Monday. 6/12/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Alamy

Opinion / Nic Monisse

Urban gladiator

It’s a view that we’ve long pushed here at Monocle: everyone can be an urbanist. Whether you’re a cashier, chief executive or Hollywood actor, people from all walks of life can shape the look, feel and direction of a city. Not convinced? Well, just look at Russell Crowe who, after tweeting a photo of messy communications wires in Bangkok, prompted the country’s prime minister to make calls for the cables to be moved underground and out of the way.

To give you some background, reams of communications wiring – namely internet and telephone lines – are strung between poles along streets in the Thai capital. They’re an eyesore and a bane to city life, as they often fall to the ground and make streets difficult to navigate. And their messy omnipresence is a direct result of a lack of regulation: communications companies string the cables up with no obligation to remove redundant wiring or install them tidily in the first place.

As such, the prime minister’s response to Crowe’s tweet has raised questions about the responsibility that private companies have in the public space: should Thai telecommunications businesses be made to put their wiring underground and remove superfluous infrastructure? And could the same principles of civic responsibility be applied to other companies in other cities? Should scooter operators and restaurants with outdoor dining be required, respectively, to install storage racks and keep tables orderly? I would be inclined to say that they should. Maybe I should tweet about it; here’s hoping it has the same effect as that of a Hollywood star.

Image: Getty Images

Defence / Ukraine

Battle ready

A war of words and military threats between Russia, Ukraine and the US continues. Ukraine’s defence minister Oleksii Reznikov warned last week that Russia could be preparing to launch a large-scale military offensive at the beginning of next year. Citing intelligence reports, Reznikov claims that about 100,000 Russian troops have been sent to the border between the countries. But how credible is the threat posed by the Kremlin? “There is no doubt that Russia has beefed up its deployments along the border with Ukraine,” Paul Rogers, Opendemocracy’s international security adviser, tells The Monocle Minute. “But there is another key aspect to this: the US and Russia are in the thick of high-level diplomatic talks.” Indeed, there are plans for Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin to speak in a bid to dial down the temperature, after lower-level talks failed to achieve a breakthrough. “There is still time to avert a crisis over Ukraine,” says Rogers.

For more on Russia and Ukraine, tune in to today’s edition of ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle 24.

Image: Getty Images

Travel / Switzerland

Under strain

International institutions such as the WHO and UN have heavily criticised nations in the past week for imposing kneejerk quarantines and travel bans on southern African nations. They have argued that to punish these countries for discovering a coronavirus strain that had probably already spread elsewhere was both unjust and unnecessary.

Among the nations deserving of criticism was Switzerland, which quickly implemented among the most drastic blanket quarantines – and not just on southern Africa but even on some European nations such as the UK. Then on Friday it quietly but abruptly changed course, with politicians including interior and health minister Alain Berset (pictured) announcing a series of tougher restrictions at home but becoming among the first nations to revert restrictions on travel, including on countries in southern Africa. The about-face deserves recognition and should be followed by others. Yes, countries must limit community transmission of the Omicron variant and punishing those nations that first discovered it might be politically expedient – but it is also pointless.

Image: Shutterstock

Transport / Laos

Connection charge

Laos has opened a $6bn (€5.3bn) Chinese-built high-speed railway, constructed under Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative. It is the biggest public works project in Laos’s history, consisting of a 414km line running from southern China through to Vientiane, the country’s capital; China hopes to eventually extend the line all the way to Singapore. For Laos, the new railway has the potential to cut freight costs, boost exports and encourage future tourism to one of Asia’s poorest nations. But some analysts also warn of the country’s over-reliance on Beijing: the Laotian government’s total debt last year reached 72 per cent of GDP and projects financed by loans under Xi’s scheme will exacerbate this precarious situation. But with limited financial resources available to the government, it’s no surprise that it is gambling on the pricey railway – and closer ties with China – bringing more benefits than costs.

For more on this story from Monocle’s Bangkok correspondent Gwen Robinson, tune in to today’s edition of ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle 24.

Image: Ryan Debloski

Culture / USA

Artists in residence

When the city of Detroit filed for bankruptcy in 2013 after years of mismanagement, corruption and racial segregation, what was once one of the richest cities in the US became a case study for post-industrial decline. Now its fortunes are changing and its cultural scene is key to the comeback. A string of galleries have cropped up in recent years, all sharing an interest in growing a self-sustaining scene that champions the work of the city’s black creatives. Despite Detroit’s population being 78 per cent black, the city has historically given little space to the community in its traditional venues. This demonstrates the importance of initiatives such as Bulk Space, a collective that provides marginalised artists with residencies, exhibition spaces and tools to expand their skills. “It’s about making sure that people who look like me have access to mentorship,” says Detroit-based artist Tiff Massey. “If you’re not seeing anybody who looks like you doing these things, you don’t know that it’s accessible.”

Read more on Detroit’s reviving arts scene in the December/January double issue of Monocle magazine, which is on newsstands now.

Image: Anglepoise

M24 / Monocle on Design

The Anglepoise story

Why is the Anglepoise 1227 desk lamp such an iconic piece of design? Architecture critic and author Jonathan Glancy tells its story in his new book Spring Light: The Anglepoise Story.

Monocle Films / Global

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