hoping to catch up with our dear readers, viewers and listeners as we make our way around the world to launch our book. We will have already hit Berlin, London and Tokyo by the time this issue is out but there’ll still be time to catch us as we pull into Hong Kong, Bangkok, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane (sadly not at Midori Lanes but the next best thing), Geneva, Zürich, Stuttgart, Munich, New York, Toronto and Milan – all over the next few weeks. We look forward to seeing you. Thank you, as always, for your generous support and feedback.
For more from our editor-in-chief, read his column in the FT Weekend.