Friday. 5/2/2021

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Carlota Rebelo

Going places

Mayors know how to keep things running; they have little choice. Our cities are constantly moving and urban dwellers are more than happy to hold officials accountable when things don’t go the right way in their neighbourhoods. So the news that a former mayor has been confirmed as the new US transportation secretary should bring some hope to those who have long despaired at the country’s state of mobility.

Pete Buttigieg (pictured), the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and the first openly gay cabinet secretary, has long been an advocate of upgrading America’s creaky transit infrastructure. During the Democratic primaries, running against his now-boss President Biden, he proposed a $1trn (€820bn) infrastructure plan that included $150bn (€123bn) for the Federal Transit Administration to invest in public transit. He also pledged to repair at least 50 per cent of the country’s bridges and roads in the next decade and was the only candidate to commit to ending traffic deaths. During his confirmation hearings in the Senate, he doubled down on the need to shift cities away from an “auto-centric” approach to street design and gave a shout-out to trains, noting wryly that he’s “probably the second-biggest passenger-rail enthusiast in this administration”, after Biden.

A mayor solves problems, so having someone with that experience at the helm of the US transportation agency has potential. Buttigieg also benefits from his age: at 39 one can only hope he’ll bring new ideas and a fresh vision to a department in serious need of an overhaul. The proof will be in his actions but for urban aficionados like myself, the question is: is there a better pairing than Mayor Pete and Amtrak Joe to put US mobility on the right track?

For more on city living and urban planning, listen to The Urbanist on Monocle 24. A new episode airs every Thursday at 20.00 GMT.

Trade / UK

Making do

The UK government’s determination to push Brexit through without delay – even if that meant ending the transition period in the middle of a pandemic – might yet come back to haunt it. Ben Fletcher, an executive director at the manufacturing association Make UK, warns that a lot of his members are “genuinely fearful for the future”. Many of them have struggled to meet new and costly customs requirements, while ongoing delays in shipping goods across the Channel means waiting an extra two to three months to receive payment for orders – at a time when the pandemic has stripped them of excess cash. “Some of these issues probably are bumps in the road but they are very, very big bumps,” says Fletcher. “Some firms simply think that the task is too big to keep trading with the EU.” Fletcher adds that Downing Street has begun to recognise the severity of the problem – but it’ll take more financial aid to prevent firms from going under.

Hear the full interview with Ben Fletcher on today’s episode of ‘The Briefing’ on Monocle 24.

Elections / Ecuador

Pink again

In the mid-2000s a series of leftist and centre-left leaders who came to power in Latin America became known as the Pink Tide. Now a new generation appears ready to pick up the baton. Former Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa is not on the presidential ticket in his country this weekend (in part due to corruption charges) but he’s backing Andrés Arauz (pictured), a 35-year-old economist and former minister in Correa’s government, who is topping opinion polls.

Arauz would mark a return to the more statist policies of Correa and a rejection of the market-friendly policies of current president Lenín Moreno, who is not seeking re-election. The main anti-Correa candidate is the conservative Guillermo Lasso, who could lose for a third time. Should Arauz win in the first round, Ecuador would be following the path of Luis Arce, who won Bolivia’s recent election thanks to the backing of former president Evo Morales (*see issue 132). The question now is: will this new generation find a voice of its own?

Media / Hong Kong

Who’s watching?

Kwok Hiu-ting, vice-chairwoman of Chinese real-estate developer Kaisa Groups, plans to become the largest shareholder of Hong Kong’s oldest Chinese-language newspaper, Sing Tao Daily. Her acquisition of 28 per cent of holding company Sing Tao News Corporation is pending regulatory approval and was described as a “personal investment”. Kwok says that she intends to “make better use of technology” and diversify the media company which, like many in Hong Kong, is certainly in need of the cash injection. But it also marks a trend of Chinese tycoons taking stakes in Hong Kong’s media industry. China’s Alibaba Group bought the South China Morning Post in 2015 and Li Ruigang, owner of the country’s most influential media investor China Media Capital, is now an indirect investor in Television Broadcasts Limited, Hong Kong’s largest free-to-air broadcaster. Evidence that such acquisitions affect editorial decisions is scant to date but it’s hard to ignore the reality that Hong Kong’s media is coming under increasing control by mainland China.

Culture / France

Art and soul

About 100 senior figures in French museums and galleries have demanded the reopening of cultural institutions. The petition, which includes a number of the industry’s most prominent names, has called on culture minister Roselyne Bachelot to lift restrictions. Alongside the claim that many of these spaces are coronavirus-secure, signatories also posited that culture is vital for wellbeing, echoing sentiments seen in a letter submitted to the Swiss federal government by Basel’s cultural institutions last week. “The French petition is actually very emotional and moving to read,” Ben Luke of The Art Newspaper told Monocle 24’s The Globalist. “They’re arguing for an intellectual, spiritual and emotional nourishment that’s provided by museums.” This argument seems to have been accepted by Austria, which has included museums and galleries in a partial relaxation of its lockdown, which starts on Monday. Should France or Switzerland follow suit, such well-written appeals to our wellbeing will likely have played a part.

M24 / The Foreign Desk

Explainer 251: The Greene party

The Trump era is over but congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene has sprinted forward to take the baton. Is the GOP able to distance itself from her QAnon conspiracy theories or is her popularity too valuable? Andrew Mueller explains.

Monocle Films / Japan

Senior style in Japan: living the good life at 80

For many older people in Japan work isn’t just a way to keep busy but also a source of happiness and wellbeing. From a 71-year-old barber to a 100-year-old café owner, Monocle visits Japan’s elderly who are showing little sign of letting up.

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