Tuesday. 15/10/2019

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Chris Cermak

A place of refuge

“Never in my 25 years…” says my flabbergasted German removal man, Frank, as he recounts the actions of a group of migrants who jimmied the lock of his truck and hid inside. They were hoping to find safe passage from Calais to Dover in the comfort of my boxes – my entire life, really – which were en route with me to London from Berlin. In Calais, two of the stowaways were caught by the French and three more by UK police stationed at the second border checkpoint (the latter were apparently far more professional, armed with sensors to detect heat signatures) before the truck finally boarded a ferry six hours later.

The whole episode made me reflect on what makes the UK attractive – so attractive that people would risk their lives to come here. It’s a counterpoint to my German friends who heard about my move and said, “You’re moving to London? Well, that’s brave of you.” The research is mixed but it seems that migrants often cite the UK as a destination for simple reasons such as language, family or community ties, or because it remains an attractive place to work – reports suggest that job opportunities and social benefits are more accessible than in France.

As Brexit negotiations enter their final stages (a crucial EU summit to determine the UK’s future will be held on Thursday and Friday), it’s worth stepping back and remembering that many people move for more fundamental reasons than their political proclivities. They move to escape conflict, join family or friends or find a job. Not everyone has the luxury to reflect on politicking or colourful leaders’ ever-changing stances, pledges and promises – certainly not the people who stowed away in my boxes.

Transport / Japan

Taking stock

A search-and-rescue operation was still underway in Japan yesterday after the country’s biggest storm in decades, with tens of thousands of armed-forces personnel, police and firefighters all playing their part. Over the weekend, Typhoon Hagibis, which has claimed 56 lives, caused 21 rivers across several prefectures to flood. The concern is that the rain forecast over the coming days could result in water levels rising again. Among the most spectacular images to emerge from the flooding was East Japan Railway’s Hokuriku Shinkansen train yard in the city of Nagano, where 10 bullet trains – one third of all trains on the Tokyo-to-Nagano line, worth ¥33bn (€270m) – were partially submerged by the overflowing Chikuma River. While these vehicles are being repaired, the line will stay open with the undamaged trains continuing to run. For most people in Japan, life is returning to normal; yet again, the country has shown its resilience in the face of natural disaster.

Politics / Catalonia

Verdict in the dock

Nine leaders of the Catalan separatist movement were yesterday sentenced to as long as 13 years in prison for charges including the misuse of public funds – even though they were cleared of the more serious charge of rebellion, which requires evidence of organised violence. The sentences have sparked renewed protests but commentators are speculating that the case for imprisonment could be weakened by the considerable jail time that the separatists have already served.

“They’ve been jailed for two years already,” says Sebastian Balfour, emeritus professor of contemporary Spanish studies at the London School of Economics. “They were elected officials. To deprive them of liberty for two years without being found guilty causes indignation. One thing the movement will be doing is appealing to the European Court of Human Rights.”

Geopolitics / The US & Hong Kong

Washington’s arms embargo?

Protesters in Hong Kong are holding their breath this week as the US House of Representatives prepares to vote on several major bills that would bolster their four-month-old pro-democracy movement. If passed, the laws would allow the White House to conduct annual assessments of Hong Kong’s autonomy in order to justify its special trade status and put an immediate stop to sales of tear gas and rubber bullets to its security forces. Republican senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley have made separate visits to Hong Kong in recent days, fuelling hope among activists that US lawmakers are on their side. It’s no sure thing, however. As Chinese president Xi Jinping’s fighting talk over the issue showed this week, such moves would further inflame the ongoing US-China trade war.

Urbanism / Toronto

Walk this way

Toronto’s elevated Gardiner Expressway has long divided the city’s downtown from Lake Ontario. But a new project, Waterfront ReConnect, hopes to mend the split city with a couple of simple fixes: painting the undersides of the highway gold and installing better lighting. “Pedestrians don’t feel invited so the quickest thing we could do was highlight this as a place for people to move through, rather than just for vehicles to move over,” says Adam Nicklin, co-founder of Public Work, which designed the project with urban designer Ken Greenberg. While Waterfront ReConnect is launching at just one intersection for now, Nicklin hopes it will be expanded across the city. Waterfront ReConnect might not look as exciting as The Bentway – the now beloved public space created beneath the expressway – but it’s a good lesson that not all urban fixes need to be big or expensive.

M24 / The Big Interview

Imelda Staunton

Despite popular film credits including the Harry Potter series and an Oscar-nominated turn in 2004’s ‘Vera Drake’, Imelda Staunton has never strayed far from the stage. She’s won four Olivier awards, most recently for her much acclaimed portrayal of Madame Rose in Stephen Sondheim’s classic musical ‘Gypsy’. Monocle 24’s Ben Rylan asks Staunton about her career highlights and the secrets of good stage acting.

Monocle Films / Brazil

São Paulo: building better cities

Brazil’s business capital has reinvented its city centre through clever urbanism. We meet the architects, gallery owners and transport visionaries powering this change.

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