Monday. 25/3/2019

The Monocle Minute

Image: Ben Roberts

Opinion / Venetia Rainey

Neighbourhood watch

What makes a city? Infrastructure, housing, public spaces? They’re all important. But the glue that binds a city is its people, from Ferrari drivers to street cleaners, immigrants to old-timers. These are the folks who sit in cafés, play in parks and shop in stores – they make a city feel alive. Yet in many places, this is under threat. Rampant house and rental price rises mean bona fide residents are being pushed out by tourists, blink-and-you’ll-miss-them overseas students or, worst of all, no one.

As you’ll see in our story below, Amsterdam is legislating to ensure anyone buying a new-build is actually going to live in it. Good. The housing market in the Dutch capital has become impossible as landlords snap up properties and capitalise on the influx of foreigners to charge ludicrous sums. Amsterdam also has one of the strictest rules on Airbnb rentals – now allowed for just 30 days a year per property.

Other cities should take note. Greece, for example, has offered about 10,000 golden visas (property investment in return for residency) to those from China, Russia and elsewhere since 2013, according to Enterprise Greece. That’s injected about €1.5bn into Greek real estate but it’s also making Athens unaffordable for austerity-squeezed locals – and investors don’t even have to live there to qualify. Beirut’s centre is a warning too: inflated prices have turned parts of it into a ghost town owned by absent foreigners. There are some things that money just can’t buy.

Image: Getty Images

Geopolitics / US & Israel

Out for the count

Donald Trump will welcome Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House for a working meeting today, followed by a dinner tomorrow. Netanyahu will be in the mood to celebrate: last week Trump announced his belief that the US should recognise Israel’s authority over the Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in the Six-Day War. This gives Netanyahu, who is facing allegations of corruption at home, a pre-election boost before Israelis head to the polls on 9 April. Did Trump really need to deviate from decades of US foreign policy to prop up Netanyahu? Probably not. Simply meeting with the Israeli prime minister so close to the election is a show of support. Notably, Barack Obama did the opposite: he refused to meet Netanyahu before the 2015 election so as not to influence its outcome.

Image: Getty Images

F&B / Sweden

We’ll drink to that

Sweden’s love affair with its state-run alcohol monopoly, Systembolaget, is at no risk of coming to an end any time soon. Last week a study was published by the country’s media forum ranking it as the most trusted national institution, with 78 per cent of those surveyed saying they had “quite” or “very” high trust in the shops (compared with only 30 per cent saying they trusted their government). While these markedly unflashy shops are not allowed to offer promotions and have awkward opening times, they remain popular among Swedes for their good-value products, amply stocked shelves and knowledgeable and helpful staff. A lesson, perhaps, in how well-executed state regulation can keep consumers content and even become a source of national pride.

Image: Getty Images

Geopolitics / USA & China

In the balance

The US administration’s assertion that trade wars are a convenient way of solving disputes was certainly put to the test last year but, with negotiations between the US and China set to resume this week in Beijing, officials have expressed tentative hopes of a truce. A sticking point lies in the implementation of tariffs; China demands their immediate removal, while Trump has asserted that they’ll remain in place until he’s persuaded that Beijing will uphold its end of the bargain. Against this febrile backdrop, China has accused the US of over-hyping the threat posed by Chinese forces to justify an enormous jump in military spending. These jibes, however, will need to be put to bed if there’s ever going to be a harmonious solution.

Image: Ben Roberts

Cities / Amsterdam

House news

Bad news for would-be property magnates in Amsterdam (but good news for everyone else): the city’s authorities are working on a plan to ensure that new-build properties in the Dutch capital can only be bought by those who intend to live in them. The move comes amid growing concerns over house prices in the city and aims to improve the lives of residents priced out of the market. One of the reasons: property investors who have snapped up homes to rent out to the large numbers of tourists who come to Amsterdam seeking Airbnb rentals. Even here the city has clamped down and restricts letting on sites such as Airbnb to 30 days per year. The new property laws, which are anticipated to come into effect this autumn, should help Amsterdam become a city known for putting its citizens first.

Film / Sweden

The secret to running a restaurant

In the latest edition of our ‘Secret to...’ series, Niklas Ekstedt opens up his acclaimed eatery – Ekstedt – and divulges some insightful tips on how to run a successful restaurant.

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