Wednesday. 17/2/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Alamy

Opinion / Andrew Tuck

On the rebound

Now a session on a trampoline sounds fun. Something that could literally and metaphorically put the spring back into your step. But how often do you really think you could be tempted to bounce an afternoon away? Well, some people are betting that the answer is quite often. In London, as in many cities, the pandemic has ripped through retail strips like a brutal laxative, forcing out numerous well-known (if not very good) chains and department stores. When people finally return to their offices they are going to find a very changed world.

That’s why a debate is in full somersaulting along about what to do with all this empty retail real estate. Architect Norman Foster has suggested relaxing zoning laws so that empty shops can become urban farms, for example. Others want them turned into homes. But one trend is already moving ahead: converting large stores into trampoline venues (as well as pool halls, cinemas and other places of entertainment). A former Debenhams department store in London has been taken on by the Gravity group to deliver some economic bounce-back with a trampoline, e-karting, and ping-pong centre.

This will work in some places, although there is a risk that retail strips could lose cohesion with an apartment block here and a hydroponics farm there, and end up looking like a once-attractive face with half its teeth now missing. And yet, since their foundation, the great shops have always been just as much about putting on a show and providing entertainment as purely shifting knickers and shirts. So even if you are not a natural tumbler, there is some merit here. Let’s not be too purist.

However, there are a few more things to add to the mix that would give renewed vigour to retail in the months to come.

  1. Retail landlords with long-term visions who are passionate about place and not just shareholders. Not as common as you would hope.

  2. It sounds basic, but shops that have great products and care about their customers’ lives. Many of the recent failures did neither.

  3. Smaller units that allow start-ups to have a go without taking on a vast space on a 10-year lease. Local, small-scale retail has proved resilient and valuable.

  4. Stores being allowed to open later; we like the allure of the midnight bookshop.

  5. Letting more spaces be converted to food markets. They deliver opportunities for young chefs and help to reshape the food chain for the better.

  6. Better and more varied retail architecture. Fewer plate-glass façades, please.

  7. A continuation, where possible, of the trend for restaurants and shops to spill out onto pavements.

  8. Preferential rates for the trades that made a neighbourhood – the shirt-makers, the tailors. Keep traditions alive.

  9. Encourage the turning of empty retail floors into ateliers, colleges and schools. Keep young people and life in your midst.

  10. A revival of the early-20th-century trend for department store roofs to be places of leisure – more urban running tracks, gardens and some city farms too. And perhaps some trampolines, but with very big safety nets.

Image: Getty Images

Defence / Afghanistan

Plan of action

Nato defence ministers are meeting virtually today and tomorrow for the first time since the Biden administration took office, and key topics include the alliance’s future in Afghanistan and Iraq. This week, Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg suggested that troops could remain in Afghanistan beyond the May deadline by which foreign forces were supposed to leave as part of a US-brokered peace agreement last year. He noted that the Taliban must also live up to the deal’s commitments. William Patey, a former UK ambassador in Kabul, told Monocle 24’s The Briefing that the peace deal remains something of a “poisoned chalice”. With the Taliban still determined to control Afghanistan, the international community should help to build up the country’s political and military institutions. “There is still a role for Nato to work with the Americans on shared objectives – stability in Iraq, stability in Afghanistan, and generally in the Middle East,” says Patey. “Because these things are important to Nato members.”

Image: Shutterstock

Health / Canada

Penalty shot

Last year, Justin Trudeau’s government seemed on track to tackle coronavirus when it placed orders for about 400 million vaccination doses. That’s more per capita than almost any other country: Canada’s population is just 38 million. But fast-forward to this month and the nation’s vaccination programme has been nothing short of sluggish.

Despite the massive orders, less than 3 per cent of the population has received a first dose of the vaccine, compared to 22 per cent in the UK and 10 per cent in the US. The major problem is that no vaccinations are currently being produced within Canada. Instead, officials are relying on orders of Pfizer-Biontech – one of the only vaccines to have approval in Canada at the moment – to be imported from Europe, which is suffering its own well-documented production woes. As a result of the ordeal, Trudeau, who was thought to be considering calling an election this year, has taken a hit.

Image: Getty Images

Aviation / Germany

Taking stock

Much of the future of travel is up in the air but Lufthansa has offered a clue to its post-pandemic course by switching to smaller aircraft on its long-distance routes. The airline’s CEO Carsten Spohr said on Monday that he doubts whether business travel will ever return to pre-pandemic levels and that the carrier is in talks with Airbus and Boeing about changing its existing orders. Earlier this month, Boeing reported a 30 per cent reduction in orders of its next-generation widebody 350 777X, now due to be delivered in 2023. Emirates, its biggest customer, is also reportedly considering swapping 45 of its 115 777X orders for the smaller Dreamliner. Delays aren’t entirely down to the pandemic but carriers will be glad of the opportunity to change orders based on past demand. Unless there is a significant – and lasting – take-off in passenger numbers once restrictions lift, more airlines might soon follow suit.

Image: Alamy

Design / Helsinki

Fair’s fair

The inaugural Helsinki Biennial will take place in June, bringing more than 40 Finnish and international artists to the city to showcase their work. Making use of the natural beauty of the Helsinki archipelago, the event will be held in the rather striking location of Vallisaari Island (pictured), an uninhabited former military base. To be frank, many of the roughly 270 biennials across the globe already attract an international cohort of artists to a unique and often beautiful location. But what sets Helsinki’s event apart is its objective: to rethink how such events are staged. Its theme, which was detailed today, places a focus on a responsible approach to exhibition-making that encompasses everything from sustainable tourism to engagement with the community. Such introspection is vital if these events are to remain environmentally viable.

To hear from biennial director Maija Tanninen-Mattila, listen to today’s edition of ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle 24.

Image: abdalahh/FLICKR

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