The Monocle Minute

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Today’s top stories, opinion and opportunities
Monday 12 March 2018

Politics

Image: Shutterstock

Star quality

There is speculation in Italy over Matteo Renzi’s replacement and one name in particular stands out.

Italy’s centre-left Democratic Party (PD) will today officially recognise party leader (and former PM) Matteo Renzi’s resignation, which he announced last week in the wake of his party’s disappointing electoral performance. Deputy secretary Maurizio Martina will ferry the party through until the next congress, due to take place in April. Speculation has already begun over who Renzi’s successor will be. Waiting in the wings is Nicola Zingaretti: while the PD has flopped across the country, he has managed a re-election in his post as governor of the Lazio region (a feat that’s never been achieved before). As one of the few winning faces of the centre-left in the country (and brother to Luca Zingaretti, one of Italy’s most famous actors), he could bring a necessary touch of positivity to the party – and, more importantly, a regeneration of its mission.

Property

Image: Alamy

Conflict of interest?

Hong Kong’s finance secretary has property developers in his sights but the government relies on the sector’s profits to boost its budget.

Hong Kong regularly tops lists of the world’s most expensive places to buy a home so the city’s finance secretary Paul Chan has vowed to take on its powerful property developers and tackle sales practices that keep the market on the boil. Yet the government is conflicted. Land sales and property taxes swell its budget every year and last week the MTR, a government-controlled subway network, was forced to dismiss accusations that it is a developer in disguise. MTR’s profits are up by 64 per cent on the back of property income that its extensive network of stations pulls in through land auctions and retail leases; less than a third of revenue now comes from core transport-related operations. The rail operator is one of Hong Kong’s most successful exports with operations in Australia, China and Europe – including London’s Crossrail, which opens at the end of this year – but it downplays its success at home where talk of exorbitant housing costs really gets people going.

Tourism

Sacred space

A Shinto shrine is causing problems for Japanese officials who want to accommodate Muslim visitors.

It was to be a straightforward renovation of a tourist-information centre in western Japan: a new public multipurpose room that could also be used by Muslim visitors to pray. But Ise city officials who announced the plan in February had not anticipated the angry calls and emails protesting the decision because of the centre’s location – just outside Ise Jingu shrine, one of Japan’s most sacred Shinto sites. City assembly members soon weighed in and, last week, Ise officials went into damage-control mode, reversing their plans for the room to have a marker pointing towards Mecca and sinks for pre-prayer cleansing. Officials are now looking instead for a privately run prayer space but the furore doesn’t bode well for a city that’s trying to make its growing number of Muslim visitors from overseas feel welcome.

Engineering

Image: Getty Images

Solid ground

Venice’s new gates will buy the city time to develop a permanent solution to its soggy bottom.

Venice has taken an enormous step in protecting its crumbling, sinking foundations. The Mose Project started in 2003 with the idea of creating moveable steel gates along the entrance to Venice’s lagoon, thereby preventing the city being flooded by the Adriatic tide. Croatian shipyard Brodosplit, 400km down the coast in Split, won that commission and has now delivered 63 gates. The 300-tonne barriers will be divided among the four inlets to the lagoon; a computer system fills the hollow gates with water to sink them when needed or buoys them with air to protect against the high tide. They’re built to last 100 years, buying Venice a century to come up with more ways to permanently safeguard its future.

From Monocle 24

‘Selvedge’

The Stack

Founded in 2003 by Polly Leonard, Selvedge has become the world’s leading textile publication.

From Monocle Films

Vital signs

From traditional calligraphy to rare gold-leaf techniques, hand-worked lettering is back in demand. Monocle Films meets three sign-painters whose eye-catching signs lend character to cities – and help businesses stand out.

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