Observation - Issue 88 - Magazine | Monocle

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Let’s play a little game I like to call “Budding Urban Planner”. You can easily settle back, close your eyes and play along on the backs of your eyelids but it’s more rewarding if you grab a piece of paper (A4 good but A3 better), turn it horizontally and pull out your finest mechanical pencil. If you want to add more layers and depth you can also bring out your metal box of Caran d’Ache coloured pencils but the point of the game is to use your imagination and experience to create the perfect little neighbourhood of your dreams.

If you don’t know where to start then put a cross at the centre of the page: this is going to serve as the main intersection for your neighbourhood. You now need to plot what’s going to happen on these streets. There’s no rush so think carefully about all the places you’ve visited in the world where you got that warm, fuzzy feeling because a precinct or parade of shops and services made you feel welcome, comfortable and perhaps a tad envious. You might also want to think back to your childhood and recall the small businesses and well-run enterprises that gave you your first taste of friendly service and considered assortments of delectable products.

Do you want a town square at the heart of your little community? Should there be a roundabout for vehicles? A four-way stop sign? Or traffic lights? Or should cars be banned altogether and forced to park on the periphery? Are you going to put a fountain in the middle where people can gather or do you think it might be better to add a playground? And what type of vitality should the neighbourhood have? Does leafy and sleepy appeal or do you think there needs to be buzz from morning till night? What type of residents do you want to attract? Do you think you should be focused on young families or will that cause too many pram jams in front of the cafés? And how will you cater to an ageing society and make sure they are included and woven into the community?

As we seem to have been playing our own version of “Budding Urban Planner” since we launched in 2007 we’re always asking these questions when we think about commissioning a Property Prospectus (we rather like the look of the Turin neighbourhood in this issue), assigning a writer and photographer to cover a new residential development or looking for a retail space for ourselves. When we decided to look for a location for our Kioskafé (now open at 31 Norfolk Place in London’s Paddington) we liked the mix of high and low-grade residential, the proximity of a big hospital, the rumble of taxis out front and the gently worn club for journos across the street.

We thought the Kioskafé would be our final retail venture of the year until we wandered into the delightful enclave of Obermais tucked above Merano in Italy’s South Tyrol. Compact and perfectly formed, Obermais just might be the closest to a real-life example of a Mitteleuropean neighbourhood that might be found in a 1930s storybook.

Anchored along Dantestrasse (or Via Dante if you prefer), Obermais has all the services you need for daily life. Along one side is a tidy garage, a tasty bakery, an odds-and-ends shop that seems a little frozen in time yet has everything you need, a design agency, a stationery shop, an underwear-and-pyjama boutique, a butchers and a café. On the other side of the street there’s a pizzeria, a dairy shop, a greengrocers and a restaurant serving good Tyrolean fare; along a little laneway you have an excellent gelateria and the nice men from Schrott who can upholster seemingly anything and place orders for fine Austrian-made rugs.

In and around this street there are also doctors and fitness studios, two banks, a dry-cleaners, a small grocery store, a few hair salons and several other food shops. At one end of the street a plumbing shop with a handsome 1950s façade stood empty until we dialled the number in the window and with the help of a certain Mr Telser secured a lease on what is now our newest addition to the monocle family: our autumn and festive season pop-up. Filled with a special collection of regional wares, a mini branch of Trunk, books, clothing and stationery from the monocle line-up and a special outpost of the Kioskafé, the space will be open until Christmas and host a series of small events throughout autumn and into winter.

If you happen to be resident in Italy, Switzerland, Austria or Germany, please swing down to say hello. If you’re passing through, do look us up and come in for a round of Christmas shopping. We look forward to seeing you. Willkommen! Thoughts, questions and story tips can always be sent to me (tb@monocle.com) or my trusty sidekick Mat Faint (mfa@monocle.com). Thank you for your continued support.

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