Wednesday. 12/8/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Andrew Tuck

Changing the landscape

You don’t have to be a planner or an architect to make an urban intervention in your hometown, as a new pop-up park in Turin proves. Luca Ballarini might have started out running a design agency but he was bitten by the city-making bug and, in recent years, has joined up with the non-profit Torino Stratosferica to organise an urbanism festival called Utopian Hours, which attracts thousands of people. Now his team has broken out of the thinking and pondering phase, and started making spaces.

Opened a few weeks ago, Precollinear Park (pictured), which borrows a little from New York’s High Line, is a 600-metre strip of disused tram track that has been converted into a place for cultural moments – or just to eat your lunchtime focaccia. Although the idea had been brewing for some time, lockdown pushed it forwards. “It’s a chance to do something physical; to move away from webinars,” says Ballarini.

After consultations with the neighbours to explain that this was not about creating a party venue, everyone from city hall to the area’s businesses – and many volunteers – got involved by clearing the track, adding plants and providing benches. Ballarini says that the park also “resolves a cut” between two neighbourhoods that were divided by the scrappy land. It has been an instant hit, pulling in people from across the city. He hopes that the park’s life will outlive its pop-up phase and now has his eye on the next 200-metre strip of old track that runs over the Regina Margherita bridge that crosses the River Po. And the total bill so far? Just €10,000, of which €3,000 was crowdfunded.

This is a time when cities need change; they need reinventing and turning into exciting lures again. The good news is that there are citizens and advocates, like Ballarini, who are up for the challenge. So what are you going to do? It’s time to channel your inner urbanist.

Diplomacy / Afghanistan

External forces

The release of hundreds of Taliban prisoners by the Afghan government has paved the way for the first-ever direct talks between the two sides in Doha later this week. This follows an initial peace deal that was brokered between the US and the Taliban in February. But is there any chance of this long-simmering conflict actually coming to an end? Sajjan Gohel, international security director at the Asia-Pacific Foundation, says that the Taliban have been asked for few concessions to date and doubts that the Islamist militant group will heed a ceasefire beyond the short term. Key to any lasting deal is a player that will not be in Doha. “The Taliban cannot exist without Pakistan,” Gohel told Monocle 24’s The Globalist. “Pakistan is very much the hub of the Taliban and there remain concerns that the Pakistani military are maintaining their strategic relationship with the Taliban in terms of support and guidance.” Any comprehensive peace deal in Afghanistan will first need to look eastwards.

Society / Yemen

Broken homes

The white-and-brown buildings in the Old City of Sana’a in Yemen are widely considered to be among the best examples of early Islamic architecture. But one of the world’s most recognisable Unesco-listed sites is now under threat following months of heavy rainfall. Recent flooding, neglect and the country’s bloody civil war have all served to undermine the structural integrity of the pre-11th-century homes.

“These are living, breathing communities,” Iona Craig, a journalist who lived in one of Sana’a’s famous houses for five years, told Monocle 24’s The Briefing. “I have never lived anywhere like that before in my life and it’s unlikely that I ever will again.” The biggest challenge to saving them? Simply put: too many obstacles. “The UN is struggling to get funding to deal with the humanitarian crisis in Yemen at the moment,” says Craig. “Never mind the issue of prioritising buildings over lives.”

Immigration / US & Canada

Open source

This week, 52 US technology firms backed a legal challenge to Donald Trump’s temporary freeze on most employment-based visas for foreign workers. The president claims that the restrictions will preserve more than 500,000 jobs for Americans during the coronavirus pandemic. But the technology companies – including Amazon, Apple and Facebook – say that it will only hurt the US economy while other countries benefit. The squabble is in stark contrast to the open-door approach north of the border. Earlier this summer, Justin Trudeau told an online audience of CEOs for the Collision technology conference that foreign workers are welcome in Canada, while Communitech, a Canadian non-profit, recently launched an advertising campaign in California to entice talent north. Unlike the increasingly stringent immigration measures in the US, Canada’s Global Skills Strategy allows proficient foreign workers to secure visas in just two weeks. According to one recent survey, that attitude has made Toronto the fastest-growing technology centre in North America.

Urbanism / Dubai

Constructive debate

Dubai has long been an architectural playground where designers can realise works that reflect the grand ambitions of their commissioners. To invite discussion around this built legacy, the Dubai Design District this week announced the launch of the city’s inaugural architecture festival, D3. The event will run for three days from 11 November and focus on the theme of “identity, context and placemaking in the Gulf”. Architects, designers and the general public will be invited to a series of talks and workshops aimed at steering the Gulf states towards a more sustainable built future. It’s a much-needed discussion for a city whose architectural ambition also results in too many structures that sacrifice environmental considerations for flashy design. Here’s hoping that the event is less about backslapping and more about pushing the design community to deliver buildings that can improve quality of life and the surrounding environment.

M24 / The Big Interview

Anne-Sophie Mutter

Violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter is one of the world’s pre-eminent classical soloists. For 40 years the German performer has collaborated with distinguished composers and musicians, winning numerous awards. She talks to Monocle’s Robert Bound about Beethoven, her Stradivarius and sending biscuits to John Williams.

Monocle Films / France

The secret to baking bread

Paris baker Christophe Vasseur runs the successful corner shop Du Pain et des Idées and knows the secret of the perfect loaf.

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