Friday. 2/10/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Nic Monisse

Room for manoeuvre

Should the design and layout of our city streets be led by architects and urban planners, or by members of the community? In Malaysia, the government is concerned that urban development has for too long been driven from the top down by experts who are out of touch with the needs of the people they’re designing for. It’s a situation that the government is hoping to redress. Opening the Malaysia Urban Forum in Kuala Lumpur this week, prime minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin called for the country’s grassroots-feedback system to be strengthened, pushing developers, architects and planners to work more closely with the community.

Although such engagement is a good thing – to ensure community buy-in and that regional knowledge is tapped into – balance is still needed. Having previously worked as a designer who facilitated community engagement, I’ve seen how planning from the bottom up can result in the “squeaky wheel getting the oil”, to the detriment of good urbanism and quieter stakeholders (such as the elderly or people with disabilities). I’ve heard persuasive and vocal community members push for high-street trees to be cut down and for footpaths to be ripped up to make more room for parking cars.

This is where the experts come in: our planners, architects and other city-makers need to work closely with communities, yes, but they also need to have a view on what makes a good place. They need to disagree (where necessary), educate and sometimes temper the ambitions of those who aren’t in the know. Malaysia should be careful that it doesn’t go too far the other way – and cities across the globe would be wise to tread the line delicately too.

Politics / Belgium

Agreeing to disagree

Lebanon has struggled to do it and Spain experienced a nine-month deadlock before finally achieving it. But when it comes to forming a government, Belgium’s parliament holds the record for the time taken (if you discount Northern Ireland, as The Guinness Book of World Records does). This week, Alexander De Croo (pictured) was named as the country’s new prime minister after 652 days of minority and caretaker governments. The new accord between seven smaller parties – excluding the Flemish nationalist NVA and the far-right Vlaams Belang – is clearly a breakthrough. But Belgium’s fragmented politics and the ascent of the far right could still mean future headaches. However, Barbara Moens from news organisation Politico Europe notes that Belgium has become pretty adept when it comes to caretaker regimes. “We have a system in place where the outgoing government keeps handling current affairs and there are also regional governments,” she told Monocle 24’s The Globalist. It’s an unwelcome but necessary skill for a fractured nation.

Trade / Global

Balance of trade

The World Trade Organization (WTO) has reportedly backed proposed EU tariffs on $4bn (€3.4bn) of US goods, arguing that US subsidies to plane-maker Boeing place Europe’s Airbus at a market disadvantage. It marks the WTO’s second ruling against Washington in a month after it rejected US tariffs on $200bn (€170bn) of Chinese goods. Will the rulings have any impact? Only if the White House complies.

“The WTO should not serve as a policeman but as a referee,” says Thomas Hale, senior researcher at Oxford University’s global economic governance programme. “Its role is to say whether a side is at fault or not and to provide a guideline for the wronged country to respond appropriately.” Compliance is high, Hale stresses, but without it the WTO could quickly lose authority. The “illegal” US tariffs on China are expected to go ahead and EU’s “legal” tariffs could be met with unfair retaliation. Expect international trade to fall deeper into a sorry state if that happens.

Diplomacy / Finland & Sweden

Joint venture

Finland’s prime minister Sanna Marin (pictured) has been representing both her native country and neighbouring Sweden at this week’s EU summit, allowing Swedish prime minister Stefan Löfven to attend his mother’s funeral (only heads of state are allowed in the meeting room). It helps that these Nordic nations share centuries of common history: Finland was part of Sweden until 1809 and has Swedish as its second official language. Although they have diverged somewhat on how to handle the pandemic, both governments are led by social-democratic parties and share similar progressive beliefs. “[Marin] won’t have any difficulties at all: Sweden and Finland have very similar policy approaches on the issues that are on the agenda at the summit,” Sweden’s EU minister Hans Dahlgren told the Swedish news agency TT. And Dahlgren will be on hand in Brussels – just in case Marin needs any pointers.

Fashion / Paris

Museum makeover

Palais Galliera, Paris’s flagship fashion museum, reopened its doors this week following a two-year-long renovation that cost €8m. The revamp, which was sponsored by Chanel, will double the capacity of the museum by utilising previously unused underground spaces, with the expansion allowing for a range of temporary exhibitions to accompany the impressive permanent collections. As well as opening the winding red-brick cellars to the public, the façade of the late 19th-century building has also been refurbished. Rather fittingly, the first exhibition at the renovated museum is Gabrielle Chanel: Fashion Manifesto, celebrating the luxury fashion house that has contributed so greatly to the institution’s restoration. It must also be said that the timing of the museum’s return could not be better, coinciding with this year’s scaled-back version of Paris Fashion Week and hopefully giving the French capital’s cultural scene a much-needed boost in the process.

M24 / The Entrepreneurs

Black+Blum and Larq

We speak to Dan Black of London’s Black+Blum to hear about its range of stainless-steel lunch boxes, cutlery and water bottles that are inspiring people to think twice about wasteful packaging.

Film / Culture

The art of restoration

Rome boasts an ancient specialisation in restoring the masterpieces of the past. But thanks to innovative technology, the work of Rome’s art restorers is also very current. Monocle Films meets an all-female team that has saved pieces by artists as diverse as Caravaggio and John Kirby.

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