Wednesday. 10/6/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / James Chambers

Swept under the carpet

My daily commute follows the same route as Hong Kong’s major protest marches, starting by Victoria Park in Causeway Bay and ending near the government headquarters in Admiralty. Along the way the number 23 bus takes in the graffitied road signs on Hennessy Road, a fire-damaged subway exit in Wan Chai and the skeletal remains of traffic railings, stripped by protesters to build barricades and to use as weapons. Every branch of a mainland Chinese bank that we pass remains covered in construction hoardings – open for business but ready to batten down the hatches at a moment’s notice.

Hong Kong still bears the scars of last year’s civil unrest but the break in the protests, caused by the coronavirus pandemic, has allowed the city to recover and redecorate. Yesterday morning, on the first anniversary of the start of the protests, when one million people marched peacefully against the extradition bill, I was surprised to see workers installing shiny new street railings along the route. For a split second it was almost as though Hong Kong thought it could get back to normal simply by erecting a few barriers and painting over the “Free HK” slogans that are stencilled on the walls.

However, the city is living in its own coronavirus bubble right now, one that is likely to burst as soon as the government is forced to lift the restrictions on gatherings of more than eight people. Politically, nothing has been done during this time, by either side, to bridge a heavily entrenched divide. Added to this, Beijing’s constitutional interventions have simply sown the seeds for an even more radical form of protest in the future. It’s time for Hong Kong to find a different route – otherwise the next clean up could be even more costly.

Diplomacy / North & South Korea

Separation anxiety

North Korea announced yesterday that it was severing all ties with South Korea, beginning with the closure of all governmental and military hotlines between the nations. The move follows threats from Kim Yo-jong (pictured), Kim Jong-un’s sister, that action would be taken if South Koreans continued sending anti-Pyongyang leaflets over the border. Although South Korea conceded by tabling a bill that was designed to outlaw the distribution of these leaflets, North Korea followed through regardless – a signal that little can be done to placate the country’s leaders, according to John Everard, former UK ambassador to North Korea. “The North is feeling jittery right now,” he says, pointing to the ongoing international sanctions and a pandemic lockdown that has damaged its already-struggling economy. “It seems that its government is in trouble.” Patience, says Everard, is key. “Any attempt to interfere would be counterproductive. This is a case of waiting for the personal woes of the North to pass.”

Transport / New York

Street smarts

New York has begun to reopen its economy this week and the first of this process’s four phases could result in as many as 400,000 of its residents returning to work. Faced with the potential for packed public transit, the city has announced that it will roll out five new bus routes across the city between now and October as well as 27km of dedicated bus lanes. Mayor Bill de Blasio also announced that the 14th Street busway project will be made permanent. Launched last October, the pilot project banned cars from 14th Street to resounding success: bus journey times on the route were reduced by 30 per cent and weekday ridership climbed by 17 per cent. The idea of all this is simple: the more buses that there are, the less crowded they will be. Although New York’s announcement falls short of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s request for 97km of new bus lanes, it’s still a major step for a city that has long prioritised personal vehicles.

Retail / Global

Statement of intent

In recent weeks brands across sectors ranging from fashion and food to hospitality have posted messages on social media in support of Black Lives Matter. Some have included thoughtful messages but others have been criticised for more formulaic statements that read like lip service. So what does a good brand message look like? Ben & Jerry’s, for example, has been applauded for its passionate statement spelling out the next steps to be taken; the ice-cream maker has a history of campaigning against racism and other social concerns, which adds gravitas to its position. “[We’re in an] environment where consumers are not looking for consumerism; they’re looking for authenticity,” says Renée Richardson Gosline, a marketing researcher at MIT. Whether it’s progressive sustainability policies or fair-labour practices, today’s consumers demand more from the brands they buy into. They need to see an action plan showing that companies are not merely ticking a box.

Culture / Vatican City

Mass media

In recent years there’s been a growth in online streaming services that cater to just about any given taste and interest (check out Monocle’s May issue for a rundown). And now there’s another one to add to the mix. VatiVision, a Vatican-backed platform created by Italian media distribution company Vetrya and production house Officina della Communicazione, launched this week. The plan is to start with distribution in Italy and potentially expand to other countries in Europe, the Americas and Asia. Although it is collaborating on content, the Vatican says that the platform is an independently run and funded venture, focused on arts and culture as well as religious-themed programming. This is hardly the Vatican’s first foray into media – it also runs its own television station. But it is a sign that Pope Francis, who has spoken of the “great potential” of technology, is eager to bring the Vatican into the digital age. For more, listen to yesterday’s edition of The Globalist.

M24 / The Big Interview

The Chiefs Edition: Emma Tucker

Monocle’s editor in chief, Tyler Brûlé, meets Emma Tucker, editor of ‘The Sunday Times’, to discuss what it’s like to cover a global pandemic, the importance of Sunday journalism and how digital can complement, not replace, print media.

Monocle Films / Italy

Speciality retail: Verona

This Italian city has a long tradition of typography – and the business still has a story to tell. Letterpress workshop-cum-store Lino’s & Co updates old machines with 3D-printed movable type.

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