Monday. 25/10/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Column / Nic Monisse

Place to be

New Zealand’s cities could soon join a host of metropolises worldwide in changing laws to relax building restrictions, with the aim of increasing density and making neighbourhoods more walkable.

The country’s lawmakers are currently considering a bill that would allow buildings of up to three storeys – sizeable in a country known for its suburban sprawl – to be easily constructed beyond city centres. It would also allow for councils to abolish minimum car-parking requirements, which currently dictate that buildings must include off-street parking, even if they are in walkable or transit-rich neighbourhoods.

Both laws are similar to those recently passed in Minneapolis and Buffalo. In 2019, Minneapolis became the first large city in the US to end single-family zoning: a rule that prohibited the construction of apartments and duplexes in many urban neighbourhoods. And in 2017, Buffalo was the first major US metropolis to bid farewell to minimum parking requirements.

Such moves are generally good for cities; they create more walkable neighbourhoods and engender diverse housing stock, thereby introducing a range of different price points for renters and buyers. That said, they do present some challenges.

Relaxing laws could lead to the excessive demolition of established housing stock – the sort that defines neighbourhoods – in favour of cheaper (and uglier) mass housing. It could also mean the demolition of mature trees to make way for bigger buildings with larger footprints, leading to barren neighbourhoods that are hotter and less appealing to walk in than their leafy counterparts.

As such, it’s important that cities and government officials – whether in New Zealand, the US or elsewhere – don’t take their eyes off the ultimate goal: creating vibrant neighbourhoods where many people want to live, work and play. Relaxing planning-permission rules while finding ways to protect what is ultimately good about these neighbourhoods – mature trees and characterful homes – would be a great place to start.

Image: Getty Images

Energy / France

Yellow warning

The French government will pay 38 million of its citizens an “inflation allowance” to help those struggling with the steep rise in fuel and energy prices. The tax-free payment will be transferred automatically into the bank accounts of all those with a monthly net income of €2,000 or less. Since that is the country’s median income, about half of all French workers will be eligible. When announcing the policy, prime minister Jean Castex claimed that its €3.8bn cost would be less than that of cutting fuel duty. France’s gilet jaunes movement, which has bedevilled Emmanuel Macron’s presidency, began as a protest against fuel duty rises, before morphing into a wider anti-government coalition. Six months away from next year’s presidential election, the announcement of the inflation allowance is widely seen as an attempt by the Élysée Palace to prevent yellow vests filling the streets once again.

Image: Getty Images

Health / Australia

Open day

Spring has finally sprung in Australia’s garden city: this weekend, Melbourne emerged from the world’s longest cumulative lockdown. Pubs, restaurants and hair salons were among the first establishments to open their doors on Friday. Under new rules, they are allowed to welcome up to 20 people indoors, as long as all guests are vaccinated, and 50 outside.

The limit for gatherings at home is 10. Melbourne has experienced six separate lockdowns since March 2020 totalling 262 days (almost nine months), giving it the inauspicious title of world’s most locked-down city. But now that 70 per cent of Australian adults are fully vaccinated, rules are starting to be relaxed. A week from today, on 1 November, international travellers who are double-jabbed will no longer need to quarantine after arriving in Sydney or Melbourne. This reopening will boost Australia’s stilted economy – which has been pushed to the brink of a second recession in two years – and, of course, provide welcome relief for its beleaguered citizens.

Image: Getty Images

Art / Paris

Finest work

Coming hot on the heels of London’s Frieze Art Fair, Paris’ Foire Internationale d’Art Contemporain (FIAC) finished yesterday after five days of public programmes, installations and exhibitions. Some 170 galleries from 25 countries appeared at the Grand Palais Éphémère, a future venue for the 2024 Olympics.

This year, many dealers saw FIAC as an opportunity to capitalise on the buzz around Paris’ autumn art agenda: the White Cube is currently showing Georg Baselitz’s sculpture “Römischer Gruß”, while Hauser & Wirth is exhibiting a sculpture by Louise Bourgeois. At the fair itself, Italy’s Spazio A, London’s Pace Gallery and Alexander Calder’s Flying Dragon (pictured), installed at the Place Verdôme, have turned many a discerning head. FIAC director Jennifer Flay said that she thinks the fair’s success marks the start of an exciting moment for the city's cultural scene: “Paris is not the old dusty place that everyone thought it was not so many years ago.”

Image: Getty Images

Trade / China

Snappy comeback

China is now well-known for its tit-for-tat approach to international relations but its latest move may have finally tipped proceedings into the farcical. In 2020, as its diplomatic relations with Australia soured, China banned Australian lobster imports. However, a free-trade agreement meant that the crustaceans were still allowed to enter Hong Kong. That loophole was ended this week in the name of national security, which was supposedly being compromised by lobster-smuggling between the territory and the mainland. Whether this is legal or not remains to be seen; the World Trade Organisation is currently reviewing the move. Its verdict is likely to rest on how persuasive an argument China can muster regarding the security threat posed by lobsters. With Australian fishermen desperate to claw back some of the $527m (€450m) a year that the trade is worth, Canberra will be hoping for a snappy conclusion to WTO proceedings.

Image: Shutterstock

M24 / The Global Countdown

The United Kingdom

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

Monocle Films / Los Angeles

All around the table: big screen in Los Angeles

Under the starry sky in Hollywood, we meet Rooftop Cinema Club founder Gerry Cottle Jr to talk about the enduring appeal of simple get-togethers and how public spaces in busy cities can become our living rooms.

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