Monday. 5/9/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Alamy

Opinion / David Phelan

Built to last

For the first time since 2019, IFA, the mammoth electronics trade show in Berlin, has returned in full-on, in-person glory with more than 20 enormous halls stuffed with innovation, appliances, TVs and other gadgets. Sustainability is the biggest theme by far this year, with companies trumpeting that their products will be around for longer and save the environment.

HMD Global, the maker of Nokia phones, has released three new smartphones and a novel way of buying them, called Circular. This encourages users to keep their devices for longer and takes them back once they’re finished with to refurbish and resell or give to charity, for instance. Samsung’s major appliances will all be wi-fi connected from next year, so that owners can see exactly how much energy they’re consuming, and new models are designed to use less. There’s a washing machine that calibrates water and detergent not just according to the weight of the clothes but how dirty they are. The company is also offering a groundbreaking new 20-year guarantee for key components, such as the inverter motor in its refrigerators and washing machines.

Panasonic also promises a greater focus on care for people and the environment. That includes a modular travel kit that lets you use one battery-powered handle that attaches to a shaver, hair shaper and even toothbrush. There is also an emphasis on heat pumps, factories running on 100 per cent renewable energy and longer-lasting devices. I asked Panasonic about the need to conserve and was told that the business model will shift to offering repairs and servicing to help products last longer. After all, if companies really are serious about the environment, it’s not just about the gadgets; they will need to make and sell less new stuff.

David Phelan is Monocle’s technology correspondent.

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / Arctic

Cold front

US secretary of state Antony Blinken took pains to stress that he believes in a “peaceful, stable, prosperous and co-operative” Arctic when he announced the creation of a US ambassador at large for the region last week. In reality, the decision coincides with heightened concern among Western allies over Russia and China’s military activities in the High North. Benedetta Berti-Alberti, head of policy planning at Nato, tells Monocle that the Western military alliance’s infrastructure in the region is “vastly outweighed” by its Russian counterparts. Added to that are commercial opportunities from new shipping lanes and natural resources, brought about by global warming, which also threaten the area’s historically stable geopolitics. The US appointment comes far later than those of its Arctic neighbours – not to mention nations with no borders in the regions, such as South Korea and France – but it does represent an opportunity to address Russia’s expansion. Berti-Alberti expects the incorporation of Finland and Sweden into Nato will help boost Western diplomatic co-operation too.

For more from Berti-Alberti and others on the future of Arctic diplomacy, tune in to the latest episode of ‘The Foreign Desk’ on Monocle 24.

Image: Andre Malerba

Urbanism / Thailand

Water park

Bangkok’s canals, known by residents as klongs, have long been sidelined in favour of motorways and high-speed railways, so the Thai capital’s new Chong Nonsi Canal Park (pictured) is a welcome addition to help address the city’s deficit of public green spaces. Chong Nonsi stretches an ambitious 4.5km through several neighbourhoods and flows to the Chao Phraya River.

“Most people forget that this city was called the ‘Venice of the East’,” Kotchakorn Voraakhom, the project’s architect, tells Monocle’s September issue. “It’s sad that most Bangkokians are disconnected from the idea of klongs historically being our major urban arteries.” Kotchakorn is also CEO of the Porous City Network, a social enterprise that aims to strengthen urban environmental resilience in Southeast Asia. With alarm over Bangkok’s vulnerability to flooding – estimates suggest that just 4mm of rainfall has the potential to inundate the city – overhauling its drainage waterways is a step in the right direction.

For more of our report on the Chong Nonsi Canal Park opening, grab a copy of Monocle’s September issue or subscribe today.

Image: Michael B. Lehrer

Politics / USA

Putting down roots

November’s election for Los Angeles mayor is heating up and both candidates, congresswoman Karen Bass and mall mogul Rick Caruso, have staked their campaigns on finding fast solutions to shelter LA’s more than 60,000 rough sleepers. But a new architectural project makes the case for building with a sense of permanence: Willowbrook Apartments (pictured) comprises seven small but bright and airy houses by LA-based architect Michael Lehrer, designed for veterans with disabilities who had been living on the streets.

“Our belief is that fresh air and natural light are luxurious things,” Lehrer tells The Monocle Minute. In contrast to LA’s “tiny house” movement that proliferated as the housing crisis ballooned, these are permanent structures with roof lines that blend into the neighbourhood. Lehrer’s consortium of private backers has broken ground on an almost-identical project in Boyle Heights – modest numbers perhaps, given the scale of the problem, but an invitation for longer-term thinking as LA seeks to get its house in order.

Image: Getty Images

Transport / Spain

Free ride

With German rail fares returning to normal last week after a summer experiment with €9 tickets for a month of travel, Spain has jumped on board a similar scheme. Until the end of the year, there will be free travel on Spain’s suburban and middle-distance trains. The plan is designed to help commuters deal with inflation. Passengers will need to choose a destination and pay a deposit of €10 or €20, depending on their journey’s distance, through the national rail network Renfe’s app, which will be refunded at the end of the year if they’ve travelled at least 16 times to the specified stop.

Though there are still some worries about whether the train network can handle extra passengers, the deposit should cut down on the number of individual tourist trips that caused overcrowding on Germany’s regional trains over the summer. Spain is on the right track to helping citizens cope with inflation, reducing their environmental footprint and encouraging them to get moving too.

Image: Ricky Rhodes

Monocle 24 / The Urbanist

Everyone’s a critic

We explore why it’s so important to be critical about our urban environment, as we delve into the world of architecture-and-design criticism to see how it helps us to better understand and form the cities we live in.

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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