Thursday. 23/6/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Josh Fehnert

Idle talk

There are many ways to measure a city’s success but not all of them are as obvious as a tall tower, clean street or pretty precinct. Some are invisible. This month researchers at the University of Chicago delivered a gale of ghastly news about the appalling air we all breathe in the form of their annual Air Quality Life Index. Global pollution levels have remained flat since 2020 – despite pandemic-related shutdowns – and the World Health Organization says that 99 per cent of people live in areas where air pollution exceeds “safe levels”, costing each of us an average of 2.2 years of life. Ouch.

Monocle’s July/August issue, which is on newsstands now, includes our annual Quality of Life Survey, ranking the best 25 cities to call home. Access to clean air and green spaces was a key metric for success alongside decent public transport, abundant bikes and walkable centres that offset the need for everyone to take to four wheels. Here in London, low emission zones and congestion charges are helping to drive down traffic numbers but some journeys still need to be done by car.

Isn’t there a simple gear-shift that would help to reduce emissions overnight? A policy that could highlight the invisible toll traffic is taking on young lungs? Maybe something that might reduce noise pollution while we’re at it? Simple – just turn off that ignition.

Popping a metaphorical potato into the collective tailpipe of those idlers sat outside schools, shops and restaurants would be a civic-minded start, raise awareness of the invisible issue and help us all breathe a little easier. For context, an idling engine releases the equivalent of 150 balloons worth of harmful exhaust emissions (up to twice as much as a vehicle in motion) every minute. Until cities take control and make the issue more visible, everyone’s future is up in the air.

Josh Fehnert is Monocle’s editor.

Image: Shutterstock

Diplomacy / EU

Access all areas

The leaders of Serbia, Albania and North Macedonia (all pictured) will attend a summit between the EU and Western Balkans nations today, after previously threatening to boycott it over Bulgaria’s ongoing veto of North Macedonia’s EU accession. The country’s membership bid, as well as Albania’s, is on the agenda of today’s talks. But there is another wrinkle: Ukraine is expected to gain official candidate status, which has been expedited since Russia’s invasion. The gesture is welcome for Ukraine but leaves some Balkan states frustrated after years of delays to their own accession. “Many in the Balkans will regard the decision to grant candidacy status to Moldova and Ukraine as profoundly unfair,” James Ker-Lindsay, a professor at the London School of Economics’ European Institute, tells The Monocle Minute. “At worst, it comes across as a political stunt that will stoke resentment.” Today’s summit could be the first step in refocusing some of the bloc’s attention on its southern neighbours. “The EU really needs to do more to engage with the Western Balkans,” says Ker-Lindsay.

Image: Voice Project

Politics / Japan

Star power

Campaigning in Japan for the upper house legislative elections on 10 July officially kicked off yesterday but the biggest issue remains voter apathy – especially among the youth. It’s why a group of Japanese celebrities is renewing efforts to get out the vote: the Voice Project (unaffiliated to any party) debuted in lower-house elections last October. In video clips on social media, 14 musicians and actors, including Ken Watanabe, called on people to use their voice.

The campaign won attention – celebrities in Japan rarely talk publicly about politics – but didn’t stop turnout from sinking to 55.93 per cent, the third lowest in postwar Japanese politics. Naota Sugawara, one of the project founders, is undeterred. “This is not a one-off project,” he tells the Tokyo Shimbun newspaper. “We’d like to gradually bring about change.” The campaign has been scaled up for the second round with 26 new celebrities joining forces. The simple message: if you don’t vote, you can’t effect change.

Image: Shutterstock

Business / Finland & Russia

Cover all bases

Finland’s government has reportedly blocked the sale of an industrial property close to Rovaniemi Airport (pictured) to a Russian citizen – the latest sign of concern over Russians buying property near strategically important locations. Finnish Lapland’s busiest airport is also a major hub for the country’s air force, hence the authorities’ concerns.

It is only the second time that the state has stopped a sale since a law granting them such authority came into effect in 2020 but the scrutiny has been there for quite some time. Finland’s intelligence agency, Supo, has been eyeing a number of properties bought by Russians that are close to strategically important locations, such as the Finland-Russia border or airports. It is unclear whether the Kremlin is really behind the purchases or what function the properties would serve. But at a time of high tensions and Russian aggression, it’s good for the Nordic country to be mindful.

Image: LIFF

Cinema / India & UK

Bigger pictures

Europe’s biggest Indian film festival kicks off this evening with a programme dedicated to showcasing films from the subcontinent and its diaspora. The London Indian Film Festival will screen films of all genres and styles in cities around the UK, including London, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, until 3 July. Tonight’s opening in London is a world premiere of supernatural thriller Dobaaraa (pictured) from acclaimed Indian director Anurag Kashyap.

There will be a spotlight on female film-makers, as well as productions that explore ecological and climate themes, and LGBT+ stories. This 13th iteration of the festival is the biggest yet, highlighting the growing interest in Indian cinema outside South Asia. “What's amazing is that we’ve grown a reputation where major film companies are now having their world premieres with us,” the festival’s director, Cary Rajinder Sawhney, tells Monocle. “It’s not just Indian films for Indian audiences; it’s films showing the best of world cinema for everyone.”

Hear more from London Indian Film Festival director Sawhney on today’s edition of ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle 24.

Image: 3days design

Monocle 24 / Monocle On Design

Festival special

Highlights from the design calendar, with reports from Tallinn, Basel and Copenhagen.

Monocle Films / Global

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