Monday. 22/7/2019

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Chiara Rimella

Let bylaws be bygones

At journalism school I was taught that one of the narratives that makes an event newsworthy is the so-called man-bites-dog scenario: a surprising role reversal is always titillating. Hence the story of a 52-year-old Austrian man being fined €300 for sleeping in a hammock in a Trieste park is almost too delightful an example.

Why? Well, the assumption – at least from the Italian point of view – is that Mitteleuropean citizens are used to being subject to, and respectful of, stricter rules. Italy, on the other hand, has built a reputation on being the homeland of a lax dolce vita. So how could something like this happen? Italy is, in fact, a country of surprising bureaucracy and idiosyncrasies. And if Article 36 of the Public Green Regulation stipulates that it is forbidden to hang structures of any kind from trees, that includes hammocks.

Yet there’s a moral lesson to be gleaned from this instance of very literal policing. A city that’s pleasant to live in is not a free-for-all but it’s still one where rules can occasionally be bent if the situation calls for it (and the result is innocuous enough). There’s a big difference between camping in a public park and stretching out for an afternoon kip. Trust your residents to get it: self-regulation is an empowering and helpful exercise. Sometimes it pays to let it all hang out.

Politics / Spain

Final curtain?

This week Spain will hold a series of votes with the aim of – finally – allowing acting prime minister Pedro Sánchez to form a coalition government and remove the verb from his job title. Lawmakers will cast an initial confidence vote on Sánchez’s leadership tomorrow, which would require an absolute majority; if that doesn't work, there would be another vote on Thursday, requiring only a simple majority. Things aren’t certain to go his way and if he doesn’t secure enough votes, and neither party is able to secure a majority within 60 days, Spain will go to the polls. The lack of a consensus is damaging and while this protracted horse-trading continues, key policy decisions remain on ice.

Elections / Japan

As you were

Slow and steady appears to win the race when it comes to politics in Japan. Few were surprised yesterday when Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe breezed through the country’s Upper House election. In fact, some barely noticed. Although he failed to win enough seats to reform Japan’s constitutional pacifism, the outcome of the vote will see him become the longest serving prime minister in the nation’s history. Stability in democracy is to be celebrated in most instances but here we might be seeing too much of a good thing. Opposition parties were unable to make an impact, even though it recently emerged that Abe’s plans for pensions could land older citizens in financial trouble. Stability aside, danger often lurks where dissenting voices are unheard.

Tourism / UK

Coming up roses

Taking a turn around one of the UK’s landscaped stately homes may seem like a very British (and sedate) form of tourism – but underestimate it at your peril. British “garden tourism” is booming and includes the aforementioned country piles, as well as green spaces that form part of the National Gardens Scheme and even some zoos. Collectively they contribute more than €3bn to GDP according to a report unfurled today by The House of Commons’ Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee. Addressing the house today, the committee will suggest a design competition and an economic-tracking system to help this blooming yet undervalued sector. Those waiting in the wings to form a government should listen carefully: garden tourism might provide some green soft-power shoots amid the aridity of Brexit.

Environment / Seattle

Clean getaways

Smoky skies have become a staple of Seattle summers due to an increase in the number of wildfires. But the city is hoping to offer residents a breath of fresh air by the end of July with its latest pilot project: five clean-air shelters. Buildings throughout the city are being equipped with filtration and air-monitoring systems designed to offer residents respite from an unfortunate reality: levels of air pollution in Seattle have been among the world’s highest in recent summers. As temperatures continue to rise and droughts worsen due to climate change, the city might have to expand the project to contend with what mayor Jenny Durkan said “may be our new normal”.

M24 / The Bulletin with UBS

The new space race

This weekend marks the anniversary of one of the great achievements in human history: it is 50 years since the giant leap that took man to the moon. In a special edition of the programme, we delve into a UBS Q Series report exploring the new space race being contested by various billionaires who represent the private sector in the new space economy. Our panel of UBS experts will unpack the report and describe the investment opportunities in space travel and tourism. Plus we welcome a very special guest: Apollo 7 astronaut Walt Cunningham shares his unique perspective.

Film / Global

City crops

As cities fill up with more and more people, urban farming is becoming a crucial element of sustainable living. Monocle visits food entrepreneurs in Cape Town, London and Singapore who are exploring new ways of cultivating organic produce in their downtown homesteads.

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