Friday. 3/9/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Tyler Brûlé

Shots down

In the coming weeks a new member will join Zürich’s family of specialist trams, which thunder along the city’s streets. While city authorities are keeping details under wraps, word is that a “vax-tram” will soon be doing the rounds not only to raise awareness around the need to vaccinate but also to deliver shots throughout the city. At first glance, it seems a novel approach to highlight the importance of getting your shot but a quick scan of European vaccination rates reveals that this is more a move of sheer desperation.

Fact: often efficient Switzerland has stalled with its vaccine programme; only slightly more than 50 per cent of its population is double-jabbed. While bigger and more logistically complex neighbours are a good 10 per cent ahead (France and Italy) and the likes of Denmark are heading toward 80 per cent, Switzerland is now languishing alongside Greece and the Czech Republic. From a public administration perspective, it’s a concern; for Brand Switzerland, it’s a disgrace. While the country has been an island of liberalism in terms of lockdown and hygiene measures throughout the pandemic, Switzerland’s Federal Council has returned from its summer break to find itself facing a fourth wave of coronavirus infections, with more than 90 per cent of those in intensive care unvaccinated. Over the past week, papers across the country have been speaking of a “nation divided” (not exactly a new feature for a country built around a federalist framework) with some arguing that the state shouldn’t cover hospital bills for coronavirus sufferers while others weigh in that pressure to vaccinate is draconian and goes against Switzerland’s independent spirit.

Long before there was even talk of a vaccine, a doctor friend told me about the country’s anti-vax strongholds and warned that this would become a serious fight. How right she was. While the government might have factored this crowd into forecasts, it’s clear that it didn’t consider some other communities that are proving hard to convince – primarily Switzerland’s Balkan populations. Unlike in other countries, the Swiss media have no problem naming and shaming where they feel it’s appropriate and it’s those returning from summer holidays in Serbia and Kosovo who find themselves the subject of op-eds about communities the government has failed to focus on or who simply don’t see the need to play along. Indeed, data reveal that many Balkan nations are having trouble convincing their citizens that getting vaccinated might be wise as most are at the bottom of Europe’s vax league table. A few weeks ago Bloomberg ranked Switzerland as one of the world’s top three countries for quality of life during the pandemic and it placed fairly highly on Oxford’s stringency index for its balance of open borders and pragmatic approach to rules. Now it finds itself in a muddle as stagnating vaccination numbers will make for another complicated winter and dent its reputation as a well-tuned hub for global business.

Image: Andy Massaccesi

Design / Milan

In the making

This weekend, Milan Design Week is finally back. After an 875-day absence, designers, curators, architects and enthusiasts can expect a return to something resembling the event as it was before the pandemic. Furniture showrooms in the inner city will be swinging their doors open to showcase releases; the trade hall near the Rho fairgrounds (re-imagined as “Supersalone”) will be buzzing with commercial activity; and, of course, the famed Bar Basso (pictured) will be packed with designers hailing from Helsinki to Hamburg every evening. It’s a welcome revival of one of the global design scene’s most important commercial and creative events. And those looking to start their week off on the right foot can join Monocle’s editors and Swiss brand USM on Sunday evening for good food and quality conversation at our Salone outpost in Brera. We’ll be there all week, broadcasting live from the Rossignoli bike shop (71, Corso Garibaldi) for Monocle 24 and providing up-to-date coverage with The Monocle Minute. Milan, it’s good to be back.

Image: Getty Images

Society / India

Quiet revolution

Indian authorities have imposed another strict – and not coronavirus-related – lockdown in Kashmir’s largest city, Srinagar, following the death of the region’s separatist leader Syed Ali Geelani at 92. Geelani headed a hardline faction of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference (APHC) and was a hugely divisive figure, leading a series of anti-India protests over the years and favouring Kashmir’s merger with Pakistan. His influence waned in recent years, not least following India’s decision to revoke Kashmir’s autonomy in 2019.

So why have officials in New Delhi imposed new restrictions? “Geelani had long been a part of the problems and challenges that emerged in the Indian-administered Kashmir province,” Sajjan Gohel, an expert on Indian defence policy and a visiting teacher at the London School of Economics, told Monocle 24’s The Briefing. “There are concerns from a security perspective that there could be clashes. What’s been implemented now is likely to be in the short-term to quell any potential dissent.”

Image: HKAGA

Arts / Hong Kong

Exhibition space

For years, 59 Queen’s Road Central was home to Topshop’s major flagship shop in Hong Kong. But since the British retailer quit the city for good last October, this piece of prime real estate straddling the commercial and financial districts has been vacant. Yesterday it unveiled the first of two new successive tenants: the Unscheduled Art Fair (pictured). The former shop unit will display solo exhibitions by Asian and Asia-based artists until Monday. It then hands the space over to the Digital Art Fair, which will be displaying a collection of NFT artworks in October. The property faces both Zara and H Queen’s, a high-rise building that already hosts several galleries. White Cube, Gagosian and Hauser & Wirth have also set up shop nearby. The new arrivals put the neighbourhood at a crossroads between high-street retail and the art business – a promising mix that many city high streets would do well to follow in the aftermath of the pandemic.

Image: Alamy

Urbanism / Brazil

Out of the shadows

Balneário Camboriú is a popular resort town in southern Brazil that’s known for its large skyscrapers by the beach. These are problematic for beach-goers as the buildings’ shadows can make it hard to grab a spot of sun. This lack of thoughtful urban planning has now prompted a transformation of the city’s main beach, which is being enlarged to three times its current size. It’s an expansion that residents and tourists have been calling for since the 1990s and will result in the sandy strip becoming just a tad smaller than the iconic Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro. The project, at a cost of R$66m (€11m), is to be finished in October. Brazilian cities that have stunning coastlines are right to prevent their beaches from being overshadowed by skyscrapers. After all, they already have parasols for shade.

M24 / The Entrepreneurs

Ananas Anam

Dr Carmen Hijosa is the founder of Ananas Anam, which produces a leather alternative made from pineapple-leaf fibres called Piñatex. Hijosa is originally from Asturias in northern Spain and a career designing and manufacturing leather goods took her around the world, including to the Philippines where the idea for Piñatex was born. Carmen’s work developing the product led her to a PhD on the subject and a business that she continues to grow today.

Monocle Films / Global

The future of Japanese craftsmanship

For the release of our book about Japan, we produced a film series that dives into the intriguing ecosystem that has preserved Japanese traditional skills over centuries. Meet the people who are future-proofing the age-old know-how.

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