Wednesday. 9/2/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / James Chambers

Closed loop

Any optimism that Hong Kong’s rising number of Omicron cases would force the government to rethink its zero-Covid strategy vanished yesterday, when chief executive Carrie Lam (pictured) tightened restrictions once again and dragged the city back to 2020. The “new” rules, which come into force tomorrow, will make it more difficult to socialise at home, send children to school, gather in restaurants and live in a city that has been shut off to the outside world for almost two years.

Although it wasn’t a huge surprise, it is a huge missed opportunity. The first working week of the Chinese new year could have signalled a fresh start. Beijing could have freed Hong Kong from its increasingly elusive goal to reopen the mainland border and allowed it to resume international travel. (Turning Hong Kong into a Phuket-style “China sandbox” would be little more than a contemporary update of its historic role, after all.) Hong Kong could then have positioned the past two years as a brilliant strategy to buy time for vaccines and a milder variant to come along, shielding citizens from the staggering deaths and administrative incompetence seen around the world.

Wishful thinking. Instead, we must all continue to live with a restrictive policy mandated by Beijing and rammed home by state-owned media. Undoubtedly, this will save lives among the city’s over-eighties, many of whom stubbornly refuse to be vaccinated, as well as saving face among senior leaders – but at what cost to Hong Kong’s long-term future? Any tourism and hospitality businesses still in operation are eagerly awaiting a sixth handout, while a particularly virulent case of homesickness is doing the rounds among the expat community, many of whom will be taking yesterday’s announcement as their cue to leave. People can easily return to Hong Kong one day but international companies are also heading for the exit and taking their Asia headquarters and regional jobs with them. The current trickle could soon become a flood and cost Hong Kong its edge as Asia’s foremost international city. That scenario should trouble the government far more than Omicron.

Image: Getty Images

Transport / Canada & USA

Ground to a halt

Supporters of the ongoing blockade of Canada’s capital city Ottawa by truckers opposing vaccine mandates have now blocked North America’s busiest international land crossing. The Ambassador Bridge (pictured), which links Detroit in the US with the Canadian city of Windsor, has been restricted to traffic in both directions by a convoy of flag- and slogan-bearing vehicles since Monday afternoon. Some 40,000 people and goods worth US$323m (€283m) cross the bridge every day. A similar blockade of the international border in the Canadian province of Alberta, near the village of Coutts, was lifted yesterday morning after a week and a half. On Monday night, Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau called for an end to all blockades during an emergency debate in parliament; the closure of Canada’s most important link with the US has only sharpened that call.

Tune in to Monocle 24 for more from Monocle’s Tomos Lewis, who will be on site at the Ottawa protests throughout this week.

Image: Getty Images

Education / Japan

Get with the programme

On 31 March, some two million teenagers in Japan will go to bed as minors and wake up on April Fool’s Day as adults. That’s when the country’s revised civil code will take effect and lower the age of majority from 20 to 18. Along with the rights that come with their new legal status – such as the ability to sign up for credit cards – will be new responsibilities and pitfalls, not least the fact that they will suddenly face tougher penalties for crimes.

Hoping to prevent young offenders from relapsing and ending up in prison, Japan’s Ministry of Justice announced this week that it will launch computer-programming courses at several of its juvenile detention centres. With the country’s acute shortage of tech workers expected to reach crisis levels by 2030, it’s a smart move that will help young offenders re-enter and contribute meaningfully to society – which is surely the best incentive for them to stay on the straight and narrow.

Image: Christian Sorensen Hansen

Urbanism / Boise, Idaho

Home improvements

When it comes to planning reforms, big US cities such as Minneapolis and San Francisco have hogged the limelight in recent years. But Boise, Idaho (population 225,000), is also making strides. Next week, its city hall will begin hosting community meetings to discuss new planning laws, which include smaller minimum lot sizes to increase density in the sprawling city and reducing the minimum parking space requirement for each home to one. There’s also a proposal that would require developers to keep their properties clean and in good condition once built. Such moves should increase access to housing and make walking more appealing, while keeping the city looking sharp too. All of which is reason enough for the community to get behind the proposed changes – and for other small cities to consider them too.

Image: Robert Rieger

Hospitality / Germany

Changing cells

Architects Armand Grüntuch and Almut Grüntuch-Ernst dared to do the seemingly impossible when they opened the Wilmina hotel in west Berlin’s Kantstrasse this month. This involved converting an unloved, former Nazi prison that they bought in 2012 into a smart new hotel. Luckily, the designers were experienced in dealing sensitively with Berlin’s history. One previous project was at Jüdische Mädchenschule, a former Jewish girls’ school in Berlin’s Mitte district, which they transformed into a memorial that also hosts cafés, restaurants and galleries. “If we hadn’t done that, we probably wouldn’t have even dared to work on Wilmina,” said Grüntuch, when he showed Monocle around some of its 44 airy guest rooms and its restaurant Lovis. “We learned that the best thing that can happen to a heavily charged place is not to make it a museum,” he adds. “Instead it’s to make it habitable for the future by integrating it into everyday life.”

For more on this renovation and new openings around the world, take out a subscription to Monocle in time to secure our 15th-anniversary March issue.

M24 / The Monocle Weekly

Paolo Sorrentino and Filippo Scotti

The Oscar nominations for 2022 are out. Listen back to this special episode of The Monocle Weekly with director Paolo Sorrentino and lead actor Filippo Scotti of the film The Hand of God, which has been nominated for best international film. Listen also to our interviews with the director of Spencer, which features best-actress nominee Kristen Stewart, and No Time to Die, which received three nominations.

Monocle Films / Georgia

Tbilisi’s architectural revival

Rather than erase all evidence of Georgia’s Soviet past, the country’s architectural community is keen to preserve its history and give its once-foreboding buildings another lease of life.

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