Wednesday. 1/4/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / James Chambers

Behind bars

My one-bedroom apartment is a typical Hong Kong home: shoebox small with a security grille on the outside. These outer doors (similar to those pictured), often made of shiny wrought iron and shaped into decorative 1960s designs, normally feel like an unnecessary nuisance given the city’s low crime rates. However, since I’ve been under two-week mandatory quarantine, my second door has come in handy as a protective barrier between me and friends coming to drop off care packages and moral support (neither of which can really be ordered online).

These prison-like visitations start with my mask-wearing mates depositing a package on my doorstep, knocking nervously, retreating several metres back to the lift entrance and then having a muffled conversation with me through the bars while snapping photos of prisoner 25096 (my wristband ID number). Every visitor assumes that the bars are there to keep them safe but I end up feeling like the lucky one. While they have to brave the outside world, I get to stay inside and scoff home-baked banana bread and fresh croissants. This quarantine has been the first time in two months that I’ve felt free of any lingering fears of infection and the days have been whizzing by.

My release date is on Saturday. Until then I’m going to enjoy my last few days of freedom and be thankful that I didn’t take Marie Kondo’s advice and throw out my family photos or books. Our homes have become sanctuaries during this crazy time and I’ve learnt to appreciate mine a lot more – including the ugly security gate.

Defence / Colombia

Peace time

Today Colombia’s insurgent National Liberation Army (ELN) begins a temporary ceasefire, which is due to run until 30 April, with the national government led by Iván Duque (pictured). It was called by the ELN on humanitarian grounds on Saturday, marking a welcome pause in a conflict that has been running for more than 50 years (the ELN is separate from the rebel group Farc, which reached a peace deal in 2016). Oscar Guardiola-Rivera, a Colombian-born professor of international law and globalisation at Birkbeck College, part of the University of London, hopes that this might open the path to future negotiations. “The virus has popped their bubble,” he says. “These developments are a recognition of what’s real as opposed to political rhetoric – the real cost to human lives and the real need for co-operation and collaboration. I would hope that they will recognise the same necessity to end the war after this but we must remain sceptical.”

Society / Austria

Helping hand

Austria is one of the few European countries to have retained military conscription. Military service is obligatory for all men when they turn 18, though they can choose to complete nine months of civilian volunteering instead. Today will see those who opted for the latter called up for additional service for the first time since the Second World War. Some 2,000 Austrians who finished their civilian service have voluntarily reported for extra duty; another 1,500 who are currently doing their service will find it extended by two to three months.

Their role will include helping to care for the elderly, assisting with hospital-patient transport and taking other steps to make up the shortfall should hospital workers fall ill or be forced to quarantine themselves in the coming weeks or months. Extraordinary times call for extraordinary gestures – from emergency services but also from volunteers.

Health / UK

Support network

Patients arriving for antenatal and phlebotomy appointments in the southwestern UK port of Plymouth this week will find themselves in unlikely surroundings: the stadium of the city’s professional football club, Plymouth Argyle. The club has opened its grandstand, a recently refurbished classic of postwar stadium architecture, to the National Health Service. “The conferencing and hospitality facilities [pictured] have been made available and our dressing rooms will provide extra space for beds,” Argyle CEO Andrew Parkinson tells Monocle. It’s just one example of British professional football reconnecting with its community responsibilities: several clubs have made large donations to food banks and others have asked players to phone vulnerable self-isolating fans to keep their spirits up. “The club is for the city and it is our job to do our civic duty in these unprecedented times,” says Parkinson. If more clubs carry this spirit into the post-virus shakedown, the sport will be all the better for it.

Urbanism / Los Angeles

Big house arrest

The incessant construction of large new-build houses in Los Angeles – in the place of smaller, older dwellings, which are known as “character homes” in the US – is contributing to rising property prices and a decline in tree cover across the city. But councillor David Ryu is planning a new ordinance (due to be introduced in the coming weeks) that will restrict the construction of vast new single-family homes. Until this point, builders and developers have worked around existing legislation that prevents the construction of “McMansions” on single-family lots by building enormous houses on land that is designated for several homes. The result, Ryu explains, is that “instead of a fourplex, you have a single-family home that’s as big as a fourplex”. Ryu’s ordinance will close this loophole and prevent the “mansionisation” of multi-family lots. Cities facing similar issues brought on by developers exploiting bylaws should follow Ryu’s lead and consider reconstructing their own legislation.

M24 / Monocle on Culture

Broadcasting during a pandemic

We look at the role of public broadcasters during the pandemic. TV critic Scott Bryan tells us what the BBC has been up to while the CBC/Radio-Canada’s Catherine Tait talks about the practicalities of producing for a multilingual country. Plus: we head to northern California to discuss the value of local radio.

Monocle Films / France

Building safer cities

Monocle Films travels to Paris to bear witness to the French capital’s efforts to mitigate terrorism through smart design and architecture.

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