Thursday. 22/10/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Josh Fehnert

All change, please

If 2020 was a book then the dust-cover blurb would be resolutely in the trashy, bit-of-a-laugh-but-it’ll-never-happen genre. Right? Think of it. A virus sweeping the globe and upending the economy, aviation and freedom of movement in the process? Civil unrest, lockdowns and a cartoonish, satsuma-hued reality-TV president seeking re-election? Surely not? Well, for better or worse, this is exactly where we find ourselves in a story that’s strewn with plot twists, uncertainties and few hints about how it will all pan out.

Luckily, “change” is the watchword of Monocle’s November issue, which is out today, and we’ve looked beyond the histrionic headlines for reasons to be positive. We’ve focused on people who are doing remarkable things: building better homes, cities and communities.

Inside we interview activist and actor Jane Fonda, journalist Chris Wallace and artist and urban campaigner Theaster Gates (pictured) about what’s shaping up to be a landmark election in the US. Pleasingly, none are interested in simply bemoaning Donald Trump as the villain of the piece or giving over to the grim narrative of hopelessness about the future. Fonda reflects on a lifetime fighting for peace and civil rights; Wallace discusses the importance of impartiality and journalistic rigour; and Gates holds forth on his art and rebuilding and instilling pride in a down-at-heel Chicago neighbourhood.

These are the issues set to shape the US story for the next four years and beyond. And for the rest of us? The next chapter of change is up to us – but isn’t it time to turn the page? Pick up a copy to find out how.

Society / Nigeria

Brute force

Protests against police brutality in Nigeria risk spiralling out of control this week. Dozens of people have been killed around the country as police and soldiers sought to enforce curfews imposed on multiple cities. In Lagos, soldiers reportedly opened fire on protesters and killed several on Tuesday evening; the army denies this but yesterday Lagos’s governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu apologised for the incident, promised an investigation and pledged three days of mourning. Curfews were imposed as protests turned increasingly violent, with shops, religious institutions, a police station and even a TV station set on fire. President Muhammadu Buhari appealed for “understanding and calm” but the Senate has called on demonstrators to exercise restraint and for the president to address the nation and meet the protesters’ demands for further reform. Sanwo-Olu issued similar pleas. “This may look like the darkest hour in our history but the sun will rise again,” he said. It’s hard to know whether the police, or those protesters prone to escalating the situation, will listen.

Defence / Asia

Balance of power

Japanese prime minister Yoshihide Suga took the safe road for his first foreign trip this week by visiting two nations already friendly with Japan: Vietnam and Indonesia. Although more high-profile visits to China or the US will come further down the road, the two superpowers were not far from the regional discussions. Suga (pictured, front row, second from left, with Vietnamese PM Nguyen Xuan Phuc, third from left) agreed to defence and technology transfers with Vietnam and pledged to step up similar talks with Indonesia.

The pledge comes against the backdrop of ongoing tensions with China over territorial claims in the South China Sea, as well as plans for scaled-up defence exercises next month by the “Quad” alliance of Japan, Australia, the US and India. The defensive moves forced Suga to deny yesterday that he had any plans to set up an “Asian Nato”. Although he promised to defend Japanese territory, he called for a peaceful resolution to the territorial disputes. Maintaining that fine line will require Suga to learn the diplomatic ropes quickly.

Transport / Germany

Chain reaction

Berlin’s police chief Barbara Slowik has labelled cyclists a hazard to pedestrians and proposed the mandatory use of registration plates on bikes. The number of riders in the city has rocketed during the pandemic – there are currently as many cyclists as car drivers in the German capital – and accidents have increased too. But while errant and irresponsible cyclists are dangerous, experts point to the fact that bike infrastructure, though better in Berlin than in most cities, remains inadequate for the sheer number of those on two wheels. Reports show that the majority of crashes involve hurried cyclists moving out of cycle lanes and hitting pedestrians. The solution lies in a greater distribution of road space for bikes; for example, by making permanent the more than 22km of pop-up bike lanes introduced this year and expanding other cycle routes from one lane to two. Licensing bicycles isn’t just a bureaucratic nightmare; it’s unlikely to make the city’s streets and footpaths safer.

Society / Global

Ill defined

Lockdowns, viral loads, air bridges. Not to “coronasplain” but the rate at which new words are entering our languages this year is heady stuff. Denmark, for instance, has introduced flokimmunitet (herd immunity) and albuehilsen (elbow greeting) into its reference books, while the MacMillan online dictionary has already picked up “superspreader” and “covidiot” as official terms in the English lexicon. “You would expect this to happen when a situation changes suddenly and very drastically,” says Veronika Koller, professor of discourse studies at Lancaster University in the UK, explaining that words now enter the media and public discourse quicker than dictionaries can record them. “It’s hard to say what will stay – some will peak and disappear, while others we should expect to stick around.” It might be decades before we know which terms will have a lasting impact – until then you can find us at the “isobar”, knocking back a quarantini.

M24 / The Urbanist

Tall Stories: Orgues de Flandre, Paris

We visit one of Paris’s many overlooked architectural treasures – a musically inspired set of postwar buildings in northeastern Paris.

Monocle Films / Turkey

Building a place for culture

We visit a Kengo Kuma-designed art museum in Eskisehir that’s set to become Turkey’s new cultural hotspot.

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