Wednesday. 23/6/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Alamy

Opinion / Alexis Self

Landmark decisions

There’s a great moment in the television series Mad Men when the pretentious, bearded copywriter Paul Kinsey rails at two clients attempting to demolish Manhattan’s Penn Station. “Do you know where the greatest Roman ruins are?” he says. “They’re in Greece! Spain! Because the Romans tore theirs all down!” In the programme, as in real life, the developers got their way: the old station, a beaux arts masterpiece, made way for the postmodern glitz and glass of Madison Square Garden.

But its destruction was not in vain, as the opposition it galvanised laid the foundations of the modern preservation movement – the apotheosis of which is the Unesco World Heritage List. It began in 1975 and now includes 1,121 sites in 167 countries: from the universally recognisable (Taj Mahal) to the more recherché (Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, anyone?). Into this latter group falls Liverpool’s waterfront (pictured), the 2004-awarded status of which is currently under threat.

The Paul Kinseys at Unesco object to the proposed construction of skyscrapers (and a new football stadium for Everton FC) in the vicinity of historic dockside buildings. Liverpool’s leaders counter that these buildings would in fact enhance the older ones’ beauty. Neither is correct. Architecture, like all art, is subjective. One thing Unesco can guarantee is tourism. In this regard, the city has been a victim of its own success: heritage status begets more visitors, who then threaten that status by attracting developers. So as to avoid these issues in the future, perhaps Liverpool’s architects should imagine a neophobic, finger-wagging Nimby on their shoulder when drawing up blueprints? Heritage is important but cities can’t – and shouldn’t – remain museums of their former selves.

For more on much-needed urban updates, see our story on New York’s Port Authority Bus Terminal below.

Image: Shutterstock

Politics / Spain

Let out of jail

The Spanish government’s decision to pardon nine Catalan independence leaders on Monday has rocked the country’s political landscape. Prime minister Pedro Sánchez (pictured) maintains that pardoning the jailed individuals, who were convicted of sedition by the country’s supreme court following an unauthorised referendum in favour of Catalan independence in 2017, will improve relations with separatist Catalans. It’s not that clear cut, however. “This could be risky for him because opinion polls have shown that about 60 per cent of Spaniards oppose this measure,” Joan Faus, Reuters’ Spain correspondent, told Monocle 24’s The Globalist. Then again, it’s a risk that Sánchez can afford to take. “There’s no general election due until 2023, coronavirus vaccination rates are speedy and the EU pandemic recovery fund is arriving, so he will expect to have plenty of time ahead to reverse a potential political cost.”

Image: Getty Images

Politics / Thailand

Trouble at the top

Pro-democracy protesters will return to the streets of Bangkok tomorrow and several demonstrations are planned across the Thai capital. The usual calls for former general Prayuth Chan-ocha to resign as prime minister will have added support as Thailand suffers its worst coronavirus outbreak yet; a recent poll of preferred prime ministerial candidates saw the “nobody” option come out as a clear favourite. But while the main government building is expected to be a rallying point, the reigning monarch could also be on people’s minds.

Thursday marks the anniversary of the 1932 uprising that saw Thailand change from an absolute monarchy to a constitutional one. Many would like King Rama X to honour this landmark arrangement. Few, however, will air such views in public for fear of reprisal. Thai authorities are enforcing the country’s strict lèse-majesté laws, which prohibit questioning the monarchy, with renewed zeal – a growing list of protest leaders are behind bars. While the police are calling for all protests to be postponed until the pandemic abates, the threat of jail is likely to be a bigger deterrent.

Image: Shutterstock

Urbanism / USA

Coach class

An open call launched this week begins the hunt for an artist in New York City who can transform the outside of the infamous Port Authority Bus Terminal building (pictured), which was built in 1950. The terminal has long been ridiculed as a place that no one in the city enjoys passing through, let alone having to wait for a bus within, and the new work hopes to improve that reputation. It won’t be an easy task: the station is home to substantial rodent and cockroach populations, and more than 27 million people use the station annually. The Garment District Alliance, the non-profit public service organisation overseeing the scheme, will give the winning artist $20,000 (€16,800) to transform the building’s façade with a block-wide mural. Set to be unveiled in the autumn, this project is part of a wider $10bn (€8.4bn) redevelopment plan that will also tackle the station’s myriad issues, rather than just brushing the surface.

Image: Shutterstock

Media / Canada

Content management

With Canada’s parliament set to break for summer holidays, this week Justin Trudeau’s government was able to sneak through a controversial media bill that the prime minister hopes will eventually provide a boost for “Made in Canada” content. Known as Bill C-10, the legislation is aimed at updating Canada’s 1991 Broadcasting Act to regulate streaming platforms in the same way that it governs traditional broadcasters. The act would compel streaming services, such as Netflix and Disney Plus, and social-media platforms, such as Facebook and YouTube, to promote and invest in creating Canadian content. Critics have argued that regulating the algorithms of technology giants is akin to an attack on free speech. The bill is likely to hit another roadblock though, with a chorus of senators saying they will not be pushed into rushing it through. Meanwhile many political analysts expect Trudeau’s minority Liberal government to call an early election before MPs return in September. While Bill C-10 may not live through summer, here’s hoping that a smart debate about how to support the nation’s creative industries lasts much longer.

M24 / The Chiefs

Henrik Wenders

In this week’s episode of The Chiefs, Monocle’s editorial director Tyler Brûlé joins the senior vice-president of Audi brand, Henrik Wenders. They discuss the essence of “Made in Germany” and why brand consistency is key.

Monocle Films / Global

Future of travel

We find out how the world of mobility is changing and what challenges lay ahead for car-sharing, single-pilot planes and slow travel.

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