Wednesday. 13/5/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / James Chambers

Moving the goalposts

As protestors trickle back onto the streets and shopping malls of Hong Kong, one potential solution to its political impasse is emerging. Some influential heavyweights in the business community have called for an extension of the 50-year term in Hong Kong’s mini-constitution that guarantees the city a semi-autonomous way of life until 2047.

Earlier this month the outgoing chair of the Hong Kong chamber of commerce urged clarity on the future of the “one country, two systems” arrangement with Beijing. And hotel tycoon Sir Michael Kadoorie was full of optimism when I interviewed him for our forthcoming June issue, saying, “To me, 2047 is a date of review and there’s no reason to really feel that this is not China’s belief.”

That boardroom tactic has merit. The recent pro-democracy protests were a desperate act by a generation of young people who feel that they don’t have a future in their hometown. While shifting the expiration date beyond 2047 won’t alleviate all of these problems, some diplomatic can-kicking (let’s say another 50 years for argument’s sake) would bring down collective anxiety levels and allow disenfranchised protesters to start careers and build families of their own. To her credit, chief executive Carrie Lam has already floated the idea. However, a lack of trust in her government means that the public would need to see Xi Jinping put pen to paper; or, more realistically, simply issue a face-saving new “interpretation” of the existing provision.

A bellicose Beijing will be difficult to budge and pro-democracy stalwarts would still cry foul – but all sides need to give ground. As “one country, two systems” nears its halfway point, a “rollover” past 2047 is currently the best and, quite frankly, the only solution to end the protests ⎯⎯ short of another catastrophic event of global significance rolling in from the mainland.

Fashion / Europe

Shopping forecast

Though their Italian counterparts are slightly ahead, clothing and textile factories in France and the UK are starting to reopen this week. But there’s a looming question: what, and how much, do you make? The fashion industry operates months in advance: what is produced now will hit shops between September and November. In a world where the situation changes weekly, it’s almost impossible to predict what consumers will want to buy that far down the line. Will folks want to get dressed up or stick to lockdown athleisure? Psychological theories abound: secular immortality theory, for instance, says that when we emerge from a crisis, many people want to buy things to remind themselves of their vitality – but this must be reconciled with the fact that many might have less money to spend. It’s good that factories are back up and running but the hard part is far from over.

Environment / India

Emission statement

India has experienced its first year-on-year decline in carbon emissions in 40 years. According to new analysis by environmental think-tank CREA, the drop was partly due to an economic slowdown that started well before the coronavirus pandemic. But the rate was further edged down by a 15 per cent reduction in emissions during March, as nationwide lockdowns began to take hold.

Perhaps more surprising is that the drop in demand for energy impacted almost exclusively on coal-powered plants; renewables such as solar energy actually saw demand increase in March. The reason? Solar energy has made such strides that it’s actually becoming cheaper to produce than that powered by coal. It’s a fact worth noting as governments consider whether to push new emissions targets as a condition for corporate bailouts during the pandemic. While meeting such climate goals is good, it becomes even better if applied to methods that can benefit our fragile economies too.

Transport / UK

Ticket to ride

UK transport secretary Grant Shapps has announced that £2bn (€2.3bn) will be allocated to improving cycling and walking infrastructure nationwide once the country’s lockdown ends. The UK is following the lead of New Zealand and cities such as Paris, Bogotá and Berlin that have already introduced funding for bike and pedestrian transport in response to sharp increases in the numbers of cyclists. Across the globe, people are shirking public transport and opting for their own two wheels instead: it’s a trend that Elliot Fishman, director of the Institute for Sensible Transport, says is likely to continue after restrictions are lifted. “Even once the threat has gone, there will be a proportion of people who continue to cycle,” he says. “People get fairly habitual in their travel behaviours and it really takes something like this to change them.” More governments should embrace the change and hop on board with the idea.

F&B / US & Canada

Street food

The concept of transforming public spaces into open-air dining rooms – an idea first adopted by the Lithuanian capital Vilnius to allow restaurants to serve more customers – appears to be catching on in the US. Atlanta suburb Brookhaven is allowing restaurants to set up tables in their carparks and restaurants in Tampa (pictured) have expanded onto pavements. Now Canada is getting in on the act of getting out: this week, Victoria city council will debate the prospect of alfresco dining on sidewalks and streets. Lisa Helps, mayor of the British Columbia capital, notes that they’ll have to act fast as restaurants are set to reopen later this month. The only trouble is that, unlike in many European cities like Vilnius, pavements in North American cities are often already too narrow to allow pedestrians to pass one another at a safe distance – and that’s without any tables. We would encourage cities to go a step further and, where possible, shut selected streets to vehicles so that diners can really spread out.



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