Tuesday. 27/8/2019

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Nolan Giles

Green investing

The perfect public space should be a hot topic of conversation these days. As our cities become denser and our private space continues to shrink, we increasingly rely on places such as parks to enjoy our leisure time. But city parks should be places of commerce too and a good vendor, whether selling frosty beer or a range of newspapers, creates vibrancy and an essential public service.

So a recent ruling in New York capping the number of newspaper, book and art vendors within its leafy public parks has had members of the city’s creative community up in arms. Finding retail space in an urban centre can be costly for entrepreneurs; parks can provide a good first patch for what could become a fledgling company.

We’re not advocating for parks to be packed with hawkers (particularly the chintzy kind). But planners might be wise to focus on quality, rather than just quantity, when it comes to public-park retail.

Geopolitics / Iran & Japan

Under pressure

Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif touches down in Tokyo tomorrow to meet his counterpart Taro Kono and prime minister Shinzo Abe. On the surface it might seem like a courtesy visit but there is much at stake. The US has been rallying allies – Japan included – to launch a joint patrol in the Strait of Hormuz, where Iranian forces have been harassing foreign oil tankers (Australia joined last Wednesday, increasing the pressure on Japan). But Tokyo is reluctant: it has maintained a sober relationship with Tehran and wishes to restore access to Iranian oil supplies in a friendly manner when the time comes, which a military mission might compromise. Considering the ambivalence, Zarif is in with a chance of convincing Japan that Hormuz is a regional matter, not a global one.

Tourism / Taiwan

King for a day

Travellers looking for a truly unique experience – tourism’s golden ticket – should turn their attention to Taiwan. Foreign visitors are being given the chance to spend a night at the workplace of president Tsai Ing-wen as part of a competition being run by the island’s tourism board. Turning Taipei’s presidential building into a temporary hotel is part of an ongoing effort to raise international awareness at a time when Beijing is trying to restrict tourism to the self-governing island. Overseas visitors appear to be voting with their feet: Taiwan welcomed a record 11 million tourists last year. Applications to stay at the presidential building, a century-old example of Japanese colonial-era architecture, close at the end of this month.

Film / Venice

Man, what a line-up!

The Venice Film Festival, which opens tomorrow, is regarded as one of the “big three”, alongside Cannes and Berlin. It promises a reliable, if reliably unreconstructed, hit of European silver-screen glamour. Yet no film festival is complete without a degree of controversy; Cannes without Lars Von Trier, for example, was always the duller for it (he returned in 2018 after a seven-year ban). But in the post-MeToo era, questions about gender and representation are guaranteed to spark the most heated debates – and Venice doesn’t disappoint. Only two of the 21 films in competition are directed by women and among the remaining 19 is a film by Roman Polanski, one of cinema’s most divisive figures. Whether this will dampen the canal city’s lustre remains to be seen but it’s surely time for the festival to update its programme.

Culture / Netherlands

New home for old bone

This week will see the reopening of a major Dutch cultural institution: Leiden’s Naturalis museum, which boasts one of the world’s largest natural-history collections. First opened in 1820, it closed last summer for renovations and the addition of a more modern building with a large light-filled atrium, restaurant, shop, more exhibition halls and a new laboratory. There’s also, finally, space for Trix, a 66-million-year-old tyrannosaurus rex. The building – by Neutelings Riedijk Architecten, the team behind Antwerp’s MAS City History Museum – is adorned with concrete friezes by fashion designer Iris van Herpen and wall panels by product designer Tord Boontje. It’s a laudable investment in business and culture that other countries would do well to replicate.

M24 / The Urbanist: Tall Stories

The Gänsehäufel

We take a final glance through the Summer Weekly newspaper and wade into Vienna’s Old Danube. This inactive arm of the river is home to the Gänsehäufel, an island oasis dotted with lawns, beaches and pools that offer respite from the city’s soaring summer temperatures.

Monocle Films / Retail

Thessaloniki revival

Greece’s second city is defiantly bouncing back from the economic crisis and welcoming an increasingly international crowd. We meet the brave residents who set up shop in the tough times and are now finding success – as well as offering reasons to be hopeful about the country’s future.

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