Wednesday. 7/10/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Augustin Macellari

Stoop dynamics

Consider the stoop: a few steps, with a platform at the top, by which to enter or leave a house. From the Dutch word stoep, it’s a modest architectural intervention likely imported to New York, and from there the rest of the US, by early Dutch settlers. Rome has its piazze, London has its parks – and New York? Well, New York still has the stoop. Neither fully public nor private, it’s a fulcrum of neighbourliness – what could be more evocative of a sultry summer night in the Big Apple than cracking a cold one with some buddies on the stoop?

This summer, innovative urbanists have found wide-ranging solutions to the public health issues that have pushed us to socialise more outside – and transformed our relationship with the city in the process. Pedestrianisation has turned areas that were once off-limits into venues for relaxation, highlighting how little of them we’ve been able to use in that manner before. But as the colder autumn months draw nearer, it’s hard to know whether we’ll continue to enjoy these newfound freedoms. While this might feel like a modern conundrum, it’s worth considering the history of the stoop – and remembering that questions of shared space have always been political. In a low-income neighbourhood, a place that can be enjoyed without spending money – and without fear of being moved along – is a truly valuable thing and something worth protecting.

It is in that spirit that the Brooklyn Museum this month launched Art on the Stoop, a series of outdoor screenings taking place throughout the autumn that triggered a yearning for autumn in NYC. I can think of nothing I’d rather be doing than sitting on Brooklyn Museum’s own rather grand stoop watching art films as the leaves turn brown. And it’s a reminder that, whatever happens in the coming months, there have always been corners of the city to savour a beer and watch the world go by.

Politics / Germany

Natural succession

Armin Laschet (pictured), the minister-president of North Rhine-Westphalia, isn’t a household name outside Germany but he is hotly tipped to succeed Angela Merkel as head of the country’s Christian Democratic Union when the chancellor steps down next year. Merkel’s stewardship of the party will be a tough act to follow. So what should we know about the 59-year-old former journalist who is likely to replace her? “I’ve known Laschet for a long time,” Quentin Peel, associate fellow with the Europe Programme at Chatham House tells The Monocle Minute. “His nickname is the ‘smiling Rhinelander’ and we’ve shared a few whiskies over the years. He is staunchly pro-European, a pragmatist and, crucially, Merkel sees him as her natural successor.” The Christian Democrats, it seems, would do rather well to rally around Herr Laschet’s candidacy.

Mobility / USA

On the charge

New York became the first US city to approve congestion charging last year but San Francisco could soon follow suit. The San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) is exploring a plan that could charge drivers from $10 (€8) to $12 (€10) for entering downtown during rush hour. Much like similar – and successful – schemes in London, Stockholm and Singapore, the hope is that deterring driving will help to speed up public transport, make streets safer, reduce pollution and improve equity.

While critics will surely point out that it’s strange to consider imposing a toll on car journeys while central San Francisco remains quiet, the SFCTA says that traffic congestion is rebounding at a much higher rate than transit use. In fact, it might actually be smart to implement a plan now: revenue from congestion charging would be funnelled towards improving transportation in the county. Public-transport agencies have seen ridership and revenues drop sharply during the pandemic but their services remain a lifeline to residents.

Society / Philippines

Poll vault

Presidents of the Philippines can only serve for one term; otherwise the incumbent, Rodrigo Duterte (pictured), would be a shoo-in for six more years in the Malacañang Palace. A recently released poll by Pulse Asia, the first conducted during the pandemic, puts the controversial president’s performance rating at 91 per cent, with an unexpected rise of 4 per cent. This staggering result comes after Duterte’s administration bungled its initial response to coronavirus, forcing a prolonged lockdown that, until recently, prevented pollsters from conducting surveys. The president’s enduring popularity after four years in office mirrors the robust support enjoyed by Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, another strongman leader accused of botching his country’s pandemic response. This widening gulf between good governance and good ratings might come as a welcome tonic for the recovering Donald Trump, who is surely feeling the pressure for a boost in the polls ahead of the US election.

Cinema / UK

Opening credit

The announcement earlier this week that 127 Cineworld-run cinemas across the UK would close their doors indefinitely left the British film industry in desperate need of some good news. Hoping to provide that is London’s BFI Film Festival (last year’s edition, pictured), which launches its 64th edition today and features almost 60 films from the likes of Spike Lee and Miranda July (see below for our interview). As with most events of its kind, this year’s format had to undergo a radical rethink in order to adhere to new health restrictions. Most of the movies will be shown through the BFI website but there will also be screenings to physically distanced viewers in independent cinemas across the UK, making the festival accessible to audiences outside London and spreading much-needed ticket sales across struggling cinemas. The UK government’s Culture Recovery Fund, which is supporting cultural institutions during the pandemic, has so far seen a mere 42 cinemas share a meagre £650,000 (€715,000). Perhaps the BFI Film Festival will be a small step towards reigniting film buffs’ interest in the big screen.

M24 / Monocle On Culture

Miranda July

As her new film, Kajillionaire, is shown at London’s BFI Film Festival, director Miranda July tells Robert Bound about the characters, colours and conversations that brought it to life.

Monocle Films / Switzerland

Swiss spectacle: Fête des Vignerons

We clink glasses with wine-makers at a once-in-a-generation festival in the otherwise tame town of Vevey. Fête des Vignerons is a parade of Swiss viticulture wisdom complete with cows, costumes and carousing.

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