Tuesday. 22/12/2020

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Josh Fehnert

Feeling the strain

Yesterday was the winter solstice and shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere but things look set to get gloomier still for the UK. A new and more infectious variant of coronavirus has seen cases surge in London and the southeast of England, resulting in restrictions on the movement of millions.

On Saturday, Boris Johnson (pictured) appeared ashen-faced and uncomfortable as he cancelled the UK’s proposed Christmas travel amnesty, plunging some 18 million people into harsh lockdowns for two weeks to contain the new strain. According to health secretary Matt Hancock it could be even longer, with some sources fearing months of measured movement.

Concentrated in London and the county of Kent – but also identified in Denmark, the Netherlands and Australia – the mutation appears to be 70 per cent more transmissible, though is not at this time believed to be responsible for a more severe illness. It should also be stressed that in the past these early estimations have proven to be wildly exaggerated. UK scientists have notified the World Health Organisation but have said that there is no evidence that vaccines are less effective against the new strain, which continues to be tested. It does however remain a concern that the mutations could hit efficacy levels.

In the UK, coronavirus cases are soaring with fears growing about its health service’s capacity to cope with a winter wave of admissions. More than a dozen EU countries have lined up to bar flights from the UK, and nations including Canada and Israel have beefed up restrictions on inbound passengers from UK airports. France put a temporary ban on truck drivers moving goods across the channel. But the new variant is unlikely to be stopped by such measures.

Epidemiologically it’s expedient to contain the outbreak – we’re all in this pandemic together – but for badly hit Brits who had Christmas cancelled at a few hours’ notice, it’s just more bad news in an already bleak midwinter. As for last Sunday’s target for consensus in talks around an EU trade deal after the 31 December deadline? No dice. Let’s just hope that there’s some truth in the adage that it’s always darkest before the dawn – and that brighter days lie ahead for battered Blighty.

Image: Cameron Blaylock

F&B / Global

Outside in

For cities unaccustomed to enjoying life alfresco – and there are many – the question of exactly what outdoor dining and “streateries” (sorry – people are calling them that) should look like for a snowy New York or a brisk London has remained tricky. “How do we create a space that could be warm and actually be usable through the winter but would still allow open airflow?” asks David Brown, principal architect at Woods Bagot North America. His firm is involved in the Neighborhoods Now initiative (pictured), a collaboration between the Urban Design Forum and Van Alen Institute, which connects design firms to neighbourhoods hit hard by coronavirus. But Brown told The Urbanist that there’s a chance here to change the way we enjoy our public spaces long after the necessity for physical distancing has gone. Done right, cities might be able to add new opportunities and spaces for successful outdoor dining, ensuring that public space is pumping all year round.

Image: Shutterstock

Transport / East Asia

Gaining momentum

Cycling infrastructure has been a go-to upgrade for cities in the West this year but Asia was slower to get into gear. Developments towards the end of 2020, however, suggest a shift. Manila recently introduced a range of changes to ensure the safety of cyclists in the Philippine city of San Juan (pictured), including bike lanes and improved street lighting. The Filipino capital has also procured 105 bikes for the use of municipal employees. An even larger infrastructure project in Hong Kong, the New Territories Cycle Network, was completed in September, providing 60km of cycle track with another 22km route scheduled to open in early 2021. Since Asia’s response to the pandemic was more successful, it didn’t see the lockdown-induced cycling surge experienced in Europe and the increased need for supporting infrastructure was not as great. But the importance of offering viable active transport networks is something that we can all agree on this year.

Image: Alamy

Society / Zürich

Joy ride

The city of Zürich has long found a way to keep children happy over the holidays: a special tram service targeted at younger riders has been running every year since 1958. The Märlitram (“fairy-tale tram”) is a converted vintage carriage run by city transport operator VBZ along an enchanted route from the Christmas lights of Bahnhofstrasse to Zürich’s old town. Launched as a promotional idea by the Jelmoli department store as a place for parents to park their children while shopping for gifts, it has since taken on a life of its own. On board is a driver dressed up as Samichlaus (the Swiss equivalent to Santa) and his helping angels, who are in charge of handing out treats and telling tales. The trip lasts for about 20 minutes. Despite the challenges posed this year, Jelmoli has found ways to keep the tram running by offering schoolchildren a ride with their classmates. But adults can be spotted gazing after the Märlitram too, undoubtedly lost in memories of their own childhood Christmases.

Image: Victor Garrido

Society / Paris

Close attention

One positive of 2020 has been the emergence of a more human-centric approach to urban planning. “An interesting product of the pandemic is that the 15-minute city has come back,” architect and urban designer Jan Gehl (pictured) tells Monocle 24’s The Urbanist. Gehl cites Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo as one of the best proponents of the concept. “She is advocating the idea that we should aim for a much more diverse city environment in which more of our needs can be reached without commuting and without much transportation.” For Gehl, the key is creating a sense of community. “It’s a beautiful city-planning idea that goes against the modernist ideals of scattering all the functions,” he says. “It encompasses the inclusion of various groups of people, various walks of life, various job opportunities and education opportunities.” In 2021 we should all think about making the places we reside more liveable and inclusive for the people who call them home.

M24 / Monocle on Culture

A Christmas story: The List

Celebrate Christmas with us in a Monocle on Culture first: an original piece of festive fiction written by Chloë Ashby.

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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