Monday. 12/10/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Nic Monisse

Efficiency drive

Despite the historically low levels of traffic in the US over recent months, road fatalities, according to the latest study from the National Highway Safety Administration, have hit a 15-year high. Many urbanists have attributed the jump in deaths – a 32 per cent increase – not to bad driving but to poor road design that entices speeding. Streets with wide lanes, generous corner radii and no footpaths or trees tempt drivers to put their foot to the floor when traffic lanes are empty.

The solution then, it seems, is to resize our roads by slimming traffic lanes and tightening up corners. These infrastructure changes would hopefully make drivers more cautious by forcing them to slow down. Conveniently, they would also create friendlier environments for pedestrians. But planners and ambitious civic officials might soon hit a roadblock: the existing conditions are often mandated to ensure that a municipality’s larger service vehicles, such as bin lorries and fire engines, can easily navigate the city. In my former life as an urban designer in Perth, Australia (have I mentioned that before?), I’ve seen such requirements scupper plans for more people-friendly streets. A generous plaza space, for example, had its pedestrian area squeezed to allow for the movements of a bin lorry with the turning circle of a Boeing 747.

To right-size our streets, then, we need to right-size our service fleets. It’s not a new idea – the Volpe Center at the US Department of Transport has previously advocated for smaller service vehicles. Doing so while making such vehicles more nimble would allow planners to make our streets slimmer and safer – and, as an added bonus, miniature fire engines and bin lorries look particularly cute.

Politics / USA

Judgement day

Confirmation hearings for Amy Coney Barrett, Donald Trump’s nominee to fill the US Supreme Court seat left vacant by the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, are scheduled to begin in Washington today. Democrats are demanding that the seat remain vacant until after November’s election, so questioning Coney Barrett (pictured) will be a delicate process for the Senate Judiciary Committee, which includes California senator Kamala Harris, the Democrats’ vice-presidential nominee. Coney Barrett is described as a conservative, pro-life Christian and, given the Republican majority in the Senate, is likely to be confirmed. If she is, it could sharpen scrutiny of Joe Biden’s plans for the Supreme Court. He and Harris have avoided questions about whether they would consider expanding the number of justices from nine to 11 to counter its conservative make-up. That would be an explosive step that could plunge the US into further partisan rancour – and it could be avoided if Republicans choose to reject Coney Barrett’s nomination.

Diplomacy / Africa & EU

Pause for thought

Final preparations for a rare summit between leaders of the EU and African Union should have taken place this month. The summit, according to EU Council president Charles Michel, was designed in part to reset relations and place the two continents on a more equal footing. The pandemic has scuppered those plans. But Portugal’s president Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa reaffirmed that Lisbon would push forward with an EU-AU summit in the first half of next year during a meeting with Umaro Sissoco Embaló (pictured, on left, with Rebelo de Sousa), his counterpart from Guinea-Bissau.

Perhaps the delay will turn out to be a positive: lower-level talks ahead of the summit had reportedly stalled over the issue of economic aid and the plight of refugees. A renewed effort once the pandemic is less of a distraction – and under the leadership of Portugal, which assumes the EU’s rotating presidency next year and has a productive relationship with lusophone Africa – might be a better starting point.

Transport / Hungary

Airport control

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán is reportedly continuing his strategy to oust foreign stakeholders from important domestic companies, with Budapest Airport the latest business in the crosshairs. Echoing buyouts of foreign stakeholders in the media and energy industries, Bloomberg reports that a consortium allied to Orbán has put in a bid for the airport, which was, until recently, a lucrative and growing mid-size hub. Currently owned by entities in Singapore and Canada, the airport’s revenue rose by more than 40 per cent between 2017 and 2019, a clear example of its increasing economic potential. Orbán is seemingly using the disruption of the pandemic to try to reclaim an airport that he has had his eye on since his time in the opposition almost 15 years ago. It’s another concerning step towards nationalisation but, as passenger projections continue to drop and the wider industry struggles, now might be his best chance to capitalise.

Cinema / UK

Scare story

There’s plenty afoot in the real world to give even the most diehard horror fan reason to shudder. The further delay of the new James Bond film has cast cinemas across the UK and US in their own scary movie of financial hardship – but it has made space for smaller releases to land. Among these is UK director Rose Glass’s extraordinary debut, Saint Maud. The film follows the titular Maud, a palliative-care nurse, and her lonely descent into a fevered religious ecstasy. “Even if you’re not religious, the idea of wanting to transcend yourself and connect with something much bigger than you that connects all of us is very universal,” says Glass in an interview to be aired this week on Monocle 24. It’s a lesson that has renewed relevance in these distanced times; all the more reason to put fears to one side for a moment and, where possible, head to the cinema for some autumnal chills.

M24 / The Monocle Weekly

Annie

In this special interview, Monocle 24’s culture correspondent Fernando Augusto Pacheco speaks to Norwegian singer Annie about her album Dark Hearts, which is out on 16 October and is packed with excellent synth pop.

Monocle Films / Global

The Monocle Book of Gentle Living

From how to make the most of your free time to rethinking the way you work, shop and even sleep, our new book is packed with tips for making good things happen, doing something you care about and finding a slower pace of life that’s kinder to yourself, those around you and the planet.

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