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Today’s top stories, opinion and opportunities
Friday 1 September 2017

Geopolitics

Sinking ship?

Belarus’s Russian romance continues to cause problems just as it seemed the country was righting its wrongs.

For a while it looked like Belarus was charting a new course. The infamously isolationist nation, Europe’s “last dictatorship” and a close ally of Moscow, relaxed its visa regime earlier this year and rejected a Russian plan to build an airbase on its soil. Yet this former Soviet state has been thrust back into the middle of East-West tensions by hosting joint war games with Russia in September. With some estimates stating that the exercise could see 100,000 troops gather in the country, Nato is understandably concerned. But ahead of the drills the biggest loser right now is Belarus. The country, which is dependent on Russia to keep its spluttering economy alive, had expressed aspirations of someday joining the EU but right now it looks more under the thumb of Moscow than ever.

Retail

Image: PA Images

One big happy family

A bricks-and-mortar shop is doing something shocking: expanding.

The Simons clothing retailer, established in Québec City in 1840, is the oldest family-owned company in Canada but it has managed to do what few mid-range multi-brand shops have in the past few years: it has expanded its bricks-and-mortar footprint. More than a dozen new shops have opened outside Simons’ Québec stronghold over the past five years – the 15th and latest opened in the city of Edmonton yesterday. The newest store has also set something of a benchmark for the design of big-box retail spaces: it has solar panels incorporated onto the roof and the parking garage, a model it hopes to replicate elsewhere. “What we have done well,” says Simons’ spokesman Philip Normond, “is that we have an assortment of labels that is unique. We want to be the fashion retailer of reference in Canada and what we’ve discovered is that our product, which is a great success in Québec, is booming in English Canada too.”

Property

Image: Alamy

Community service

Developers eyeing a building for luxury flats have been pipped to the post by Barcelona’s city council.

Barcelona’s historically working-class neighbourhood of Poblenou has been transformed in the past 20 years but the wave of construction and rising prices have squeezed out long-time residents. To bridle the gentrification, this week Barcelona city council purchased a former chemical plant known as La Escocesa that private investors had been planning to turn into luxury flats. Now in the council’s hands, it’ll be transformed into public housing and communal art spaces where local artists can exhibit their work – a function La Escocesa has performed since the 1990s (despite the private investors trying to quash it) and the enhancement of which will doubtless be welcome news in Poblenou.

Expo

Image: Eurobike 2017

Cycling lesson

Rookie riders are overtaking the old guard according to those in the know.

The world of cycling is changing gears. That’s the lesson from this year’s Eurobike, a four-day affair that ends on Saturday in Friedrichshafen, Germany, where some 1,400 companies are on hand to show off the to show off the great and the good of cycling. Some lessons that are particularly relevant for the industry in 2017? “Long-established manufacturers are losing relevance and new players are forcing their way into the market,” Dirk Heidrich, Eurobike’s show director, tells Monocle. While traditional mountain bike companies are struggling for traction, outfits investing in e-bikes are picking up speed. But it’s not all disruption in the industry: “At the same time, the typical bike retailer in Germany generates significantly higher revenues over a larger sales floor area than 10 or 25 years ago.”

From Monocle 24

Austria: smoking indoors

The Urbanist

On the whole, Vienna is a well-behaved city but in one respect it is a big bad boy: it still allows smoking indoors.

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