Tuesday 14 June 2022 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Tuesday. 14/6/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Felix Odell

Opinion / Josh Fehnert

And the winner is…

Never mind the naysayers who skipped town to live in the sticks at the height of the pandemic: there’s plenty of excitement left in cities for those who have stayed. As Monocle’s editors met to pore over the research that underpins our annual ranking of the world’s 25 most liveable cities, the mood – about urban life, rubbing shoulders with people and sharing some air – was rosier than it had been for years.

The recent urban exodus might have been bigger in our imaginations than it was in reality. Cities are still bustling and are expected to house two thirds of the world’s population by 2050. It’s one reason why Monocle is so interested in their future. How they’re run and what it means to live well in them matters to almost all of us and this week we’re sharing the full line-up in our bumper July/August issue.

The more we checked through our metrics (on everything from ambulance response times and crime rates to the number of cinema screens and the amount of bike lanes and green space), the more we were cheered by our correspondents’ feedback on the optimistic turns that their cities had taken.

Zürich is extending opening hours and street-side dining, and Stockholm is putting the brakes on its scooter problem. Many places are finally fessing up to the need to invest in culture and the arts, as well as recycle more and prioritise pedestrians.

Kyoto and Barcelona are reflecting on how to balance the interests of tourists and residents, while Vancouver and Vienna are reconnecting with their leafy fringes. Lisbon’s plan to put its 48,000 empty city homes to better use is a fix that should give other cities pause for thought. After all, a lack of decent affordable housing and a rise in the cost of living are as true in Sydney as in Seoul. Cities aren’t perfect – all have their own troubles and many share similar ones – but they can also inspire each other to change.

So, to the ranking. Everyone wants to know which city won and I can reveal here that Copenhagen (pictured) took the mantle for reasons that we cover in the issue. Not convinced? That’s OK. Among other things, we compile the annual index – and have done so for the past 15 years – to get people talking. Yes, even the village people.

Josh Fehnert is editor of Monocle. For the full rundown of the top 25 cities to call home – plus urban benchmarks, ideas and nudges – buy a copy of the July/August issue of Monocle, which is on newsstands this week.

Urbanism / Istanbul

Breath of fresh air

Some cities or suburbs take centuries to acquire their character, while others leap into life from the notebooks of urban planners and architects. A combination of the two helped to shape the in-progress Müze Gazhane development (pictured) in Istanbul’s Hasanpasa neighbourhood. Here an Ottoman-era gasworks has been transformed from a disused 19th-century industrial plant into a Turkish delight: 32,000 sq m filled with museums, galleries, performances and workshops.

“The area has a very young population but there weren’t many public areas to go to,” Sinan Caglar, who runs the project for the Istanbul municipal authority tells Monocle on our tour, pointing out schools and university buildings as we go. “It has become a lively area where young people can socialise, learn and study.” In September, Müze Gazhane will be one of the main venues for the Istanbul Biennial, the first such location on the Asian side of the city. Proof, if it were needed, that regeneration with imagination doesn’t require a blank slate.

For canny urban rethinks, from Campo Urbano in Rome to Presidio in San Francisco, see our July/August report on fantasy cities.

Image: Alfonso Duran

Migration / Miami

Sun seekers

Miami is having a moment. Long a first port of call for people coming to the US from Latin America and the Caribbean, Florida’s second largest city has swelled with a surging population. This has been led by Americans, many of them New Yorkers seeking a sunnier spot on the East Coast. Partly, that’s because Florida never really shut down: the governor, Ron DeSantis, defiantly kept the state open for business throughout the pandemic.

But what’s happening in Miami is more than just a Zoom boom. Even the techy crowd are seeking sun, sea and a better quality of life. “When Silicon Valley really was Silicon Valley, you wanted to be in the room and so you moved to Palo Alto,” says Pablo Quiroga of technology firm Star Atlas, who moved here from Las Vegas in November. “Miami is that place now,” he says. “I live in Coconut Grove and every day I run up Old Cutler Road, beneath the banyan trees that line the street. In Miami the ocean is always a step away.”

For our US editor Chris Lord’s full and fascinating report on Miami, read our July/August issue.

Image: Eirini Vourloumis

Climate / Athens

Queen of cool

Athens is the hottest capital city in mainland Europe, a place where heatwaves that send the mercury up to 40C are an all-too regular occurrence. That’s why Eleni Myrivili’s job exists. Last summer she was appointed as the city’s (and continent’s) first chief heat officer, tasked with helping to build resilience against rising temperatures. “On a basic level, heat causes serious health problems for the most vulnerable, increases the frequency of wildfires and even affects a country’s productivity and economy,” says Myrivili (pictured), a former leader of Greece’s Green party and deputy mayor of Athens.

“The challenge here is to introduce nature-based solutions,” she says. “The battle against heat is really a battle to reclaim public space, especially from cars. Bringing water back to the city is so important, restoring our streams and rivers that we buried underground.” As well as water, Myrivili is looking to connect neighbourhoods with green corridors. As summer in Athens approaches, it has never been more important for cool heads to prevail.

Buy the issue for our Athens correspondent Daphne Karnezis’s full report.

Image: Paulius Staniunas

Retail / Kuala Lumpur

Well read

At Monocle we’ve always believed that retail helps cities hum but bookshops and newsstands can anchor a whole neighbourhood. Despite a torrid few years, the book business in Kuala Lumpur is at last turning the page – and a healthy profit. Chain retailers Bookxcess and MPH seemed doomed but gained ground over the course of the pandemic but it’s in the independent sector where the plot has twisted most dramatically.

“People still read physical books,” says Elaine Lau who opened the fetching shop Lit Books in the Malaysian capital with her husband Fong Min Hun. “We do spend a lot of time just talking to customers and it doesn’t always convert to sales but the relationship is set and people appreciate that,” she says. “People who didn’t buy the first time are back now to purchase today,” she adds with a hint of pride. “We meet every single person.”

Naomi Xu Elegant’s full report is available in our July/August issue, which is available from Thursday.

Monocle 24 / Meet the Writers

Jonathan Dimbleby

The veteran broadcaster, biographer and historian talks to Georgina Godwin about his latest book, Barbarossa: How Hitler Lost the War. It gives a detailed account of the Nazis’ calamitous invasion of the Soviet Union and the political and military decision-making that shaped it.

Monocle Films / France

Escape to la campagne: Normandy

Pierre-Edouard Robine traded city life to rediscover his farming roots in 2016. Since then, he has built a sparkling wine business and forages for Michelin-starred restaurants in Paris, alongside tending to his small herd of cattle. We travelled to his farm in La Courbe, Normandy, to lend a hand with tending the land and hear about the benefits of rural living.


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