The Monocle Minute

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Today’s top stories, opinion and opportunities
Thursday 9 February 2017

Image: iStock

Underground movement

Although low-hanging cables and telegraph poles are a distinctive feature of Japan’s cityscapes (the services are easier to repair in an earthquake-prone nation), Kyoto is now moving what is deemed an eyesore underground. In the neighbourhood of Pontocho, a traditional entertainment district, the city government has started work to put utilities beneath the ground. Along the main street, which is about 500 metres long and lined with old wooden buildings, 17 poles and their attached cables will disappear from view. Since 2011 residents have been removing unsightly hoarding and brightly lit signs; getting rid of the poles will complete the project to restore a more old-fashioned atmosphere to a street frequented by tourists and geishas alike.

Image: Hermin Utomo/Alamy

Rapidly disappearing

Gridlocked city? Time to build a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system. BRTs have been a traffic solution on a shoestring ever since Curitiba in Brazil began building its network of dedicated bus lanes in the 1970s. And Southeast Asian cities have been some of the most enthusiastic adopters: Jakarta’s system is extensive; Hanoi’s BRT began operating at the end of 2016; and Metro Manila plans to follow suit. But one city is turning its back on the bus. Bangkok will soon scrap its seven-year BRT experiment after transport chiefs found the loss-making network primarily served cost-conscious elderly passengers (kerbside boarding beats climbing up and down stairs to access the Mass Rail Transit). But transport officials should be wary: an angry granny makes a formidable foe.

Image: Ronen Tivony/Getty Images

Stated intentions

There are plenty of regions in the US that aren’t enamoured with Donald Trump; Washington state, for one, has challenged the president’s immigration ban. But the US’s most populous and liberal state, California, has taken it to new levels, threatening to declare itself a sanctuary state and drawing a retort from Trump at the weekend that it is “in many ways out of control”. This month’s California Sunday Magazine leads with the story “California vs Trump”, pointing out that only 22 per cent of people in Los Angeles County voted for the populist. Indeed, a small but growing number of Californians are calling for the state to secede from the union. Unlikely, perhaps, but entertaining nonetheless.

Image: Fondazione Prada

Planting the seed

Milan’s contemporary art gallery Fondazione Prada has a rare species of new denizens: meet the rosette-shaped Hawaiian Alula plant and aquatic axolotl (that also goes by the name of Mexican salamander). From today until 9 April, Miuccia Prada and Patrizio Bertelli’s museum, housed in a former gin distillery, will be home to US artist Michael Wang’s Extinct in the Wild exhibition, showcasing flora and fauna that no longer exists in nature. In an age of declining biodiversity when thousands of species are at risk of extinction, Wang’s installation could not be more relevant. The plants and creatures are displayed in three glass-and-aluminium enclosures and the curators will become their caretakers. Luckily for them, Mr Wang didn’t want to highlight the plight of the elephant.

From Monocle 24

India’s new tech billionaires

Indian entrepreneur Bhavin Turakhia began his business career with a loan of a few hundred dollars. Along with his brother, Bhavin now oversees a billion-dollar business empire. He shares what he’s learned along the way.

From Monocle Films

Healthy cities: vim and vigour

Across the world, governments and developers are waking up to the fact that healthier cities are happier ones. We touch down in three very different locations to admire some of the best urban-design initiatives.

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