It was a nice working dinner and I had never met the man to my right in the good jacket and with the easy smile. But we soon got talking about his business in property developing. “How amazing,” I enthused. “So you get to shape your home city in a way that will have an enduring impact for generations to come? What an extraordinary legacy you will be able to leave.”
He gave me one of those looks that seemed to say, “Are you being ironic?” It was about to become clear that he saw his trade in a different, far more practical light. “The legacy I tend to think about is the wealth that I will leave my children.” He explained his reasoning: if a developer was faced with using two different bricks, one that costs $1 and another $1.10, he would always go for the cheaper brick and make a bigger profit. Why? “Because,” he said, “the public can’t tell the difference.”
It was all a bit deflating but it explains so much. From London to Los Angeles, lots of buildings that are almost OK but dull and uninviting are being erected every day. These are buildings that sit disconnected from the street, that fail to deliver in the public realm. There are a lot of crappy developers – and city-hall architects and planners too – who get to make money from putting up shocking projects that will be with us for far too long. And while all the design-blind planning officials and cash-driven developers imagine that the public is stupid and won’t notice, we’re not and we do.
But – and here’s the good bit – there are a number of developers who don’t think like this and who want to change the game. And that’s why we wanted to run our first-ever Property Survey. It’s a chance for us to look at alternative visions for creating our cities: from empowering small-scale developers to demanding a lighter footprint, to thinking about delivering a real legacy. Starting on page 83, we’ll introduce you to the people and planners who believe in better and can be part of a revitalised urban conversation.
The Property Survey, however, is not the only fresh-faced arrival in our magazine’s midst this month. We also have a new Timekeeping and Penmanship supplement that, yes, looks at some good products – in fact, rather a lot of good products – but is also rooted in something we think is equally important: modern manners. There’s something reassuring about pulling out a pen and signing your name at a time when too many settle for a digital signature. There’s something equally comforting about timekeeping in this screen-distracted age and that’s where a good watch comes in. Small things that speak of wanting to do things well and taking the time to do them.
And there are other innovations too. In the Affairs pages we have a new regular feature called State of the Nation that will, each month, give one country a thorough health check; we start in France. There’s also a new dedicated page on urbanism in our briefing pages as we deepen our commitment to the business of making a city. In our Business pages we’ve introduced The Consultants, which will look at fixing a conundrum. First up: why doesn’t Scotland have a very good supermarket chain packed with local produce? And, last but not least, in our Culture pages we have a new collecting section. There will be many more additions in the coming issues as we do an editorial spring clean – and as our editors focus on their print legacy and what they will be known for.
There are lots of things happening at Midori House and to make sure you are up to date here are a few reminders.
The Monocle Quality of Life Conference is taking place in Vienna from 15 to 17 April. If you would like to spend the weekend with us you can book tickets at monocle.com.
Our collection of books published with Gestalten continues to expand. While this issue of the magazine is on newsstands we’ll be bringing out new guides to Paris, Singapore and Vienna. Plus: in time for the conference, a big new book called How to Make a Nation.
The world of Monocle 24 continues to flourish and we have two new shows to add to your podcasts: The Cinema Show and Meet the Writers. We’ll also be broadcasting live from the Monocle Conference. Listen live at monocle.com/radio or download as podcasts on iTunes or SoundCloud.