Monday. 30/8/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Alexis Self

Ugly truth

Coming of age in London during the early 2000s cultivated in me an urban arrogance. Awash with foreign capital and bustling with ambitious newcomers, the city was booming in a way that it hadn’t been since the 1900s. Standing on Primrose Hill or Parliament Hill, one could see this success made manifest, as an army of cranes drew shiny spires from the rich soil.

But one thing baffled me: why were these new buildings so uniformly dull? Now that London isn’t as fruitful as it then was, we’re left with the greige cores of its millennial triumph. Many residents are adamant that such an assault on the primary sense won’t be allowed to happen again. Across the city, new developments are met with petitions, pickets and passive-aggressive daubings.

I can sympathise with these, well, Nimbys. Indeed, one such battle is taking place in my back garden. My local residents’ WhatsApp group roils with discontent. All the objections are perennial and all well-founded: a new 10,000-home development that will block out sunlight, increase traffic and produce a lot more noise. But perhaps its gravest crime is its ugliness.

London’s housing shortage isn’t just a social crisis – it’s an environmental one too. Researchers at the University of Texas have found that residents in low-density areas produce more greenhouse gas emissions than those in high-density ones. The solution, of course, is to build more homes in inner cities close to public transport and jobs. The irony is that it’s often those residents who most want to fight climate change who are more likely to oppose developments that will do just that.

Affluent, socially liberal city dwellers can be the most extreme Nimbys. But perhaps their ire wouldn’t be so fierce if what was being built weren’t so aesthetically offensive. In the postwar era, London’s councils teemed with ambitious urban planners. The result: design classics such as Trellick Tower in Kensal Green, the Barbican Estate and Camden’s Alexandra Road Estate (pictured). While it’s true that these were labelled ugly at the time, they were undeniably the work of Europe’s best architects. Few, if any, of the city’s 21st-century edifices will enjoy a similar reappraisal. However, if municipal governments were given more revenue from their land and housing, they could use it to attract the brightest and best. Then we might bejewel the urban pincushion rather than bespoil it and new developments could be built with local blessing rather than in spite of local protest.

Image: Getty Images

Politics / France

Voting right

Candidates are stacking up on the political right ahead of France’s presidential election next year. The latest to throw his hat into the ring is former hardball Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier (pictured). Éric Ciotti, a deputy from the Alpes-Maritimes region, Île-de-France regional council president Valérie Pécresse and media-savvy doctor Philippe Juvin have also announced that they’re running. Former insurance salesman Xavier Bertrand is also keen but last month said he would shun the primary process; Barnier has also been lukewarm on the idea in the past. Although the primary is intended to prevent a splintering of the centre-right vote, which Bertrand and possibly Barnier’s refusal to play ball undermines, the far-right’s Marine Le Pen is still the candidate to beat. That might explain Ciotti’s campaign rhetoric, which seems like an attempt to court Le Pen’s supporters. He has called for “France to remain France” and suggested that the country’s Christian values should be included in the constitution. Whether any of the centre-right contenders can gain significant support remains to be seen. A recent poll has Le Pen and incumbent Emmanuel Macron tied on 24 per cent, meaning that a second-round run-off – a hallmark of French politics recently – seems inevitable.

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / Japan & Taiwan

Common foe

The ruling parties of Taiwan and Japan have been conducting high-level security talks in a bid to counter China’s military might. Tokyo and Taipei do not have formal diplomatic ties but share a common concern over the threat posed by the world’s largest army. So what’s behind their latest conflab?

“Japan fears that if Taiwan ever became controlled by the mainland, its own security would be in doubt,” Bill Hayton, author of The South China Sea: The Struggle for Power in Asia told Monocle 24’s The Briefing. The talks take place against a backdrop of increasingly threatening language from China. “We are getting into this phase of brinkmanship where China takes a move and the US, Japan and Taiwan push back,” adds Hayton. “The comfort zone between rhetoric and action is getting thinner and thinner.”

Image: Shutterstock

Architecture / Germany

Big house

The already large Berlin chancellery (pictured) will double in size under expansion plans that appear set to go ahead in 2023. At present the complex is eight times bigger than the White House, and 10 times the size of 10 Downing Street, yet Germany’s federal government plans to spend €600m on the renovation. Unsurprisingly, critics have decried the vast expense, as well as the inclusion of tunnels, a winter garden and a helipad among the new integrated campus design. As it stands, the current building captures something of the complicated legacy of Germany’s chancellors. Created in 2001, the glass, concrete and steel structure stands as a clear break with the neoclassical style of previous chancellery buildings. The extensive use of glass is particularly pertinent for historian Katja Hoyer, who told Monocle 24’s The Globalist that the design emphasises transparency in government. While the choice of materials might acknowledge noble ideals, Hoyer says, “The question is still, why is it as expensive and as expansive as it is?”

Image: Alamy

Elections / Canada

Rocky road

Canada’s general election campaign enters its third week today, the halfway point ahead of election day on 20 September. No single issue has dominated the campaigning so far, rather several significant policy areas continue to jostle for attention; among them, the speed of Canada’s airlift from Afghanistan (which has been widely criticised), the effects of climate change (following a summer of heatwaves and forest fires) and the ethics of vaccine passports (with a potential autumn wave of cases looming). Despite a clear lead in opinion polls before the election was called, thanks largely to his handling of the pandemic, support for Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party has slipped. Small increases in support for the Conservative and NDP parties mean that there is still much to play for ahead of two televised debates between the national party leaders at Canada’s Museum of History next week.

M24 / Eureka

Pegasus Imagery

Cole Rosentreter is the founder and CEO of Pegasus Imagery, an Alberta-based start-up making drones to fight forest fires. With their 4-metre wingspan, these can collect data and manoeuvre more easily than helicopters.

Monocle Films / Global

Monocle Design Awards

Monocle launched its inaugural Design Awards in early 2021 to celebrate the world’s best and brightest talents in architecture, graphic design and industrial design. We invite you to meet a global cast of winners as we celebrate pioneering design projects that make our lives healthier and happier, our cities smarter and our work more creative.

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