Monday. 25/5/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / James Chambers

City blocked

Beijing rocked Hong Kong to its core last week, sidelining the local government and trampling all over the mini-constitution – but what happens next should come as no surprise. Communist party functionaries will pass the controversial new security bill into law, perhaps as early as next month, despite pro-democracy protests in the Legislative Council (pictured). This shows their scant regard for protests in Hong Kong and western condemnation.

The text of the final legislation is irrelevant. Hong Kong’s ability to govern itself, guaranteed by a bilateral international treaty, has been unquestionably altered, so the focus should now turn to the response from London, Brussels and Washington. Do they accept this new normal and watch as pro-democracy activists get crushed under the impending crackdown or respond with something stronger than a bold statement? We won’t have to wait long to find out. The US state department is due to rule on whether the city remains sufficiently autonomous to maintain its special trading status or ought to be subjected to the same sanctions, restrictions and tariffs as the mainland.

Congressional anti-China hawks in the US introduced the requirement last year to keep China honest about Hong Kong. However, six months later, Washington’s weapon might be about to backfire on tough-talking secretary of state Mike Pompeo and now China has backed him into a corner. If he continues trading with Hong Kong on the same terms the US looks weak; if he changes them unfavourably then everyone loses, most of all Hong Kong. The state department may try delaying again or fudging the ruling by giving Hong Kong a provisional pass on the condition that China drops the bill – but that would be naïve. Hong Kong is a domestic issue for Beijing and, unlike the trade war, there will be no backing down this time. As Covid-19 demonstrated, dealing with China requires a collective effort. The UK and the EU need to work with Washington on a united response for the next time Beijing abuses its powers. One country, two systems may be dead but the pain for Hong Kong is not over.

Defence / USA

Unfriendly skies

Donald Trump is pulling out of the Treaty on Open Skies – to the dismay of Washington’s allies. First signed in 1992, the agreement allows participating nations to conduct unarmed surveillance flights over one another’s territories to ensure compliance with arms treaties. According to the US, it will formally exit the accord in six months due to repeated Russian violations. But throwing the baby out with the bathwater isn’t likely to accomplish much. The treaty still yields plenty of valuable insights. “It is particularly useful in and around Ukraine, where it was providing non-assailable visual data on Russian military activities,” says Alexandra Bell, senior policy director at the Center for Arms Control & Non-Proliferation. “[By exiting], the US is losing the benefits of this transparency and confidence-building mechanism.” Bell says that the treaty is likely to collapse if Russia follows suit and withdraws – and reduced oversight on Russia will mean diminished security across Europe.

Aviation / Latin America

Flying start

Latin America’s largest airline, the Chilean-Brazilian Latam, has laid out a cautious plan for getting back on track. From June it intends to operate about 10 per cent of its usual 1,400 daily flights and hopes to double that in July; there will be more flexible ticket offers too. International routes will also return (from Brazil to Frankfurt, Madrid, London and Miami; from Chile to São Paulo and Miami).

Brazil’s other two largest airlines will be ramping up operations too: Gol and Azul plan 100 and 168 daily flights, respectively, from June. But the plans could be scuppered if other countries restrict flights to and from Brazil because the nation has become an epicentre for coronavirus – due in large part to government mismanagement. If Latam ends up relaunching operations elsewhere quicker, that could be a lesson for Brazil to change its ways.

Transport / Global

Street wise

Cities around the globe have relied on one another for inspiration in their efforts to reorganise streets for pedestrians and cyclists; the first wave of temporary bike lanes in Bogotá, for example, likely inspired plans for similar measures that could potentially become permanent in Budapest. In order to highlight the lessons learned in realising these initiatives, the National Association of City Transportation Officials (Nacto) – a group of major North American cities and transit agencies – has released a response and recovery guide that documents the planning, engagement, design and implementation of such projects. “It will give cities of all sizes an opportunity to understand what they can do to adapt their streets,” says Mike Lydon, founder of New York urban planning practice Street Plans and co-author of the guide. “It will help to create cities that work better for everybody in the long term.” The guide profiles bicycle lanes, pavement extensions, outdoor dining and street markets. It will be updated as new projects are realised so city officials and urban activists should keep their eyes peeled.

Design / UK

Breaking new ground

How might our approach to city development change after this global pandemic? That’s the question posed to architect Sir David Chipperfield (pictured) in Monocle’s June issue. Chipperfield, who typically splits his time working between London and Berlin – and was most recently responsible for the German capital’s fine James Simon Galerie – was quick to point out that our cities have long needed a rethink. Places such as London have become playgrounds for profiteering developers, he says. It’s time that liveability for all makes its way back into the city-building agenda. “In the past weeks we have maybe realised that there could be something more to life than shopping and eating in nice restaurants, which have been the opioid of a city such as London,” says Chipperfield. Now that the pandemic has given us a more considered view of what qualifies as “essential”, let’s hope that developers start to bring quality of life higher up their agenda.

M24 / The Entrepreneurs

Toms and Madefor

Blake Mycoskie is a serial entrepreneur, philanthropist and founder of Toms, the company he launched in 2006, which created the one-for-one model of donating a pair of shoes for each pair sold. Blake’s newest venture is called Madefor, a company which has created a 10-month programme to help people cultivate good habits using tools Blake picked up after struggling with depression.

Monocle Films / Global

The perfect high street

High streets around the world are increasingly imperilled by the threat of online retailers and click-and-buy commerce. Ahead of our talk on the topic at Monocle’s inaugural conference in Lisbon we devised a few simple fixes that urban planners should heed to keep bricks-and-mortar shops honest and interesting.

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