Thursday 24 June 2021 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Thursday. 24/6/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Véronique Hoegger

Opinion / Josh Fehnert

City, slicker

We need to speak about cities. As urban life teems back into sun-strewn streets, parks and piazzas, the question of how to build back better and escape the long shadow of lockdowns is more pressing than ever. That’s the aim of our out-today bumper July/August bumper double issue, which marks the return of our annual Quality of Life survey, detailing the urban benchmarks and best bits of 20 top cities to call home.

After a year off due to the pandemic, our index has a renewed focus on what makes successful cities tick. We go beyond the hard metrics of crime numbers and ambulance response times to tot up the virtues of culture, green spaces and civic engagement. (Does your city wrap you in cotton wool or trust your common sense to ride a bike, or have a glass of wine on the street after 22.00?) Under the covers, you’ll read about what the world can learn from Copenhagen’s clean water and human-scale developments; the Asian enclaves on the up; Zürich’s (pictured) consistent improvement; and why Lisbon’s media boom has made it one of the best-informed cities in our listing.

Elsewhere in our summer special, we profile the ice-cream makers who have the industry licked, residences we’d gladly call home in Málaga and Melbourne, and the economics of island life on the Aegean outpost of Thassos. Not to mention everything from long reads on the perils of “cancel culture” to the delight of kiosks in Helsinki, plus much more besides. So, don’t believe the country crowd who skipped town when the world locked down – the global bounce-back won’t start in a barn, on a village green or on a suburban side street. Cities are here to stay.

Image: Jan Søndergaard

Quality of Life Survey / The Winning City

Top spot

Last year felt like an odd moment to pit cities against each other but, as some aspects of life started to return to normal, we felt that now was a moment to celebrate what cities do best and revive our annual ranking. After crunching the numbers (and some spirited debate among our correspondents and editors) Copenhagen came out on top for the fourth time since the survey began in 2007. Although the Danish capital is this year’s most liveable city, the roots of its success stem from years of far-sighted urban investment in everything from top-notch transport infrastructure to plentiful green space. That’s as well as its ambitions to create a cleaner environment, from fresher air to better water in which to plunge. Other high achievers include Zürich, Helsinki and Tokyo, all of which showcase the importance of walkable city centres, thoughtful design and spaces to swim, run and loaf as well as to work and earn. The best cities get the balance right.

Want to learn more? Dive into our report on 20 of the world’s most liveable cities in the Affairs section of Monocle’s July/August issue, on newsstands now.

Image: Jun Michael Park

Society / Asia

Working capitals

Hong Kong has had a tough year in which crackdowns on freedom of speech have hampered its reputation as a hub for international trade and a stable place to set up shop. But the city’s loss could be a gain for other Asian enclaves including Taipei and Seoul (pictured), which debuted in Monocle’s annual city survey at positions nine and 11, respectively. Each could capture some of the talent eyeing an exit from Hong Kong.

Taipei sells itself on a slower pace of life and its liberal attitude while Seoul is a cultural and commercial powerhouse, which is finally learning to apply a human touch to its steely built environment. Despite the slightly chaotic run-up to the Olympic Games, Tokyo at number five was the top-ranked Asian city thanks to its light-touch lockdowns, high social capital and continued investment in everything from infrastructure to green spaces – the retail and hospitality options are no slouch either.

Image: Lara Jacinto

Media / Lisbon

Hot off the presses

In an era of sharp political divisions and misinformation, living in a well-informed city of bountiful kiosks and solid print journalism is key to a healthy civic debate. It’s not just about hosting big and powerful broadcasters; citizens should be able to find out everything from what’s happening in their neighbourhood to headlines on the other side of the planet. In Lisbon, residents can feast on news provided by a well-orchestrated scene. It houses mighty national newspapers such as Público that are willing to shake things up, a big international broadcaster eyeing up a Portuguese-language expansion (CNN), and enterprising new media start-ups, including Fumaça and Mensagem de Lisboa, dedicated to uncovering the city’s lesser-told stories. And with kiosks still dotting lots of streets in the city centre, it’s all too easy for Lisboetas to indulge in one of their most beloved daily rituals: getting their print fix (and, perhaps, an espresso) at any time of the day.

Image: Marco Arguello

Hospitality / Greece

Isle bet

The Greek island of Thassos has only 13,700 permanent residents but its population nearly triples in the summer months, as over the course of the summer it sees an influx of about 300,000 holidaymakers and seasonal workers. That makes it an ideal case study for the resort economy – and the dangers that sunny getaway spots will face if they’re forced to miss another season of visitors. When Monocle toured the island there was optimism in the air as new hotels put on their finishing touches and business owners, from the local pastry chef to the water-skiing instructor, prepared for their most critical months. “Our ferries run year-round but 80 per cent of our annual profits come from about 100 days in the summer,” says Giannis Mitsopoulos, owner of Kavala Maritime in the port of the capital, Limenas. Vaccine passports, travel clearance from EU nations and some common sense are needed to ensure that this year marks the sunny return of that well-deserved summer escape – for holidaymakers but also for the many businesses that rely on them.

Check out our in-depth profile and photos of Thassos’ local businesses and owners in the Expo section of Monocle’s July/August issue, on newsstands now.


M24 / Monocle on Design

Fashion special: Ferrari, Milan, Begg x Co

June is always a busy month for fashion but, after a quiet year, summer 2021 is packed. We hear from esteemed automaker Ferrari about its new clothing line, return to Men’s Fashion Week in Milan, and peek behind the factory doors of Scotland’s Begg x Co.

Monocle Films / Leipzig

Leipzig’s artist studios

Dubbed the new Berlin, Leipzig is home to an increasing number of galleries and project spaces – but the city still has lots of space for inexpensive artists’ ateliers.


sign in to monocle

new to monocle?

Subscriptions start from £120.

Subscribe now





Monocle Radio

00:00 01:00