Wednesday. 2/10/2019

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Josh Fehnert

Tale of two cities

Venice has always been divided from the rest of Italy, at times by a millennium of independence, at others just a stretch of salty lagoon. Now a vote on 1 December will rule whether the city’s eastern reaches (the 100 or so scattered islands you see on the postcards or from cruise-ship portholes) should be governed separately from mainland Mestre, a rough-and-ready post-industrial port.

This friction isn’t new: the islands were only united with Mestre under fascism in 1926 and today, some say, the two sides of the city have little in common. But Venice mayor Luigi Brugnaro, who's in favour of keeping the city together, is right to condemn this argument. Breaking up alliances promises quick fixes but – as we’re seeing with the environmental crisis, trade wars and the redrawing of treaties – smashing ties doesn’t stop the rot. In fact it usually diminishes the resources needed to deal with the issues.

Venice’s historic centre is buckling with over-tourism and a dwindling population (1,000 Venetians leave every year and half the population is over 65). A vote to split the historic city, however, would likely accelerate its decline and diminish its resources to fight the blight. It might also hamper Mestre’s chance to cash in on its island cousin’s 20 million visitors a year. Lose-lose.

Politics / Uganda

Power dressing

Wearing a handsome red beret in Uganda can lead to your arrest. The problem is less fashion faux pas, more overt political messaging via sartorial selection. Bobi Wine (real name Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu) is a popstar-turned-politician who wants to run for the presidency of Uganda; there is an election set for 2021. Wine has taken to sporting a red beret, which has become part of his brand. However, say his opponents, a new law clearly states that you can only wear a red beret if you are in the military and so he should stop (indeed there’s a whole parade of verboten bonnets on the list, including camo’ baseball caps and ceremonial forage hats). Wine is not willing to give up his headwear and says that the move to de-hat him proves that the incumbent, president Yoweri Museveni, is getting twitchy. It may sound silly but clothing and accessories can make powerful statements: a brown shirt became the emblem of Nazi thugs; the umbrella a symbol of democracy campaigners in Hong Kong. Museveni is wise to eye his opponents’ wardrobe choices with some nervousness.

Housing / Munich

Battling the bubble

When Monocle’s Quality of Life Survey was published earlier this year, Munich, to no one’s surprise, was high on the list. Its blend of tradition and innovation helped the Bavarian capital take third place but one area of concern stood out: house prices. And that view has been reinforced by the annual UBS Global Real Estate Bubble Index, which rated Munich as the city most vulnerable to a property bubble.

Low interest rates in the eurozone have driven investors away from bonds and into other markets – and one effect has been to drive up house prices. Political tensions have lessened the risk of a bubble in London and Hong Kong but Munich has an opportunity to use its relative stability to decrease its vulnerability to overvalued property and increase its liveability. How? By building more low-income and mid-market housing.

Business / Tokyo

A change of tuna

In days gone by, a spot at the tuna auction at Tsukiji, the world's biggest fish market, was a hot ticket. Tourists would queue from the early hours to secure their places and watch the action. But since the old market in central Tokyo closed down and moved to its strip-lit home in Toyosu last year, visitor numbers have dwindled and rarely even reach the daily capacity of 120. The new market has all the charm of a refrigerated box and visitors now watch the auction from a raised viewing gallery with only partly open windows. To soften the disappointment, the city government has decided to install microphones in the auction area and pipe the sound around the building to liven up the atmosphere. Many people warned that the new market would lack the charm of Tsukiji, which opened in 1935. Unsurprisingly, they weren't wrong.

Urbanism / Global

Growing recognition

As cities get denser, high-rises get taller and even balconies shrivel on planners’ drawing boards, greater value is placed on the availability – and quality – of public parks, gardens and landscaping. The Cultural Landscape Foundation is determined to celebrate this work and recently announced that it will be awarding $100,000 (€90,000) to a lucky recipient as part of a biennial prize; the first gong will be handed out in 2021. The hope is that it will do for landscape architecture what the Pritzker prize does for buildings. Until now that prize has been nameless but it will henceforth be called The Cornelia Hahn Oberlander International Landscape Architecture prize (or, thankfully, just the Oberlander prize). Cornelia Oberlander, 98, lives in Vancouver and has been involved in the profession for over 70 years; she has been a pioneer of spaces for children (she’s designed more than 70 playgrounds in Canada), among numerous celebrated projects. Her life story also includes escaping Nazi Germany. So having an Oberlander on the mantelpiece would be an honour all round.

Tall Stories 176

The Vessel, New York

We visit Thomas Heatherwick’s often lambasted Vessel, in New York’s Hudson Yards development, to see whether pointed prose or people power is a better judge of character when it comes to unusual structures.

Monocle Films / Milan

Milan: The Monocle Travel Guide

This vivacious Italian city, which has been booming since the 1950s, is a hive of activity. Monocle's travel guide will navigate you through the very best it has to offer, from rustic lunch spots to Europe's finest artwork. Published by Gestalten, The Monocle Travel Guide to Milan is available now at The Monocle Shop.

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