Wednesday. 20/11/2019

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Fiona Wilson

City shakedown

London, New York, Tokyo and Paris are (in that order) the most “comprehensively attractive” cities in the world. So says the Global Power City Index (GPCI) 2019, a detailed report compiled by the Mori Memorial Foundation’s Institute for Urban Strategies, a Tokyo-based consultancy. The annual index has been ranking cities since 2008; this year’s survey looked at more than 40 metropolises using 70 indicators covering everything from business to the environment. This year four new cities were added, including Melbourne and Dublin, and new categories scrutinised, among them tourist attractions, nightlife and public-transport use.

The report is overseen by a committee of urbanism professors from around the world and chaired by Heizo Takenaka, a Japanese economist and retired politician. What emerges is a fascinating picture of the strengths and weaknesses of the world’s cities. Tokyo, for example, is miles ahead when it comes to restaurants but could improve workplace flexibility; Seoul is great for R&D but poor on liveability. New York scored highly on economic indicators but fell short on liveability, and therefore risks talent shifting to other cities and countries. London topped the list but has the potential to stall with Brexit uncertainty, while Paris is on the up after winning the race to host the 2024 Olympics. European cities such as Zürich and Stockholm lead the way on environmental issues, while Asian cities overall fared less well on green matters.

At yesterday’s launch press conference, Takenaka said that it was up to Japan’s government to tackle issues such as lowering corporate tax to boost the capital’s economy. China too is key, as the impact of its somewhat sluggish economy and ongoing trade war with the US is being felt in cities the world over. In other words, it’ll take more than municipalities to shore up cities’ strengths and address their weaknesses.

Environment / California

Stepping on the gas

California is taking its fight for the right to clean air directly to car manufacturers. This week governor Gavin Newsom announced that state agencies will halt their purchases of new vehicles from automakers including General Motors, Fiat Chrysler and Toyota, which backed the Trump administration’s move to strip the state’s authority to regulate emissions (other carmakers, including BMW, Ford and Honda, have reached a deal with the state). The ban, which will come into effect in January, is just the latest in a tug of war between the Golden State and president Donald Trump over climate change; last week California filed another lawsuit over Washington’s revocation of its authority to curb pollution. As more and more cities and states in the US go their own way on environmental policy, this is one sustainability stand-off to watch closely.

Urbanism / Global

Olympic hurdles

Where once cities clamoured to host the Olympics, now they can’t wait to take themselves out of the running. Calgary and Innsbruck are two recent examples that have turned down the winter version, while Rome and Hamburg have politely declined the summer Games. More often than not, the deciding factor is the billions required in infrastructure costs, not least the construction of new hotel rooms. With that in mind, this week the IOC has announced a reported €450m deal with Airbnb to cut the required accommodation outlay and, it hopes, reignite cities’ enthusiasm.

The nine-year deal – which won’t replace the athletes’ Olympic Village but will house staff and tourists – begins in Tokyo in 2020 and covers subsequent Games taking place in Paris, Los Angeles, Beijing and Milan. But the move could backfire as many cities are trying to rein in Airbnb; Paris officials have already complained, citing evidence that Airbnb has exacerbated the city’s housing shortage while driving up rent. False start by the IOC?

F&B / France

Hitting the bottle

Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrivé! That’s the cry that will sound throughout France – and wine bars around the world – at the stroke of midnight tonight. Tomorrow is Beaujolais Nouveau Day and, to mark the occasion, bottles of the fresh and fruity, just-harvested red will be ceremoniously uncorked. This year, however, there’s a slight sourness to the affair: the US imposed trade tariffs on a litany of European foodstuffs last month in response to the EU subsidising aviation giant Airbus. As a result, wine-makers shipping across the Atlantic have had to account for a whopping 25 per cent import tax. Meanwhile, ongoing unrest in Hong Kong has dented demand there. That’s a shame but as Beaujolais nouveau becomes better and better – 2015 to 2018 were all excellent vintages – it also means that there’s more for the European market. Santé!

Architecture / London

Brutalism recast

“Ahead of its time in 1964. A design classic in 2019.” So goes the tagline for Smithson Plaza, a renovated brutalist tower in the centre of London. Journalists and a privileged few will preview the first public-facing portion of the refurb tonight, when wine bar Locket’s swings open its doors. The restaurant renovation, by London interior-design firm Fran Hickman, complements the refurbished tower (for apartments and offices) by local firm DSDHA. The final result is luxurious but sensitive to the intent to the building’s original architects, Alison and Peter Smithson. It highlights a positive trend in London’s move towards the reuse of postwar architecture; even developments on the capital’s fringes evidence old stock being given new life. In the rapidly gentrifying east, apartments in the overhauled Balfron Tower (Ernő Goldfinger’s famous brutalist housing block) offer more-affordable entry points for young Londoners increasingly embracing the city’s modernist past.

M24 / The Menu

Food Neighbourhoods 161: Brighton

We head to one of the UK’s most famous seaside cities to discover its culinary gems, from the finest fish to the latest in plant-based dining.

Monocle Films / Global

Retail special: gin distilleries

Just like craft breweries, small local distilleries are reinventing drinks that have fallen out of fashion. Monocle Films visits three entrepreneurs who have uncorked the potential of the old spirit in London, Hamburg and the Finnish countryside.

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