Friday. 24/9/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Pinelopi Gerasimou

Opinion / Andrew Tuck

Land of opportunity

Possibility. It’s an important word when it comes to talking about cities: deciding where would be the ideal place to live, work and grow old. We can rank metropolises in all sorts of creative ways (believe me, I know all about this after 15 years of our own Quality of Life Survey). But sometimes the most polished cities are, well, a bit too successful. If you live in, say, Geneva or Copenhagen, it can be tough for the person who is keen to launch a new company to find truly affordable space or for a growing family to locate an apartment that’s big but doesn’t break the bank. They are places where dreams can soon become curtailed by hefty price tags.

The Monocle Quality of Life Conference series began in 2015 in Lisbon. It’s hard to imagine that back then Lisbon had little of the swagger and pull it has today. People were beginning to talk about neighbourhoods that would soon be on the rise but they were still some way from really taking off. Yet clearly something was in the air; change, you knew, was around the corner (why didn’t we buy a building!).

I don’t think that we’d had that same feeling about a city until we came to Athens last year to start plotting the post-pandemic revival of our conference. And I am pleased to say that the debates and discussions will kick off in style at the Benaki Museum today in what promises to be the best conference that we have ever pulled off. And if there’s a word that unites everything – the people in the audience, the themes unpacked on stage and this amazing host city, then it’s that “p” word.

Last night, on the roof of City Hall, the mayor of Athens, Kostas Bakoyannis, welcomed our delegates and spoke with pride about his hometown and about hosting Monocle’s readers and listeners. He doesn’t pretend that everything is perfect here but, like us, when he looks out across this dense city, what he does see is possibility. And I have a feeling that he already has many of our delegates pondering how they could spend more time in the city, perhaps to finally take a punt on that plan that’s gathering dust or even to try out a new base from which to switch up their lives, because this is a city where all these things and more can clearly happen. And after today’s stellar line-up of talks? Well, some might be cancelling their return flights.

Image: Shutterstock

Elections / Germany

Poised to succeed

It’s now just two days until Germany’s first federal election without Angela Merkel on the ticket in 16 years. After a topsy-turvy race that has seen three different parties claim the lead over the summer months, Olaf Scholz (pictured), the mild-mannered candidate for the Social Democrats (SPD) and Germany’s current finance minister, looks likely to lead his centre-left party to victory. It would be the first time the SPD has beaten Merkel’s Christian Democrats in an election in almost 20 years but while it would be a change of political parties, he’s arguably the natural successor. Scholz styles himself as the centrist candidate of experience and common-sense principles. “People are eager for some sort of change,” says Gabor Steingart, founder of German media company Media Pioneer, which has been touring the country in a ship this month, speaking to political and business leaders. “The German way of change: not too fast, not too much, not too radical.”

Listen to today’s edition of ‘The Globalist’ for a report on the elections, and hear the full interview with Gabor Steingart on ‘Monocle on Sunday’ on Monocle 24.

Image: Getty Images

Immigration / Mexico

Over the line

Shocking images of Texan border agents using whips to arrest Haitian migrants crossing the Rio Grande have once again shined a light on the frontier, straining US-Mexican relations and sparking discussions at the UN General Assembly in New York this week. Mexico now faces challenges at both borders.

In the north, it wants to avoid the town of Ciudad Acuña being turned into a vast camp for Haitians, 15,000 of whom have recently been expelled from the US. And Tapachula, in the southern-Mexican state of Chiapas, currently houses thousands of Central Americans hoping to continue their journey northwards. Mexico wants to see more bilateral decisions made with its North American neighbour, more money from the US for social projects that could stem the flow of so-called migrant “caravans” and greater hemispheric co-ordination from as far afield as Chile and Brazil, where many of the recent Haitians have come from. There are no easy fixes but better co-operation would be a start.

Image: Marta Giaccone

Technology / Estonia

Digital natives

Estonia is “the most tech-savvy country in Europe”, according to prime minister Kaja Kallas (pictured). It’s a bold claim but, based on the evidence, it’s hard to refute. Much of this is down to the country’s business culture and its encouraging attitude towards start-ups. “We have the most effective tax system in Europe, which has invited a lot of investment,” says Kallas in an exclusive interview with Monocle. “And we have digital governance, which makes establishing a company so much easier than anywhere in the world.”

More than 80,000 foreign workers and entrepreneurs have already chosen to become “e-residents”, basing their businesses in this Baltic nation of just 1.3 million. Such a focus on the digital begs the question of whether Estonia neglects traditional industries, such as manufacturing. But Kallas remains defiant. “We don’t have many people, so this is never our strength,” she says. “We have to focus on the quality of the things that we do.”

Read the full interview with Kaja Kallas in Monocle’s October issue, which is out now, or listen to the latest episode of ‘The Chiefs’ podcast on Monocle 24.

Image: Getty Images

Society / Switzerland

Equal opportunity

On Sunday, Switzerland will hold a referendum on whether to allow same-sex couples to marry and to adopt children. The country, which remains one of the few in Western Europe that still forbids gay marriage, has experienced a heated and protracted campaign that has pitted liberal activists in cities such as Zürich and Geneva against conservatives, traditionalists and bigots. “The religious right in particular has run a fearful campaign that has sought to undermine specific parts of the bill,” Christoph Lenz, political editor at the Swiss print and broadcasting giant Tamedia, tells The Monocle Minute. “It’s shameful that Switzerland has trailed other Western nations when it comes to equal rights.” Lenz notes that women were only given the right to vote in federal elections in 1971. Polls suggest that, despite the heated campaign, Sunday’s referendum on same-sex marriage “could be a watershed moment in this country’s battle for equal rights”.

Image: Marco Arguello

M24 / The Global Countdown

Greece

Monocle’s Fernando Augusto Pacheco looks at the top songs in Greece this week.

Monocle Films / New Zealand

Christchurch School: sunny modernism

We explore a New Zealand take on mid-century modern architecture that fused British brutalism with a Scandinavian aesthetic. The simple construction methods of the Christchurch School’s creative homes have endured changing tastes – and earthquakes too.

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