Monday. 17/8/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Andrew Tuck

Clout of office

Dinner with a former colleague – one of the initial intake of writers and researchers who helped to get Monocle started. We talk about all the people who he worked alongside and I’m struck by how they have stayed so tight with each other. He’s been to their weddings, is godfather to one of their children, speaks to them regularly. They are people who he can turn to for anything. It’s his network. And he places a huge value on all these links.

There are some who are getting a little overexcited about the demise of the office. They suggest that no longer having to go to one will deliver unimagined freedoms – even if the main ones seem to be the right to wear athleisure at all times and spend too much time perched at the kitchen table. But offices are about so much more. And a good one can set you up for life.

One of the most important things that they can deliver is a fledgling network that kicks into play when you need to find a new job or lends you support when times are tricky. People test the waters about coming out at work and find shoulders to cry on when relationships fail or a parent dies. A good office, filled with good people, can see you through anything and often with a sort of objective calmness that close friends and family cannot offer.

For a young generation already seen as battling loneliness because of technology’s deadening crush, it is a sin to make them believe that a lack of personal networks beyond the likes of Linkedin will be a long-term benefit. We need to feel that we are part of something bigger. We need someone to ask, “How was your weekend?”

Transport / China

Magic bullet

China State Railway Group has announced ambitious plans to double the length of the country’s bullet-train network by 2035. The 70,000km of new track will link every city with populations of more than 500,000 and will cost the government an estimated 4.5 trillion yuan (€36bn). Much of this money, however, will be financed by debt, which could increase the pressure on an economy that has already been crippled by the pandemic. But it’s an investment that China hopes to see a quick return on, says Roger Vickerman, the chair of Imperial College London’s Transport Strategy Centre. “Construction is a very good way to boost economic activity,” he says. “The first of these high-speed lines were built after the financial crash in 2008 and China sees this expansion as a means to rebuild the economy in a post-coronavirus situation.”

Housing / USA

Home help

There’s a downside to being an “it” city such as Portland – namely a shortage of affordable housing as construction lags behind population growth. It’s a problem that has plagued the Oregon city in recent years but change might be on the horizon. Last week the city council adopted a sweeping reform to its residential zoning laws. The measures, known as the Residential Infill Project, aim to undo the exclusionary zoning practices that are common in many North American cities, which permit only single-family homes in many residential neighbourhoods, pushing low-income residents to the city’s edges. Portland will now allow up to four small houses to be built on a single residential lot, among other changes. The city estimates that by allowing for multi-unit buildings no larger than a single-family home, 24,000 new households will pop up within its leafy central neighbourhoods over the next 20 years. If all goes according to plan, Portland will offer an important lesson for other North American cities: the solution to housing shortages lies in their own backyards.

Diplomacy / Global

Universal truths

Simon Anholt, an independent policy advisor, is best known for publishing the Good Country Index as well as trying to create a country of his own. In his new book, The Good Country Equation: How We Can Repair the World in One Generation, he argues against the many national leaders who believe that “competition is essential and that you can’t get anywhere without harming somebody else”. Speaking to Monocle 24’s The Briefing[https://monocle.com/radio/shows/the-briefing/2287/], he explained that nations need to be encouraged to collaborate rather than compete (sorry Boris and Donald) and that the payoff can be both financial and reputational. “If a country wants to do better, if it wants to get more foreign income from trade, tourism and diplomacy, then it needs a better image,” he said. “And the only way that a country can get a better image is by behaving itself, by doing things that people around the world are grateful for.” As always, it pays to be nice.

F&B / London

Open season

Flexible city bylaws and a little creative place-making has allowed bars and restaurants around the world to welcome back patrons while adhering to physical-distancing rules. Doing so has saved countless businesses from ruin and enabled residents to get back out and enjoy their cities. But not all is rosy in hospitality. In London’s Soho district, 90 per cent of restaurants have opened following lockdown and have been able to retain many staff – but, according to Soho Estates, their takings are a fraction of what they were before the pandemic. That’s why the area’s businesses are calling for pedestrianisation of streets to be continued this winter; they believe that it is the only way they can stay open while physical distancing is in place. “October and November are the acid test for city-centre venues, if office workers don’t return,” says Sebastian Fogg of London restaurant consultancy Montana Fogg. With this in mind, some 80 businesses are discussing measures to combat overcrowding, something that could threaten the viability of dining on pavements. They’ve already agreed to ban all takeaway sales of alcohol and are footing the bill for security officers.

M24 / The Foreign Desk

The end of Europe’s last dictatorship?

Last weekend’s presidential election led to an unprecedented level of protest against Belarus’s authoritarian government. Police have cracked down with violence and mass arrests. How did Belarus get here? To what lengths will Alexander Lukashenko – and his security forces – go to cling to power?

Monocle Films / Japan

The bold business owner: Takeshi Yamanaka

In 1928 Maruni Wood Industry was born out of a fascination with the masterful carpentry in ancient shrines. Today its furniture is found in the Californian headquarters of Apple as well as airport lounges, galleries and restaurants around the world. We meet the company’s president to talk about the challenges of managing a family-run business.

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