Friday 23 April 2021 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Friday. 23/4/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Andrew Tuck

Event horizon

There’s an events schedule that sits on my laptop detailing the year’s key forthcoming trade gatherings, art fairs and symposiums. As 2021 started, I was hopeful that vaccinations and a better understanding of how to keep people safe from coronavirus would allow a good number of these events to happen in some format but the “let’s cancel” culture continues apace and sometimes it’s hard to fathom the logic.

Yesterday the organisers of the Tokyo Motor Show, scheduled to take place this autumn, announced that they were slamming on the brakes and ditching the enterprise over pandemic-related fears. Another day, another cancellation, you might think. But here’s the mystery: the Olympics start in Tokyo on 23 July and will have been completed long in advance of when the auto jamboree was supposed to bring together some motorheads. This decision hints at a lack of joined-up thinking at Japan Inc level and at wobbly national confidence.

This week I have been interviewing IOC officials for The Urbanist to produce a duo of shows about the Tokyo Olympics, the Games’ legacy and the future of the movement. And the mood music from the IOC HQ in Lausanne suggests that the organisers have put in place a testing regime and a panoply of safety procedures that will allow the event to proceed – minus an influx of international spectators but with thousands of athletes from around the world present. “We have to be very honest that this is not easy,” Gavin McAlpine, the IOC’s Olympic Games delivery associate director, told me. “It can be a success; albeit in a very different way. I’m sure that when the magic takes place in Tokyo, people will see it as something truly fantastic. And when we look back in years to come, it will be seen as a fundamental step in how Japan presents itself to the world for decades to come.” And he’s right. Even if events are pared back, staged outdoors and involve more tests than your nose would like, they are a boon for soft power, trade (ie people’s jobs and life chances) and how we feel. So why the Japanese car industry cannot be a little more ambitious – hopeful – is strange.

Look, it’s a mixed story in Europe too. The Venice Biennale will proceed and the UK is opening up a series of events to make sure its testing regime can keep people safe in football stadiums and music gigs but insurance problems are putting paid to many other events. Will Milan’s Salone del Mobile furniture fair happen? Rumours swirl but we hope so. So yes, it’s tricky and demanding on nerves to press ahead with organising anything these days. But if the Olympics take place without too many upsets, perhaps others will be able to calm their nerves and stay behind the steering wheel. Let’s get our acts together.

Listen to the full interview with Gavin McAlpine on the latest episode of ‘The Urbanist’ on Monocle 24.

Image: Getty Images

Trade / DRC & Kenya

Stronger together

An agreement between Kenya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) was signed on Wednesday, committing to improve trade infrastructure between the two African nations. Some of the details remain under wraps but the deal includes giving the DRC better access to Mombasa’s port (pictured) and a proposal by Kenya to establish two new consulates to help with trade. The news is positive for the DRC as it seeks to normalise relations with surrounding nations, following decades of crippling military conflicts and outbreaks of Ebola that have ravaged the country. “This shows that the DRC intends to formalise trade routes, which is a good sign,” says Ben Shepherd, consulting fellow for Chatham House’s Africa programme. “But the fundamental challenge will be actually building this infrastructure. The concrete improvements remain to be seen.” Scaling up trade with neighbours is good news. But enacting those plans is the next challenge for the nation.

Image: Alamy

Diplomacy / US & Qatar

Addressing the issues

Scientists in Washington are sugar-soaping the skirting boards of the Carnegie Institution for Science (pictured) as the organisation prepares to sell its distinctive headquarters. The new holders of the keys? The government of Qatar, which plans to turn the early 20th-century beaux arts building into its new embassy. Carnegie is insisting that the sale is a practical move: the institution needs money for research and is consolidating its locations in the US. But this week more than 140 individuals wrote to the board of trustees urging them to find a new buyer.

They say that the institution stands for diversity, equity and inclusion, and question whether the Qatari government is committed to the same goals. Although the gripes are valid, scientists, staff and students should take stock. An embassy, more than any other building, can represent a space for the US to challenge Qatar on its human rights record instead of closing down the conversation.

Image: Fermin Rodriguez

Culture / Spain

In crowd

Spain seems determined to go ahead with Andalucía’s Granada Music and Dance Festival, which is celebrating its 70th edition this year and takes place between 17 June and 18 July. Plans unveiled this week propose 63 shows as part of the official line-up, with the theme “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”. A parallel extension programme will feature 49 free events. Tickets won’t go on sale until next month and for now it seems that normal audience numbers will be reduced by 50 per cent. There’s also the small matter of travelling groups (the Hamburg Ballet has already been forced to to cancel) and whether foreigners can attend. Spain says that it won’t ease travel restrictions until 70 per cent of its public is vaccinated – a tall order but possible by the time of the event. It won’t be easy but where there’s a will there’s a way. Spain could certainly use a big summer bash.

Image: Felix Odell

Design / Global

Made of more

The winners for the annual Red Dot Award for product design will be fully announced in the summer but a few recipients were named this week. The focus this year has been on health, sustainability and electric mobility. Among the winners are the Polestar 2 electric car (pictured; read an interview with the company’s CEO in Monocle’s March issue) and an electric moped from the Netherlands’ Brekr, as well as two mobile treatment stations from South Korea and China designed to keep medical staff safe throughout the pandemic. An award has also been given to a new series of regional trains designed by Nose in Zürich that has been operating since March through the mountainous railway landscape of Switzerland’s Graubünden region. The full list of awardees will be released on 21 June and featured in the Red Dot Design Museum in Essen, Germany. Before that, don’t miss Monocle’s own inaugural Design Awards, which will be launched next week in the magazine’s May issue.

M24 / The Entrepreneurs

Fashion: Second Life

The market for the resale and rental of clothing, accessories and luxury items is booming. This week, we speak to Eshita Kabra-Davies, CEO and founder of UK rental platform By Rotation about why sharing is a preferable option to buying new, and head to Hong Kong to meet Sarah Fung, CEO and founder of luxury resale platform Hula. Plus: The New York Times Styles reporter Elizabeth Paton discusses trends and opportunities in the market.

Monocle Films / London

Made in London

Globes, spoons and weaving: Monocle Films drops in on three makers that are helping to reinvigorate the UK capital’s artisanal heartbeat.


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