Thursday. 19/12/2019

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Chiara Rimella

Popular sentiment

How do you like your politicians? Do you want them loud, charismatic, bold and memorable – or do you prefer them to just get the job done? A recent poll in Italy shows that Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte, while often criticised for being in the shadow of the more boisterous far-right Lega leader Matteo Salvini, is the most popular politician in the country. His approval rating currently sits at 49 per cent – 13 percentage points above that of Salvini.

Conte (pictured), clearly pleased with the results, says the ratings demonstrate that “acting like crazy is not useful”. Fatigue with the almost incessant political chaos is probably the main reason for Italians getting behind the relatively vanilla Conte. But whether that approval will translate to future electoral success is another matter. The much-discussed former technocratic government of Mario Monti also, at times, enjoyed higher approval ratings than any other political party. When it comes to elections, Italians (and many voters beyond the country’s borders too) tend to forget what stability feels like. For politicians on the campaign trail, “acting like crazy” might not be such a crazy idea.

Security / South Korea & USA

Deal or no deal?

National security in South Korea is in jeopardy after Seoul failed to reach an agreement with Washington over its financial contribution for the 28,500 US troops stationed in the country. Wednesday marked what was supposed to be the final day of talks before the existing deal ends on 31 December. The 2019 agreement saw Seoul pay $924m (€831m) – about 40 per cent of the cost of deployment – but the US is now demanding more than five times that amount. Surveys have shown that while South Koreans oppose paying more, they recognise the necessity of US support: 74 per cent of the population remains in favour of long-term stationing of US troops. Last year saw both sides eventually agree a figure after the deadline had passed so there’s still hope – but the clock is ticking.

Economy / Canada

Welcome development

Canada’s province of Ontario – one of the country’s largest provincial economies – has made a request to the federal government for permission to fill what it describes as a shortage of skilled labour. Vic Fedeli (pictured), Ontario’s provincial economic development minister, says that it needs to almost double the number of skilled immigrants it accepts to 13,300 over the next two years. Those numbers might seem small (14.6 million people live in Ontario) but it’s a notable plea. Ontario’s government has ruled on a right-wing, populist platform since it was elected to office 18 months ago. That hasn’t included the kind of explicitly anti-immigrant sentiment that populist leaders have used elsewhere but its policies have been inward-looking. By noting the importance of skilled migration to an economy, Ontario’s government is acknowledging something that peddlers of populist politics find difficult to swallow: welcoming people from elsewhere can be a boon for the economy at large – not a drain on it.

Hospitality / Texas

Staying power

Austin is enjoying a popularity boom, which is why the founders of the Proper hotel company decided to open their newest outpost in the Texan state capital’s vibrant Second Street District. Designer Kelly Wearstler – who helped create the group’s properties in Santa Monica and San Francisco, and an upcoming venture in Downtown Los Angeles – was brought on to pull together the 244-room hotel with a focus on keeping things close to home. She used the city for inspiration and local materials, such as travertine from a nearby quarry, while Austin-based ceramicist Rick Van Dyke supplied tableware and tiles. Hotel groups, keen to hold off competition from apartment-sharing platforms, have increasingly realised the need to make spaces that provide a real sense of place. And the Proper group’s growth also underlines another trend: the emergence of cool hotels in almost any city that you care to mention. Expect more of these ventures in second-tier cities near you.

Urbanism / New York

Swift response

Everyone’s talking about the bees but what about the birds? A recent study found that North America’s avian population has plummeted 29 per cent since the 1970s. While that’s partly a product of climate change, it’s also due to changes in the built environment. Collisions with buildings – glass towers are invisible to birds due to their reflective surfaces – now account for up to one billion bird deaths in the US every year.

 In response, New York’s city hall has passed a bill that will require all of its new buildings to render their surfaces visible to our feathered friends. Starting next December, 90 per cent of a structure’s first 23 metres up from the ground, as well as any surface above a green roof, must be clad in fritting – ceramic stripes, dots or other patterns – or a UV coating that birds can detect. The move is likely to work: the New York City Audubon, an organisation that campaigns to protect birdlife, found that outfitting the city’s Jacob K Javits Convention Center with fritting in 2014 led to a 90 per cent reduction in bird deaths caused by the building.

M24 / Foreign Desk Explainer

Death for high treason

Many of Pakistan’s leaders, or at least their careers, have met an untimely end – and now a court in Islamabad has sentenced former president Pervez Musharraf to death for high treason. Andrew Mueller looks at what Musharraf might have done to deserve this.

Monocle Films / Global

Seamless moves

When it comes to moving people effortlessly through and between cities, who is getting it right? And how do we make cities where mobility works for young and old alike?

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