The Monocle Minute

Today’s top stories, opinion and opportunities
Wednesday 13 September 2017

Geopolitics

Image: Getty Images

Wish you were here?

If Saudi Arabia is serious about a global charm offensive, more effort needs to be put into being charming.

So, you’ve isolated your richest neighbour, you’re embroiled in a proxy war in your poorest neighbour’s lands and there's a lingering notion that you fund terrorism. What’s your next step? Saudi Arabia knows it has an image problem. Yet given the country is intent on enticing foreign investment – and even, unbelievably, non-pilgrim tourism someday – the reports this week that the kingdom is to set up PR “hubs” in London, Berlin and Moscow come as no real surprise. Said hubs would focus on pushing out press releases, invite select social-media chatterers to visit the country and work with PR firms to put the Saudi view out there. But perhaps there are lessons to be learnt from the blunders of others: Azerbaijan poured plenty of hard cash into soft power in Europe but, as its so-called caviar diplomacy now unravels, its PR gains look flimsier than ever. If Saudi actually wants to arrest its image problem the change must come from home: openness, transparency and rule of law in line with the rest of the world.

Sport

Image: Getty Images

Going for gold

With the Olympic torch having become a poisoned chalice, a new report outlines how cities can be happy hosts.

Who’s afraid of playing Olympic host? Considering the astronomical costs involved it’s an increasingly pressing question for the International Olympic Committee, as cities from Boston to Budapest shy away from taking up the torch. But London-based engineering and design firm Arup has released a report that delves into the ways cities can – and should – rethink hosting. It covers everything from building flexible temporary venues rather than pricey new arenas to finding new approaches to funding the Games. A particular highlight, however, is the report’s emphasis on working backwards, by addressing local problems first and working from there. “New infrastructure and venues should be specified and designed to meet a host city’s long-term development needs,” says Will Goode, an associate at Arup and a contributor to the report.

Urbanism

Image: Getty Images

Planting a seed

A new park in the Russian capital suggests a brighter (and greener) future for a city that does a fine line in grey.

Moscow has just celebrated its 870th anniversary by opening a vast park next to the Kremlin. The project, costing almost €200m, was designed by New York-based Diller Scofidio + Renfro (which was involved in Manhattan’s Highline) and sits on a site that was originally earmarked for a huge skyscraper conceived by Joseph Stalin. While the price tag seems hefty, the park offers plenty of bang for your rouble: two concert halls, an open-air amphitheatre, an underground museum and a viewing platform above the River Moskva. The main attraction? An elevated glass dome housing a botanical garden. The park is a welcome addition to a city typically associated with cloudy skies and concrete.

Culture

Academic assignment

A new photography book from Martin Parr examines the university city of Oxford by subtle degrees.

Observers of UK life don't come much shrewder than photographer Martin Parr. His latest photo book Oxford, by Oxford University Press, casts a careful and characterful eye over one of the country’s venerable seats of higher education. The collection – more an elegy to youth than a portrait of elitism – captures well over 100 full-colour, large-format snippets of college life, including hirsute gardeners, waspish professors, gawky students and ambivalent-looking college cleaners. There are of course the gowns, regalia, glasses of champagne and wood-panelled halls that you might expect but there's also a disarming dose of awkwardness, revelry, rowdiness and wryness in the telling of it all. Oxford is a just-published glimpse of life behind closed doors (and inside ivory towers) that's celebratory, charming and subtly silly in all the right proportions.

From Monocle 24

Image: Kristina Dam

Home truths: Maison et Objet

A special report from the halls of this biannual design fair in Paris. We hear from managing director Philippe Brocart and pick out some fine finds from Begg & Co, Marimekko and Kristina Dam.

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