Monday. 1/6/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Christopher Cermak

Impossible to ignore

At Monocle we tend to focus on solutions over problems. It’s what readers have come to appreciate; that we are, as one reader put it recently, your “balm” in a troubled world – and we’ve done our best to keep that tone even during the coronavirus pandemic. So how do you write about a weekend of unrest across the US prompted by the death of George Floyd, an African-American man who died while being restrained by a white police officer in Minneapolis? Here’s a humble (and inexhaustive) stab:

  1. In Flint, Michigan, a city that has seen its fair share of troubles in the past few years, the sheriff had his officers remove their riot helmets and lay down their batons before joining protesters as they chanted “walk with us” through the city. You might argue that it was self-serving – sheriffs are elected officials in the US – but it’s a start. Police must find more such ways to be seen as allies of the public rather than enemies.
  2. It’s important to remember that most people are horrified by killings such as that of Floyd and willing to do their part. Barack Obama often spoke of “teachable moments” in crises and wrote on Friday: “It falls on all of us, regardless of our race or station – including the majority of men and women in law enforcement who take pride in doing their tough job the right way, every day – to work together to create a ‘new normal’ in which the legacy of bigotry and unequal treatment no longer infects our institutions and our hearts.”
  3. The (disproportionate) number of African-Americans killed by police in the US has long been a reality. So what has changed? Better statistics have shined a light on the problem, as well as the fact that bystanders can film such incidents on their phones – providing evidence that even reluctant police departments can’t easily ignore. As Minnesota governor Tim Walz said of Floyd’s death: “Thank God a young person had a camera to video it.”

This problem will not be solved quickly. But aside from agreeing that peaceful protest is a necessary expression of people's pain and anger (and looting and violence backfires), we all must hope that, even here, solutions can be found.

Geopolitics / EU & China

Diplomatic dilemma

Last week China’s legislature passed security laws that, critics say, fundamentally undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy. The US, UK, Canada and Australia were quick to condemn the legislation in a joint statement but the EU was more circumspect. Following a meeting of its foreign-affairs ministers on Friday, the EU stopped short of declaring an end to Hong Kong’s autonomy – as US secretary of state Mike Pompeo had done. Instead it highlighted the contradictions at the heart of Sino-EU relations. China, it said, is both a partner and a competitor. Although its human-rights record is at odds with EU values, there’s no question that it is also an essential ally. For many nations the push-pull at the heart of China’s tremendous power – and undemocratic style of politics – will continue to characterise relations, leaving the people of Hong Kong squashed in the middle.

Politics / Iran

Hardline ambition

Iran’s parliament elected conservative hardliner Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, a former mayor of Tehran and air force commander of the Revolutionary Guard, as its new speaker last week. The post often leads to higher office and Qalibaf, who served in the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s and has already made two unsuccessful bids for the presidency, seems to fit the bill. “This has been a man who has really seen it all and is very conservative – but don’t underestimate his experience or his determination,” Paul Rogers, professor of peace studies at the University of Bradford, told Monocle 24’s The Briefing.

“It’s pretty likely that he’ll go for the presidency.” If he does he’ll have his work cut out for him in next year’s elections: US sanctions and the pandemic have massively affected Iran’s economy and created a volatile political situation, particularly with younger Iranians. “You can always blame the Americans for this,” says Rogers. “But the reality is that there has been an awful lot of mismanagement and corruption.”

Business / Spain

Facing facts

Valencia-based Closca, the company behind the award-winning collapsible bicycle helmet, is showing how good design can help to tackle a global pandemic. In March it began work on adapting a design initially conceived as an anti-pollution mask for cyclists. The new face covering started shipping last week (for every one purchased, five surgical masks will be donated to hospitals and citizens most at risk). The masks use a micro-perforated fabric to make them more breathable, CEO Carlos Ferrando tells Monocle. “It is not a fashion accessory but it should be something you can wear,” he says. There’s also a broader point about the environment. “If we need to wear a mask it’s because we are living in a city with high levels of pollution. We used a sophisticated yet simple design to make a beautiful mask, which we want to be a symbol [of what] is happening – because we need to reconnect humanity with the planet.”

Urbanism / Global

Little people, big ideas

There’s very little in school curricula that teaches children about urban planning and design. So in the hopes of inspiring the next generation of city-makers, Mikael Colville-Anderson, the Danish-Canadian urbanist and host of Canadian TV series The Life-Sized City, has come up with a solution. Launching today, Kid-Sized Cities is a digital-research programme that will track children’s thoughts on urban development. Through a series of online games and assignments, these soon-to-be-urbanists are encouraged to provide suggestions for making roads and public places friendlier and more inviting. “It’s not about explaining design or planning but rather saying, ‘Hey, make this street better,’” says Colville-Anderson. “Kids have the most brilliant minds and it’s about time we engage them and learn from them.” It’s sure to be a handy outlet for parents during the forthcoming school holidays. And it could also unearth the next Jane Jacobs, Jan Gehl or Colville-Anderson.
kidsizedcities.com

M24 / Big Interview

Jens Henriksson

Monocle’s editor in chief, Tyler Brûlé, meets Jens Henriksson, the CEO of Nordic financial services giant Swedbank, who talks about supporting SMEs, the path to economic recovery and how best to approach the challenges that lie ahead.

Monocle Films / Global

Monocle preview: June issue, 2020

Monocle’s June issue is a landmark instalment that breaks with the magazine’s usual format for the first time. Instead, as the world reels from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, we’ve enlisted 50 politicians, philosophers, architects, designers, journalists and more to ask one question: what’s next? Their answer? We will come back stronger. Here’s how.

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