Thursday. 9/9/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Christopher Cermak

Gear conscience

I was pulled over while cycling home from work earlier this summer by a policeman on Kensington High Street. I knew why and apologised quickly – I had just ridden through a red light at a pedestrian-only crossing – but his demonstrably aggressive tone still caught me off guard. “All I ever hear is ‘sorry’!” he said, accusing me of a cavalier attitude to safety and then adding, for effect, “You’ve gotten everything you wanted,” as though to say, now bike lanes are in vogue, that I no longer had any excuse to break the rules of the road.

Though I clammed up and dutifully took my verbal punishment in the face of an angry cop threatening to give me a ticket, the irony of where the policeman had stopped me was inescapable: the Conservative-run borough of Kensington and Chelsea has been resisting London’s push to expand bike infrastructure for months. So much so that Heidi Alexander, London’s deputy mayor for transport, has accused the borough of “holding the city to ransom”. And Kensington High Street where I was stopped? They actually instituted bike lanes for all of seven weeks last October and then removed them again in the face of alleged complaints from businesses and constituents. Indeed, it’s part of the reason why I’m often tempted to run red lights: with no bike lane available I feel safer if I can get ahead of cars.

Setting aside the personal score that I’m gratuitously using this column to settle, this London spat brings up a point that goes well beyond bike lanes; it’s about power and authority. The pandemic, the environmental debate and even Black Lives Matter protests have all shone a fresh light on our city halls and neighbourhoods; city leaders in many countries are taking aggressive actions that run counter to their national governments. But is there such a thing as too local? When does a brave city administration defying wrongful dictats become an ineffective patchwork of local authorities unable to co-operate on pan-city projects? Shouldn’t I, as a commuter from Chiswick to Marylebone, have a right to a protected cycle path that passes through multiple boroughs? Yes, I’m talking to you, Mr Angry Local Policeman – out of earshot and the possibility of a ticket, of course.

Image: Shutterstock

Politics / Japan

Striking distance

The latest polls have confirmed that Taro Kono is the popular choice to succeed outgoing Japanese prime minister Yoshihide Suga. Kono (pictured) comes from a family of politicians and is currently Japan’s vaccine and administrative reform minister. He is also a singular character: educated at a Connecticut boarding school and later at Georgetown University, he speaks his mind and his Twitter following of more than 2.3 million is bigger than any other Japanese politician. He has also written a best-selling book, Move Japan Forward. As though that’s not enough, Kono is a former chairman of his home J-League soccer team, Shonan Bellmare, and is waging a (so-far unsuccessful) campaign to persuade the foreign media to write his surname first, as it is in Japanese. Though he’s not necessarily the darling of all party insiders, expect Kono’s public support – with a general election potentially a little more than a month away – to bolster his chances in the Liberal Democratic Party’s leadership vote on 29 September.

Image: Shutterstock

Diplomacy / Belarus

Independence lost?

The leaders of Russia and Belarus will hold high-level talks in Moscow today as the old Soviet allies reportedly prepare to sign a treaty that will bind the two nations. Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko has resisted a legal marriage with Russia since he came to power in 1994 but mass demonstrations in his homeland have forced him to reconsider the importance of lasting political, military and economic ties with the Kremlin under Vladimir Putin (pictured, on right, with Lukashenko). “At its logical conclusion, Belarus would formally become a subject of the Russian federation,” Stephen Dalziel, Russia analyst and former BBC news correspondent, tells The Monocle Minute. “It’s hugely significant.” And though the process could still take some time, Dalziel says it’s looking increasingly likely that Belarus will become far more than just a Russian ally. “It is unlikely that the process will be ratified before Russia’s legislative elections later this month. But Belarus could ultimately cease to be an independent nation.”

You can hear more from Stephen Dalziel and Monocle’s security correspondent Benno Zogg by tuning into tomorrow’s ‘The Globalist’.

Image: Andrea Pugiotto

Design / MILAN

Future facing

Milan Design Week is in full swing and the Lombardy capital is teeming with designers, visitors and residents touring showrooms across the city. Adding to the week’s festivities, Monocle partnered with V-Zug for a special series of discussions about the future of design and architecture. We heard from Mirkku Kullberg (pictured, second from left), a long-time advocate for Scandinavian design and CEO of the Glasshouse Helsinki concept store.

Companies these days often develop manifestos of big ideas before they start making things. Is this the future of work?
I’m pretty thrilled about words [and manifestos]. If we all have a certain kind of criteria around our work and design, and what we’re doing, we can do so much better, solve more problems and make better things.

We’re also seeing designers work more across disciplines. What are the benefits of doing so?
I believe in experiences and merging disciplines, such as art and design, and architecture and fashion, and bringing the people behind these together. That’s why I set up Glasshouse – it’s like a plantation where you plant the seeds and then we care for these businesses as they grow.

And as businesses grow, what about sustainability?
True sustainability is about having transparency around your work and your supply chain, and making it easy for people to understand.

Listen to Monocle 24 across the day for more interviews and reports from Milan Design Week.

Image: Alamy

Media / Canada

Open debate

The Canadian Museum of History, on the bank of the Ottawa river, is the setting for tonight’s final televised debate between Canada’s main party leaders ahead of the 20 September election. Given that summer campaigns are typically a hard sell, tonight’s English-language encounter (along with last night’s debate in French) might well be the first time that many voters have tuned in to the election race that was called just a month ago. “They can have a huge impact,” says Garry Keller, a member of former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper’s debate-preparation team. And given how surprisingly close this year’s election has become, tonight’s tussle could be particularly consequential. “Trudeau has been on the back foot for a good portion of this campaign,” says Keller, vice-president of StrategyCorp consultancy. “He’s a natural debater so it’s a good opportunity for him to try to regain some of the advantage.”

Image: Andrea Pugiotto

M24 / Monocle on Design

Milan Design Week

The design world’s biggest event is here – we cover Milan Design Week from our base in the Lombardy capital, checking in with emerging designers from Stockholm art and design collective Swedish Girls, visiting Molteni’s space at Supersalone and talking with the co-founder of Danish design studio Karakter.

Monocle Films / Spain

Campus of creativity

“Foster independent thinking” is a key phrase in modern education but few places get it right. We visit Madrid’s Colegio Estudio to meet the enlightened teachers and alumni.

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