The Monocle Minute

Today’s top stories, opinion and opportunities
Monday 21 March 2016

Sound city

As cities gentrify there’s a tendency for the arrivistes to demand that blemishes be removed and things be toned down a bit. Councils are then lobbied to, for example, limit the opening hours of pubs and venues and before you know it your city core suddenly resembles suburbia. But the fightback has begun. One sign has been the appointment of so-called night mayors in places such as Amsterdam to protect the after-hours economy. And now a small but powerful planning change in the UK means that from 6 April offices cannot be converted to residential properties (a key trend in London) if a music venue is nearby, unless new developments are gloriously soundproofed and buyers know that the venue is there to stay. Shain Shapiro, who runs Sound Diplomacy – which advises governments and cities on music policy and has been lobbying on this issue – says, “We need to start a debate about how we want our city to work because otherwise it is going to impact on how people can express themselves culturally.”

Bad times

The palatial pavilions at the watch industry’s annual Baselworld tradeshow disguise a less gilded reality: the major Swiss brands are in trouble. Last year saw the first drop in Swiss watch exports since 2009. Culprits are aplenty: China’s great economic slowdown has caused global ripples, November’s terrorist attack in Paris led to a severe drop in sales, falling oil prices are affecting the Russian market and the rumbling army of smartwatch insurgents marches ever closer to disrupting the traditions of the old world masters. Japanese watchmakers have escaped the turbulence for two reasons says Toshio Tokura, CEO of Citizen. “With Abenomics we feel the economy growing and people spending more money.” The other reason? Inbound tourism. The level of timepiece-craving tourists in Japan has apparently hit a record high.

Tallinn take-off

When national carrier Estonian Air filed for bankruptcy in November 2015 it was quickly replaced by Nordic Aviation Group. The company has just been rebranded as Nordica and you will be able to pick out its handful of aircraft by their distinctive blue-and-white liveries. Instead of Estonia’s national symbol – a swallow – they sport a dragonfly, chosen for its hi-tech appearance and association with good fortune. The new name is indicative of how the Baltic state wants to position itself. Erik Sakkov, a board member for Nordica, says, “Estonia has always aligned itself more with northern Europe than any other region and that’s something the people in charge of our country have wanted to see reflected in the name of the national carrier.”

Playing ketchup

When Canadian grocery chain Loblaws announced that it was pulling ketchup brand French’s from its shelves it left many shoppers seeing red and a provincial politician urging a boycott. It wasn’t so much an issue about taste as it was a matter of national pride. While tomato-sauce brand Heinz moved production south of the border in 2014, French’s production has stayed staunchly Canadian, using Ontario-grown produce. A leaked memo suggests that French’s sauces were cannibalising sales of the house-brand equivalent, leading to Loblaws’ move to protect its market share – only to be thwarted by a sense of Canadian nationalism. To Loblaws’ credit it quickly reversed its decision the following day.

From Monocle 24

Negroni from a bottle

London-based cocktail master Tony Conigliaro has launched his own bottled Negroni. We meet him to hear the backdrop to his new business and where the cocktail industry is headed.

From Monocle Films

Now you see it

From a simple concept – the rollout and upkeep of municipal street furniture in exchange for control of the advertising – JCDecaux elevates the unnoticed essentials of urban life. Monocle Films discovers how it helps cities run in style.

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