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Neighbourhood update

Follow the leader?

London [POLITICS]

Londoners will vote for a new mayor on 5 May. The battle is between Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith – son of the controversial late billionaire James Goldsmith – and Labour MP Sadiq Khan, the son of Pakistani immigrants (his dad, the PR always stresses, was a bus driver). It’s clear that the candidates are very different.

But there are issues that unite them: both are opposed to any expansion of London’s Heathrow Airport, for example. Goldsmith’s rather smart constituency sits close to the site and it would be political suicide for any MP in west London to vote for growth at Heathrow – even if, for monocle, this would be the best plan for brand London. Both men wear their eco-badges with a certain pride too.

There is also common ground on the issue of housing: both believe the city needs to build 50,000 more homes a year and agree that the market cannot run unfettered. Khan’s plans seem a tad too hopeful but his ambitions to deliver more affordable housing are mostly sound. However, both think that the green belt around London must be protected from development. This may once have been a useful check on sprawl but there are parts of the green belt that are charmless and ripe for new housing. It’s another topic on which both candidates have restricted their thinking.

While we recognise the ambition to curb the distortion of the property market by overseas investors, the idea from both teams that housing should be “for Londoners” is hollow and should not be delivered on – are we to restrict people from coming to London to join their families? Who will decide who can pass the city gates?

There is a similar mix of fine words and vagueness on public transport and security but it feels like Khan has a surer take on the city’s needs and is likely to win according to most polls.

There are those who will surely miss the independence of thinking that was typified by the incumbent, Boris Johnson. While monocle has often worried about his inability to sell London like a good ceo and is opposed to his pure euro-scepticism, he did surround himself with people who had the freedom to think differently. Let’s hope that Khan will prove more of an iconoclast than his campaign has hinted at.

High-speed rail

Israel the answer?

Jerusalem [TRANSPORT]

Israel’s infrastructure has not always lived up to its image but the new Jerusalem to Tel Aviv high-speed trainline could change that. When the first train rolls out of Jerusalem’s new underground station in early 2018, the journey time between Israel’s political and financial hubs will be slashed from 80 minutes to less than 30. At 57km the line is relatively short but the country’s fitful topography presented unique challenges. The solution: deep tunnels and tall bridges that will allow the train to travel in a (mostly) straight line.

Sustainability

Raise the roof

The Hague [URBAN FARMS]

In cities where space is limited, the best way to go green is to go up.That’s the idea behind Zürich-based firm UrbanFarmers, which sets up sustainable farms on the roofs of commercial buildings and then manages the distribution of produce to businesses. “You should know where your food is produced,” says ceo Roman Gaus. With one farm already in operation in Basel, the firm is opening a second on the roof of the former Philips Telecommunications factory in The Hague in May. It will produce 45 tonnes of vegetables and 19 tonnes of fish per year, and will be Europe’s largest commercial urban food-production space.

Q&A

Milutin Folic

City architect, Belgrade

Citizens of Belgrade have reluctantly grown used to projects that never happen. A metro first mooted in 1958 and a more recent Zaha Hadid development are among the ventures that remain unbuilt. But the appointment of Milutin Folic as city architect two years ago seems to have made a difference. Schemes to pedestrianise much of the Old Town and renew crumbling façades have already been introduced and Folic promises much more.

What was your vision for Belgrade?
When the mayor interviewed me my only stipulation was that they give me free rein.

For reshaping the city?
Yes – I didn’t ask for a big salary or a grand office. I’ve had the chance to live in the US and Brazil and spend a lot of time in Europe and Asia. My idea was to filter all the good things I have seen and try to make them work in the city.

Was simplifying building permits a priority?
Yes – we’ve unblocked lots of investments that were blocked for years.

Belgrade doesn’t have the biggest budget. How do you fund the changes?
Making the city more beautiful and improving the infrastructure brings in the investors. It’s a virtuous circle. The Usce district will get a new tower and Hilton is coming – it will pay taxes and with that we’re doing the façades, street furniture and bike-friendly streets.

So it’s not just about falling masonry?
Exactly. One ceo moved his company headquarters to a city in Sweden because it had good nurseries. It’s a good lesson. If people can’t bring their families to Belgrade then they simply won’t invest.

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