Friday. 7/5/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Carlota Rebelo

City centres

In the UK, much of the political focus today is on the elections for the devolved parliaments of Scotland and Wales. But it’s worth noting that Thursday’s vote also marked the biggest set of local elections here since 1973, as the pandemic prompted a year-long delay in the casting of many ballots. Up for grabs were seats in 143 English councils, as well as 39 police and crime commissioners, and 13 directly elected mayors from London to Liverpool, Greater Manchester to Bristol. So why does all this matter?

The reality of the past 18 months during a global pandemic has highlighted just how crucial it is to be represented by someone who understands the needs, traditions and challenges of your community. “The pandemic has given mayors the opportunity to show their voters that their role is to speak up for the city, to defend the interests of the city, and to negotiate with and challenge decisions taken by central government that affect people,” says Akash Paun, a senior fellow at the Institute for Government, a London-based think-tank.

Over the years on The Urbanist we’ve spoken to countless current and former mayors, and it’s the same passion for the city that won them office, which also strikes a chord with our listeners. As a Portuguese citizen who has called London home for almost 10 years, for me it was the words of mayor Sadiq Khan in the aftermath of Brexit that cut through. “You are Londoners,” he said, before declaring the UK capital a “truly global, European city”. It felt at once in tune with the opinions of many Londoners and at odds with the line toed by the more insular, Conservative-majority government in Westminster. From championing transport and a love of good public space to helping independent businesses and actively fighting climate change, a civic leader goes a long way towards helping us feel part of the conversation about the future of the place that we call home. That’s the power of a good mayor.

Tune in to the latest edition of ‘The Urbanist’ on the role of mayors and local government.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / Italy

Just rights

Debates around a new law against homophobia, known as the DDL Zan, have been raging in Italy for months. After making its way through the lower house last November the proposal has since languished in the Senate, where it faces fierce opposition by far-right parties. Ultra-Catholic lawmakers in particular oppose the mention of “gender identity” and the proposal for an anti-homophobia day, which they believe would be used to teach “gender theory” in schools. The legislature was jolted back into action after a major popstar protested against the delay during a televised concert last week. The right-wing Lega party proposed its own revised version of the law, stripped of the elements it considers contentious, during a debate in the Senate yesterday. It’s a strategy that is likely to delay proceedings even further and one that fails to recognise the urgency of protecting minorities in a country where discrimination on the basis of sexuality remains rife.

Image: Getty Images

Society / Colombia

Response to violence

Deadly protests that have gripped Colombia since the end of April have begun to have their desired effect. This week the legislation that sparked the unrest – including a proposed tax hike on income and basic goods to raise money in the wake of the pandemic – was formally withdrawn from the country’s congress.

Finance minister Alberto Carrasquilla resigned on Monday over the debacle. But the grievances are also about much deeper issues of poverty, inequality and state-sanctioned violence. The nation’s right-wing president Iván Duque is promising dialogue and “a space to listen to citizens” before a new tax-reform bill is drafted. He’s also setting up a special investigation force to look into vandalism, while the city of Cali has declared a state of emergency for the next three months. It remains to be seen whether Colombia’s government has the right answers to bring a peaceful end to the demonstrations.

Image: Alamy

Transport / Switzerland & EU

Signal change

Cross-border co-operation on European rail is in danger of grinding to a halt. The European Commission has reportedly told Swiss railway operator SBB that it could be excluded from a research project designed to upgrade the continent’s rail network. The project is one of 10 EU research partnerships, under the banner “Horizon Europe”, that are planned between now and 2027. The Swiss have long joined such EU schemes through bilateral treaties – even the new rail partnership would merely extend an existing programme. But with Switzerland and the EU locked in protracted talks aimed at formalising their broader relationship, it seems that Brussels is preparing to play hardball. The good news? It’s not the first time that SBB’s participation has been revoked – it happened after Swiss voters approved immigration quotas that angered the EU back in 2014 – and then restarted once cooler heads prevailed. Here’s hoping that rail travel gets back on track, even if diplomacy can be a bumpy ride.

Image: Shutterstock

Culture / Hong Kong

Return to splendour

The State Theatre, Hong Kong’s last standing large-scale cinema from the 1950s, has been closed for 24 years. Once set to be demolished, the historic building (pictured) is now getting a makeover by property developer New World Development. Slated to reopen in 2026, the venue will host live performances, film screenings, exhibitions and shops, providing a breath of fresh air for the North Point neighbourhood, one of the city’s oldest. “With our conservation project, the State Theatre will return once again as a culture and arts landmark with more riveting stories to tell,” says Adrian Cheng, CEO of New World Development. “We will do our best to restore this iconic building to its original glamour.” Before the work begins, an immersive exhibition – which runs for another nine days – walks visitors through a reconstruction of the original venue. Here’s hoping that this is one cinema with another golden age to come.

Image: WCB Wasafi

M24 / The Global Countdown

Kenya

For this week’s The Global Countdown, Monocle’s Fernando Augusto Pacheco looks at the top songs in Kenya.

Monocle Films / Berlin

Studio Babelsberg: reel deal

Despite the ubiquity of digital effects in cinema, Berlin’s Studio Babelsberg has preserved the craft of prop making. Its lifelike items continue to appear in some of the biggest movies today. We inspect the studio’s stunning hand-built sets and its museum-like archives.

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