Monday. 6/5/2019

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / James Chambers

Rest in peace

Finding a place to inhabit in cramped Hong Kong is hard enough when you’re alive – and it doesn’t get any easier when you’re dead. The city is running out of space and a crisis is looming; next week residents are expected to scramble for the opportunity to lease a niche at two public columbarium that are under construction. The scenario is forcing the government to explore solutions, from building a giant island to urging the bereaved to tip their urns into Victoria Harbour. But rather than another big infrastructure effort (or condoning sea burials), the city would benefit from a change in policy.

Space is currently being wasted by underused and empty buildings that are held by landlords who, benefitting from surging land prices, can hang on to real estate and relax as their assets increase in worth. Chief executive Carrie Lam is pushing ahead with a vacancy tax on unsold new homes but her government should consider a similar move for existing residential, commercial and retail properties that remain empty for an extended period of time. This would incentivise landowners to sell and free up plots where the city can provide its citizens with a final resting place. To find out more, catch The Urbanist this Thursday at 19.00 London time on Monocle 24.

Diplomacy / Russia & USA

Good to talk

The Arctic Council has kicked off its 11th Ministerial meeting in Rovaniemi, Finland. The council, which is made up of eight member states including Russia and the US, will today host Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and US secretary of state Mike Pompeo. But despite the two currently backing opposing sides in Venezuela, it’s unlikely these tensions will overshadow proceedings. “Even during the darkest days of the Cold War these countries managed to keep meeting and collaborating on scientific research in the Arctic,” says Elisabeth Braw, associate fellow at UK defence and security think-tank Rusi. “The region could potentially become very unstable so symbolically it’s important for them to keep meeting.”

Elections / Panama

Wealth of changes?

In Panama’s general election yesterday, Democratic Revolutionary party candidate Laurentino Cortizo beat his closest rival (and former foreign minister) Romulo Roux of the Democratic Change party to become the country’s new leader. Now Cortizo will set himself to the task he touted on the campaign trail: ridding the country of corruption. Panama’s economy has performed well in recent years; in 2018 it became Latin America’s richest nation according to a Latinvex analysis of data from the International Monetary Fund. But following the Panama Papers scandal, the country’s reputation is in need of a polish. Supporters will be hoping that Cortizo, a plain-speaking former cattle-rancher, is just the man to wrangle a solution.

Affairs / India

Charitable concern

The fifth phase of the Indian election gets underway today, with 51 constituencies in seven states heading to the polls. Even after Cyclone Fani – the strongest storm to hit the country since 2014 – has devastated swathes of India’s coastline, the outlook remains fair for incumbent prime minister Narendra Modi. Not one to pass up an open political goal, he wasted no time in announcing an aid package amounting to about €130m. One area to benefit will be Jharkhand, which was hit hard by the cyclone but also happens to be one of the seven states voting. While Modi’s generosity cannot be dismissed as entirely self-serving, he will surely be hoping that his relief effort will also ease the pressure at the ballot box.

Fashion / New York

Happy camping

Tonight the eyes of the fashion world will turn to New York for this year’s Met Gala. At a time when red-carpet events are losing their edge – consider the increasingly anti-climactic Oscars – the Met Gala stands out, and its enduring cachet is reflected in the demand for tickets. The bash marks the opening of the spring exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute. The annual affair is a major boost for the collection: more than $12m was raised at last year’s event. Many of the fashion world’s great and good will attend, decked out in clothes designed to fit the gala’s theme, which this year is “camp”. Fashion journalist Dana Thomas argues that the unusual theme choices are the secret to the party’s success. “At traditional red-carpet events, everyone is afraid of making a faux-pas,” she says. But at the Met Gala “it should be over the top. Guests go for it.”

M24 / The Big Interview

Tamara Rojo

As the principal dancer of the Royal Ballet in London, Tamara Rojo has played all the main parts in the ballet canon. Yet it is as artistic director of the English National Ballet that she has made the most impact on the world of dance. Monocle’s Chiara Rimella sat down with her to discuss everything from Brexit and its effect on the arts to the need for different voices in front – and behind – the curtain and why staging ‘The Nutcracker’ still matters.

Monocle Films / Madrid

The secret to ordering tapas

We jaunt around Madrid’s tabernas, the lively living rooms of the Spanish capital, and share some tasty dishes with the regulars.

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