Friday. 23/12/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: NEOM

Opinion / Ana Kinsella

Streets ahead

The Line, a planned megacity in the scorching Saudi Arabian desert, will be built from scratch in a rather puzzling way. For now imagined in glossy renderings (pictured), it will be a linear city that its developers say will house nine million people in a mirrored space that’s 200 metres wide and 170km long. The full cost and timings remain as fuzzy as the details. The Line’s amenities promise to offer residents everything that they need within a five-minute walk.

Yet the most unusual thing about the city’s take on the community is that in place of streets or cars, there’ll be a rather unromantically named “pedestrian layer”. For longer journeys, an ultra-high-speed train will take people from one end to the next in 20 minutes. Handy? Perhaps. Exciting? Not very.

There’s so much to be said for the street as the connective fibre of a functional city. Lanes, side streets and pavements are more than just parts of journeys to other places; they are also democratic spaces. Walking the streets is surely what makes urban life enticing, strange and occasionally serendipitous. Proximity to the lives of other city dwellers is a feature to be enjoyed, not a crease to be ironed out.

Designing a city around convenience isn’t enough. After all, some of the world’s best urban centres, from Venice to New York, are tricky places to navigate. Being able to get around easily and safely is part of a balanced city; the same goes for access to greenery, fresh air and space to amble and cycle. Equally, so is some space for collision, coincidence and chance encounters.

With any luck (and common sense), projects such as The Line won’t get too far. If planners want to know what cities of the future should look like, they should consider what first lured people to settle there in the first place.

Ana Kinsella is a journalist and author of ‘Look Here: On the Pleasures of Observing the City’, published by Daunt Books. A version of this piece appears in ‘The Monocle Companion: Fifty Essays for a Brighter Future’, which is out now.

Image: Shutterstock

Diplomacy / Israel

Strange bedfellows

Joe Biden and Benjamin Netanyahu’s turbulent history reached its nadir during the Obama administration. When the former visited Israel in 2010 as US vice-president, Netanyahu announced a new round of settlements in East Jerusalem just as Biden arrived, despite the American’s long-held opposition to such moves. Now Netanyahu (pictured, on left, with Biden) will return as prime minister at the helm of his most conservative government yet. His new coalition partners openly oppose a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, sparking fears of greater violence between the sides. Is there anything Biden can do? “They have known each other for many years but it’s not the same Netanyahu and Biden is now in charge of US interests,” Yossi Mekelberg, associate fellow at Chatham House, tells The Monocle Minute. US officials insist that they will hold the new government accountable – something that the Israeli premier might actually welcome. “Netanyahu would like the Biden administration to serve as his brakes and shield him from the far-right,” says Mekelberg. “He might just get what he wants.”

Image: Getty Images

Defence / The Gambia

Power grab

By the reckoning of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, The Gambia is among the better governed countries in Africa. It is therefore concerning when The Gambia announces that it has thwarted a coup d’etat. Five military personnel have been arrested; it is unclear whether they have any relationship to eccentric former president Yahya Jammeh, who is in exile in Equatorial Guinea. The Gambia’s current president, Adama Barrow, has had an uneasy relationship with his country’s military since being elected in 2016 (and re-elected in 2021).

His own protection detail (pictured) is Senegalese; soldiers from Nigeria and Ghana guard The Gambia’s airports and seaports. Barrow is not alone among African leaders in having reasons to distrust his own country’s troops. This young decade has seen coups or attempted coups in the Central African Republic, Niger, Mali, Sudan, Burkina Faso, Guinea-Bissau and São Tomé & Príncipe. Too many African militaries have not absorbed that their role is to serve, not rule.

Image: Kohei Take

Retail / Japan

Toy storeys

Consisting of five floors full of toys with restaurants and a live theatre on top, Hakuhinkan Toy Park is a dream for any child. From Godzilla to Gundam, there isn’t a niche in the Japanese toy market that it doesn’t cover. Company president Hiroyuki Itoh’s father built the 10-storey tower in ritzy Ginza in 1978 and opened the toy shop four years later.

“His thinking was that everyone wants to buy toys for their children and grandchildren, including VIPs and politicians,” he says. The business has had its peaks and troughs. Recalling the Tamagotchi craze of the late 1990s, Itoh says, “There were queues out the door.” There’s something refreshingly analogue about Hakuhinkan: adults come to race small cars around a track and classic Japanese toys, such as the kendama (a ball in a cup), are still in demand. While the shop’s sales footfall suffered during the pandemic, Itoh is optimistic. “We used the time to develop our online business but we are passionate believers in the real shop,” he says.

Read the full story in Monocle’s ‘Alpino’ newspaper, which is now on sale.

Image: Getty Images

MUSIC / Global

Festive platters

By now, Christmas songs will already have received most of their radio spins for 2022 – contributing to a very profitable sub-section of the music industry. Festive tunes are worth an estimated $177m (€168m) a year in the US alone. Getting the biggest slice of that Christmas pudding is Mariah Carey (pictured), whose 28-year-old “All I Want for Christmas” tops the global chart earlier every year, most recently ascending the Billboard Global 200 on 10 December. Her dominance means new releases are at a huge disadvantage.

Few have succeeded as Michael Bublé did with his 2011 album Christmas but if you’re in the mood for something new, our tip for this season is Icelandic-Chinese vocalist Laufey’s “Love to Keep Me Warm”, a soft, jazzy piano number. Norwegian pop star Sigrid’s “Home to You (This Christmas)” delivers an impassioned, sweet pop melody, while Sam Smith is predictably smooth on their new “Night Before Christmas”. And there’s always the Backstreet Boys’ cheesy cover album A Very Backstreet Christmas. Playlist sorted.

Image: Felix Brüggemann

Monocle 24 / Monocle on Design

Best of Monocle On Design Part 1

The On Design team discuss highlights from this year’s programming.

Monocle Films / Portugal

Portugal: The Monocle Handbook

Part of a new travel series, Portugal: The Monocle Handbook is a practical guide that will introduce you to the best the country has to offer as we present our favourite spots across the country. Order your copy today.

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