Thursday. 19/5/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Kohei Take

Opinion / Josh Fehnert

Build back better

Monocle’s London HQ, Midori House, is abuzz with the sounds of early summer. For those unfamiliar with the UK capital, this includes an inevitable clang of scaffolding poles, the whine of the buzz saw and the intermittent harrumph of the jet washer. From where I’m sitting, the rumbles of a troubled economy have not dampened the draw of a spring clean, a fresh lick of paint or some overdue city fixes. In fact, rebuilding a little better here and a canny course correction there are two key themes of our June issue, which is out today.

So where to start the journey to a slightly brighter future? How about by rethinking the world of mobility? Between the covers of the new issue, we head to a flight school in northern Sweden, ask why Phoenix might be the new motor city in the US and hail a Japanese bus-maker (pictured) to understand the pull of good public transport. We also explore the importance of bike-repair shops – such as those in Milan – that are helping to keep city slickers in the saddle.

Elsewhere in the issue our newly appointed Ukraine correspondent, Olga Tokariuk, teamed up with our news editor Chris Cermak to ask who will help to rebuild the country when the grinding war ceases and silence falls. It might feel early to ask but I’m glad that we did. The answers revealed engineers, architects and business folk who believe that a bright future can still emerge from the rubble, twisted debris and smashed streets.

The thread that links it all? A belief that small, incremental changes and bright ideas can improve things in the long run. It’s a drive that we clocked in everyone, from Italian wine-makers going organic and the students at the Aarhus School of Architecture to the Lithuanian foreign minister. Over several interviews he told Monocle at length about his brave Baltic blueprint for shedding dependency on Russia or China – and made a case for why the world should follow. In a phrase, there’s hope despite the clatter, rattle and clunk of the world trundling onwards.

Monocle’s June issue is on newsstands today. To support our independent journalism, subscribe today.

Image: Getty Images

Rights / Kosovo and Ukraine

Justice at last

Six years after it was established to investigate alleged war crimes during Kosovo’s 1990s conflict, the Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague has issued its first verdict. Kosovo Liberation Army veterans Hysni Gucati and Nasim Haradinaj have been sentenced to four and a half years in prison for disclosing details about witnesses in order to intimidate them and obstruct further trials. But the court continues to seek justice, with the former Kosovan president Hashim Thaci among its high-profile arrests. The verdict comes at a time when war-crime investigations are in the spotlight: the trial of the first Russian soldier got under way this week too. Vadim Shyshimarin (pictured) is alleged to have shot a Ukrainian civilian in the head in the early days of the invasion. While the investigators’ desire for swift justice is understandable, they could benefit from holding off such trials until after the war. Monocle’s Balkans correspondent Guy De Launey says that the Kosovo court was set up in The Hague precisely to avoid “issues of judicial interference and witness intimidation”. Maintaining neutrality – and therefore ensuring the legitimacy of any verdicts – can be difficult during wartime.

Find out more about the Kosovo Specialist Chambers on yesterday’s ‘The Briefing’ on Monocle 24 and get the latest on the Ukrainian war-crime trial on this morning’s ‘The Globalist’ .

Image: Getty Images

Energy / Switzerland

Heavy metal

At the conference of the Cobalt Institute trade association in Zürich yesterday, US deputy energy secretary Dave Turk said that the fallout from Russia’s war with Ukraine has thrown into sharp relief the challenges facing the world when it comes to shifting away from fossil fuels. This has prompted the Biden administration to make sourcing crucial minerals a national priority. The world’s supply of cobalt, a blue metal used in smartphones and electric vehicle batteries, might be a significant choke point in the energy transition.

The OECD’s energy watchdog forecasts that by 2040 the demand for the metal will be 20 times higher than it is today. Recycling is one way to conserve resources but Michael Insulan, vice-president of commercial at Electra Battery Metals, warns, “Demand is far outstripping recycling feedstock.” If sourcing enough of the stuff is a problem, so are the ethics of mining this metal, which is found overwhelmingly in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Expect the debate about sourcing cobalt ethically to go mainstream in the coming years.

Culture / Italy

Brava! Bravo! Bravi!

There had been high hopes for espresso fans as a face-off between coffee and opera, two key pillars of Italian culture, reached a climax this week. But the Italian National Committee for Unesco, the UN’s cultural agency, declared that it is pressing forward with an application for “the art of opera singing” to be listed as an item of intangible global heritage, rather than the nation’s much-loved caffè. Culture minister Dario Franceschini called opera one of Italy’s “most authentic and original cultural expressions”; after all, the musical form’s global influence is highlighted by Italian words such as soprano and piano creeping into the English lexicon, as well as by household names such as Verdi and Puccini.

The announcement comes at an opportune time as opera, like so many cultural activities, has struggled to survive since the pandemic struck. The hope is that Unesco recognition, which could happen as soon as next year, will provide a boost to the industry as international tourists return.

Image: Getty Images

Transport / Japan

Trained for rain

Cheap plastic umbrellas are handy and easy to buy at countless convenience stores in Japan but are often unloved (or misplaced) once they’ve done their job. It’s estimated that the country consumes about 80 million brollies a year as a result, with almost 300,000 left unclaimed at the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department’s lost and found centre. Now there’s a solution: East Japan Railway Company is introducing an umbrella-sharing service at dozens of stations between Tokyo and Takao on its busy Chuo line.

The service is called I-kasa (kasa means umbrella in Japanese) and is offered by Shibuya-based company Nature Innovation Group. Through a smartphone app, travellers can pick up and drop off their rain protectors at convenient locations for a cost of ¥70 (€0.52) for 24 hours or ¥280 (€2) per month. A similar scheme was introduced to Tokyo’s Odakyu Electric Railway in 2019 and JR East is expected to follow suit. Why not bring the idea to rainy cities everywhere?

Image: Morley von Sternberg

Monocle 24 / Monocle On Design

Going underground

We take a trip underground to explore the design of London’s new Elizabeth line and celebrate 120 years of Berlin’s U-Bahn. Plus: how to design the perfect underground transport map.

Monocle Films / Germany

Inside the airship industry

Airships, once tipped to be the future of flight, are now largely used as costly billboards that drift across cities or over major sporting events. We travelled to Friedrichshafen in Germany to take a peek inside one of the world’s few commercial operations and explore this niche area of aviation. Read more on the story in the November issue of Monocle magazine.

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