Friday 27 December 2019 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Friday. 27/12/2019

The Monocle Minute

Image: Alamy

Opinion / Nic Monisse

The plot thickens

In 2010, while I was a design student at the University of Western Australia, I studied Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner as part of the first-year architecture curriculum. My tutors spoke effusively about the film’s representation of class struggle through architecture and encouraged us to examine how technology in the Los Angeles of Scott’s imagined future was reflected in our own cityscape.

The film was set in 2019 and some of its ideas – talking computers and enormous digital billboards – are all but reality even if flying cars have yet to take off. So it now seems appropriate to choose a new movie to challenge and inspire the next generation of city-makers. But does one exist? I’m not sure. If I were to write, direct and – let’s be honest – star in a film that was tailor-made for future architects and designers to study, the metropolis depicted would have a decidedly retro feel, using technology to make room for more analogue activities.

Imagine, for instance, a world where mobile-phone data was blacked out in select public areas, forcing people to stop scrolling through social-media feeds and pick up a conveniently placed local newspaper instead. We would marvel at how brakes on scooters would be automatically activated in designated zones, allowing pedestrians to go about their business without fear of colliding with someone on a two-wheeler. In short, hi-tech would be used to create soft-tech spaces, with the resulting streets feeling more friendly and inviting.

So if anyone’s thinking of funding an urban-utopia film project in the coming year, drop me a note. Because in a world of hi-tech effects, it’s the low-tech future that would really bring shock and awe to cinema audiences – and perhaps improve our cities along the way.

Image: Lit Ma

Urbanism / Southeast Asia

Breathing space

According to a recent report by the United Nations, Southeast Asia’s population will reach 740 million by 2035 and its urban population will hit 373 million by 2030 as second and third-tier cities grow in prominence. Though this means more infrastructure and housing, planners are pointing to a greater need for public spaces in which people can form connections. “One of the big problems with urban living is alienation,” says Markus Shaw, chair of Hong Kong’s Walk DVRC, a nonprofit promoting walkability in the city. “This is particularly true for cities that have prioritised cars over pedestrians.” Too much socialising in Asia is done within enclosed spaces: shopping malls, for example, or small apartments. Outside areas for people to walk or run in are sparse. Instead of building vertically, introducing public spaces where people can connect more easily is a promising way forward for cities in the new year.

Image: Stephane Groleau

Construction / Canada

Growth industry

As we embark on a new decade, cross-laminated timber (CLT) is branching out – and our skylines are set to change. Canada is already home to a handful of CLT buildings but will be making a change to the National Building Code in 2020, allowing for wooden towers up to 12 storeys. Until now, tall-timber construction was outlawed due to fire risks but experts say that those fears are overblown and that mass timber is key to environmentally friendly development. In contrast to concrete (the cement industry accounts for 7 per cent of global greenhouse-gas emissions), the timber industry acts as a “carbon sink” by planting more trees, which absorb carbon dioxide. Away from Canada, Kengo Kuma’s Tokyo Olympic Stadium went against the grain to showcase the possibilities of wood, although Olympic organisers have been accused of pilfering endangered rainforests to do so. Even sustainable solutions such as CLT need to be monitored carefully.

Image: Marcel Wogram

Transport / Luxembourg

Free enterprise

From March 2020, Luxembourg will be the first country in the world to make all public transit free. Essentially a city with a population of about 600,000, Luxembourg suffers from terrible traffic congestion: it has the most cars per capita of any country in the EU and welcomes more than 200,000 commuters daily from neighbouring nations. Its government hopes that the move will allow people to get around easier by relying less on cars, thus reducing emissions in the process. In the US, a city of a similar size is following Luxembourg’s lead: Kansas City will be the first to make bus travel free, starting in January. The year ahead should provide a good barometer with which to measure the success of free transit, particularly for large cities thinking of following suit.

Transport / Global

Shared liability

It feels as though 2019 has been the year of the rental e-scooter – but will the trend continue? The market for these urban velocipedes is expected to double by 2027, even as questions over safety and regulation remain. A recent study found that, of 190 injuries reported as a result of e-scooter sharing, only one person involved was wearing a helmet. Helmets aren’t typically provided by renters due to hygiene concerns (no one wants a clammy casque), fear of theft and the assumption that users simply won’t wear them. However, future-facing e-bike-rental company Wheels has opted to include helmets that lock and unlock from its two-wheelers. It has also fitted them with hygienic peel-off film on the inside and is offering a 20 per cent discount for first-time users. That’s one company setting the safety agenda by addressing it, ahem, head on. Whether scooters are more of a nuisance than they’re worth is a debate that will continue in 2020.

Image: Shutterstock

M24 / The Big Interview

The best of The Big Interview: Dame Patricia Routledge

In this special edition of ‘The Globalist’, we revisit the best of ‘The Big Interview’ in 2019. Dame Patricia Routledge, who played the role of Hyacinth Bucket in the legendary sitcom ‘Keeping Up Appearances’, talks about her love for both stage and screen.

Monocle Films / Global

Monocle preview: Forecast 2020

If the dawning of a new decade is leaving you with more questions than answers, a copy of The Forecast should be an immediate purchase. We’ve got advice on where (and how) to live in 2020, as well as inspiring stories from Indonesia, Greece, India and more. Ready? You soon will be.

Available now at [The Monocle Shop (


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