Wednesday. 18/12/2019

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Venetia Rainey

Clear vision

Have you heard of Max Schrems? Don’t worry if you haven’t – you’re not alone – but he is worth knowing about. This under-the-radar Austrian law student is currently on the frontline of a major legal battle with Facebook that could redefine Big Tech’s approach to privacy and affect hundreds of thousands of companies ranging from banks to carmakers.

Schrems (pictured) has been a privacy activist for most of his twenties. It began when, aged 23, he requested his digital footprint from the social-media giant for a university paper and was shocked by what he received: everything he had ever “liked”, all of his private messages and more. Since then he has successfully brought down a widely used international data-transfer system called Safe Harbour and set up None of Your Business, a nonprofit that makes it easier for ordinary citizens to pursue privacy lawsuits. Tomorrow will see a crucial advisory ruling at Europe’s top court as part of his current battle with Facebook over its use of so-called standard contractual clauses, which enable transfers of personal data to non-EU countries and are worth billions of dollars to a vast range of companies.

Beyond the wide-reaching business and privacy implications, there’s another reason all of this matters. In general, most of us just say yes to the T&Cs, assuming that we’re powerless to get a better deal. But civil society activists such as Schrems show that it need not be this way. From grappling with Brexit in the UK to protesting corruption on the streets of Lebanon, fairness and transparency are worth fighting for – no matter how powerful or intransigent your opponent might seem.

Agriculture / Bangkok

Higher ground

As climate risks increase and impact rural communities, urban farming experiments are popping up across the globe. The latest example comes from Bangkok, where Asia’s largest rooftop farm has been built on top of Thammasat University. Green space is hard to come by in Bangkok, one of the world’s most densely populated cities, and the Thai capital is projected to sink more than a centimetre every year. Designed by local landscape architect Kotchakorn Voraakhom, the site will be safe from the increased threat of flooding and make better use of existing land. Other Asian cities such as Singapore (pictured) and Hong Kong are already ahead of the game on this front and, as climate risks increase, urban farming is set to become a norm rather than a novelty.

Society / USA

A change long overdue

Cities such as Helsinki and Oslo have been spending hundreds of millions of euros remaking their libraries into enticing social spaces but Los Angeles is experimenting with a thriftier approach. The Los Angeles Public Library (LAPL) system, the most-used library network in the US, with 73 branches, plans to stop charging late fees for overdue books come spring. Residents are currently charged 35 cents per day for overdue books, $1 per day for overdue entertainment media and 15 cents for overdue children’s books. Other cities across the US have been implementing similar policies over the past year. It’s a simple change that won’t have a huge impact on the LAPL’s coffers (late fees account for less than 1 per cent of its budget) but should encourage residents to visit their nearby library more often. The city’s mayor, Eric Garcetti, hopes that removing the financial risk of incurring late fees will help make libraries an integral part of the community yet again.

Urbanism / Montréal

Reining it in

As Montréal rings in the new year, a familiar sight is likely to be absent from the city’s touristy Old Port: calèches. These traditional horse-drawn carriages date back to the 18th century but a city bylaw is now set to ban them following recent incidents that range from accidents with vehicles to horses collapsing in the summer heat. Animal-rights organisations have argued that the horses’ working conditions are cruel – and Montréal isn’t alone in rethinking these practices. New York mayor Bill de Blasio has struggled to make good on his 2013 promise to ban carriages – thanks to pushback from drivers – but progress was made earlier this year when the vehicles were forbidden from picking up passengers on Manhattan’s busy streets and instead relegated to boarding areas inside Central Park. Although removing carriages from traffic is a good start, firmer regulation of working conditions for horses could be a compromise for the tradition.

Media / Alaska

Free press

Are you prepared to drive 200km over snow and ice just to get to the printers? If the answer is yes, and you’d be willing to run a publication in such a landscape, then you’re in luck: the small Alaskan town of Skagway has put its newspaper up for sale. The price? Zero dollars. The current owner, veteran journalist Larry Persily, says that he doesn’t care about money, only that someone carries on his legacy. If The Skagway News closes, the town’s events will no longer be recorded for posterity; neighbour-to-neighbour hearsay will no longer be challenged nor facts separated from fiction; and Skagway’s leaders will no longer be held to account. It’s a reminder that, even in faraway Alaska, journalism performs a public service. So please, if you fancy a challenge, pack your snow boots and send your details to Mr Persily.

M24 / Food Neighbourhoods

Zürich, Bellevue

Monocle’s Jessica Bridger takes us to the tastiest destinations in Zürich’s Bellevue area.

Monocle Films / Affairs

Brno: fully functional

The Czech Republic’s second city was central to European design before falling into a troubled 20th-century sleep. Revival came thanks to research investment but its future may lie in its design heritage.

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