Thursday. 23/12/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Alamy

Opinion / Nic Monisse

Way to go

There were a few things that got me excited in 2021: new episodes of Succession, a holiday in Venice and Joe Biden’s whopper of an infrastructure bill. The latter, signed into law in November after months of finessing (and political wrangling), is a $1.2trn (€1.06trn) bipartisan package that will see more than $280bn (€247bn) invested in transport in the country over the next five years, with $39bn (€35bn) of that dedicated to public transit.

It’s a historically high sum to be set aside for the country’s buses, subways, light rail and metro networks, and will see many cities expand and improve their existing systems. Although this should be celebrated by transit enthusiasts, it’s worth noting that this level of investment – even if it has never been higher – is by no means a silver bullet that will reshape America’s cities as healthier, more transit-friendly places to live. That’s because any bill-backed funding will need to go hand-in-hand with other improvements, particularly to pedestrian infrastructure; investing in transit will only be worthwhile if people actually use it.

If you’re going to take the bus or train, the whole journey needs to be a more appealing prospect than jumping in a car. And while there are small amounts in the bill set aside for walking and biking projects, cities will need to reach into their own pockets to make footpath upgrades, roll out tree planting to make their streets shady and walkable, and implement road diets to slow down traffic. All of this will make getting to work, going shopping or grabbing a bite to eat without having to drive more appealing. It’s the best way to make this $39bn spend really worthwhile and, perhaps less crucially, to keep me excited to watch it roll out in 2022.

Read our interview with US secretary of transportation Pete Buttigieg (pictured) in our October issue.

Image: Shutterstock

Politics / Russia

West-facing address

Russian president Vladimir Putin’s annual December address and press conference today comes just ahead of the 30th anniversary of the USSR’s dissolution this Sunday and the crowd will be even friendlier than usual. With open accreditation closed for the first time (ostensibly to restrict numbers due to coronavirus), only journalists invited by the Kremlin will be in attendance to ask questions. At the top of the watch list for the West will be any remarks regarding Ukraine, as Russia continues to amass troops along its border. “If Putin uses the opportunity to ratchet up the pressure on the West, then it will suggest that he really wants negotiations,” Mark Galeotti, honorary professor at UCL’s School of Slavonic & East European Studies, tells The Monocle Minute. “If he instead presents a conflict as inevitable, then it implies that he’s made his decision and he’s preparing a – frankly reluctant – Russian population for what is to come.”

Hear more from Galeotti about Putin’s press conference on today’s edition of ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle 24.

Image: Rena Effendi

Elections / Libya

State in waiting

When delegates at UN-led peace talks last year chose tomorrow for Libya’s first presidential election, it was highly symbolic: Libya declared independence on December 24, 1951. But on Wednesday it became official that the vote would be postponed, at least until late January. Key players in the conflict have already started scrambling to fill the vacuum, leaving Libyans to wonder when they would be able to move beyond the dysfunctional politics that have fed years of violence.

The mood could not be more different to what Monocle’s North Africa correspondent Mary Fitzgerald found during a visit to Tripoli (pictured) in October (read about it in our December/January issue), when Libyans spoke of cautious optimism. The fact that more than 2.4 million – out of a population of 6.8 million – collected their ballot cards over the past month was a clear sign that Libyans are eager to vote and desperate for change. Alas they will have to wait; the question is for how long.

Image: Simon Boschi

Transport / Switzerland

Moving forward

December is when the Swiss train schedule gets its annual update. And this year, while the long-awaited extension of the ÖBB Nightjet service, improvements on the Zürich-Munich line and extensions to Bologna fuel the appetite for international rail, it’s the domestic market that has some particularly interesting developments. The central canton of Uri is expecting an increase in economic development thanks to the new Altdorf station on the Zürich-Milan line. Investors are already considering the redevelopment of the nearby lakeside town of Flüelen after the success of central Switzerland’s largest ski resort Andermatt, which is also in Uri. In the east, Südostbahn is introducing another national service using its highly regarded Traverso trains, which are made by Stadler. The Aare Linth (pictured) connects Bern and Zürich to Chur (with onward connections to the Grisons mountains on the Rhaetian railways). These projects expand options for for hard-to-reach communities, a goal that non-Alpine nations would do well to emulate.

Aviation / Scandinavia

Norse codes

The combined effect of the pandemic and the withdrawal of low-cost carrier Norwegian from long-haul routes appears to have electrified the Nordic aviation market. Norse Atlantic Airways, a new entrant, is expected to launch its first three routes in spring 2022 from Oslo to New York, Miami and Los Angeles. But unlike more established competitors, the company won’t fly to the cities’ principal airports, opting to serve smaller airports a little further afield. Meanwhile, Finnair is vying to increase its presence at Stockholm’s Arlanda airport. The Finnish carrier, which has long relied on its services connecting Europe and Asian metropolises, is seeking new opportunities after passenger numbers on its routes to China collapsed. Some of the planes that would be flying from Helsinki to China are now on routes from Sweden to a number of US and Thai destinations. Airlines are having to get creative but it’s encouraging to see the industry pushing ahead – a sign of businesses and individuals gradually learning to live with the pandemic.

Image: Sam Jacob

M24 / Monocle On Design

Best of 2021

Nolan Giles and the team behind Monocle On Design take a look back at some of the programme’s highlights from the past year.

Monocle Films / Global

Monocle preview: December/January issue

Monocle’s December/January issue is packed full of insights and inspiration to see you through to the new year, from our annual Soft Power Survey to a look into Detroit’s thriving art scene. Grab the issue now at The Monocle Shop.

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