Friday. 25/9/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Nic Monisse

Street life

Throwing the word “underground” before a noun can make a place or thing more exciting. Don’t believe me? Try it. Underground music, cool; underground club, even cooler. But, when it comes to street life – people walking, talking and sitting in public spaces and buildings – I would argue that this logic doesn’t apply. That’s why discerning urbanists are likely to be concerned about Ho Chi Minh City, where public officials have recently doubled down on plans to construct underground office spaces, museums and galleries alongside its metro stations.

Pushing people away from street level, whether below or above ground, breaks the first law of good city-making: keeping people together. By dispersing them over multiple levels, any sense of vibrancy is sucked from the street. Having often visited Minneapolis – which has the world’s longest skyway system – I can attest to this. The skyways (pictured), essentially a network of elevated tunnels allowing people to walk from building to building without ever having to touch the ground, kill street life in parts of the city. No one’s setting up cafés, window shopping or browsing art along these lifeless corridors. I’m not alone in my view: vaunted urbanist Jan Gehl’s tour of the network left him – in his words – feeling “sorry for Minneapolis”.

So what’s the solution – or at least a compromise – for Ho Chi Minh City if its underground network goes ahead? Making sure that every office, museum or gallery has some sort of presence on the street would be a start, even if it’s a foyer. Then, at least, street life might still have a chance to flourish.

Justice / USA

Law in order?

“Sometimes the law – criminal law – is not adequate to respond to a tragedy,” said Daniel Cameron, Kentucky’s attorney general, after a grand jury declined to charge three police officers over the death of 26-year-old African-American Breonna Taylor (one of the three was charged with separate counts of endangering neighbours). So what happened? Police in plainclothes forcibly entered Taylor’s apartment after midnight seeking to exercise a search warrant for drugs. Neither Taylor nor her boyfriend, who was in the apartment at the time, had a record but a former partner, who police had expected to find there, did. Believing the police to be intruders, Taylor’s boyfriend, a registered gun owner, opened fire, striking an officer in the leg. When the police responded, Taylor was shot six times.

The grand jury decision has sparked renewed protests and sporadic violence in US cities but also it should prompt an earnest discussion among law-makers; the problem is less that prosecutors failed to act than that laws on issues such as the appropriate use of force remain murky. Some are demanding that the three officers be charged with murder but that would be a misapplication of current laws. Tackling systemic bias while maintaining public safety is a tremendous challenge; real change will come about through broader reforms that can better hold police accountable – and prevent such tragedies before they happen.

Diplomacy / Serbia & Kosovo

Building bridges

Richard Grenell (pictured), Donald Trump’s special envoy for Serbia and Kosovo, has been in the Balkans this week, waving the magic wand of investment in front of these two traditionally uneasy bedfellows. Both countries have been keen to court the US president after the two sides met in Washington at the start of September to discuss normalising relations (Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008). But the details remain tricky: the Washington agreement is non-binding and a key part of the deal – to stop the lobbying of other countries to recognise or reject Kosovo’s independence – is pledged for just one year.

Serbia has also agreed to move its Israeli diplomatic mission to Jerusalem, which puts it on a collision course with the EU, the very body they both seek to join. If the US secures a normalisation of Serbia-Kosovo relations where past EU negotiators have failed, then it’s a bitter pill that the EU might just have to swallow.

Design / Copenhagen

Physical therapy

Good design can go a long way in changing the way we feel. So it should come as no surprise that the recent extension of Copenhagen’s largest hospital took this to heart. The design of the new North Wing of the Rigshospitalet – a collaboration between Link Arkitektur, 3XN and Sweco that opened to patients this weekend – is aimed at putting patients’ wellbeing first. Following the principles of healing architecture, the hospital has large glass windows to let in plenty of daylight, utilises its green surroundings and offers common areas dotted with artworks by the likes of Olafur Eliasson, Malene Landgreen and Erik A Frandsen. It serves as a reminder of how the physical setting affects us all – from patients and families to healthcare workers – and how, even in a place of healing, we can use design to help us heal.

Fashion / Milan

Starting anew

A wistful highlight of this year’s Milan Fashion Week was Silvia Venturini Fendi’s final show as creative director of the fashion house founded by her grandparents. Although she has headed the menswear and accessories arms of the LVMH-owned business for many years, Fendi’s role at the womenswear helm was a stopgap after the death of Karl Lagerfeld last year. London-born Kim Jones (pictured, in centre) – best known until now as a menswear designer, first at Louis Vuitton and now at Dior Homme – will take over as artistic director ahead of the brand’s autumn/winter show in February. And he has big shoes to fill: Lagerfeld managed to bring lightness, humour and a sense of joy to his work with the house’s signature fur and leather goods, materials that otherwise might be seen as ostentatious. Jones’s challenge will be to do the same. Equalling Lagerfeld’s 54-year tenure at Fendi is unlikely but let’s hope that LVMH boss Bernard Arnault allows Jones time to find his own path.

M24 / The Entrepreneurs

Habitas

Oliver Ripley is the co-founder and CEO of Habitas, a hospitality group he launched in 2014 with Kfir Levy and Eduardo Castillo. They dreamt up the idea to start a hotel group built around experience and impact following a trip to the Burning Man festival. With locations in Tulum and Namibia, Habitas is working to expand to Bhutan, Saudi Arabia, Costa Rica and further locations in Mexico.

Monocle Films / Los Angeles

All around the table: big screen in Los Angeles

Under the starry sky in Hollywood, we meet Rooftop Cinema Club founder Gerry Cottle Jr to talk about the enduring appeal of simple get-togethers and how public spaces in busy cities can become our living rooms.

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