Monday 16 January 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Monday. 16/1/2023

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Christopher Lord

Come rain or shine

As you might have heard, it has been raining heavily in California. High surf is usually a cause for celebration around here but last week it all became a bit biblical, with rock slides on the Pacific Coast Highway and flooded mansions in Montecito. The benign-sounding “atmospheric rivers” swept into the weather system and almost shut Los Angeles, with major boulevards transformed into canals. I came home to find my basement flooded; I heard that a house further north had come free from its foundations and was blocking a street.

In California it’s always feast or famine when it comes to water: tinder-dry for much of the year, mired in shortages, then washed out for weeks. Yet more could be done to harness the heavy downpour when it comes, especially in Los Angeles, where only about 20 per cent of the rain that lands on the basin is captured for later use. When the city was built, the priority was to get water away from homes as soon as possible. Its storm channels, those vast concrete ravines that carve through the city, send innumerable gallons of rainwater towards the Los Angeles river and, ultimately, the ocean. Unfortunately, those channels also wash debris and chemicals from the streets into the Pacific, meaning that only the most committed surfers will dare to paddle out after a downpour.

Despite the recent deluge, the city is likely to continue spending billions of dollars importing water and, by the summer, the news agenda will return to droughts in the southwestern US and the pressures on its reservoirs as people try to keep their lawns green. A long-touted LA County plan to build hundreds of small water-capture projects is gathering pace but there are case studies for simple fixes: Tucson, a city in the Arizona desert, learnt to make the most of its downpours with neighbourhood stormwater collectors and incentives that nudged residents to build their own – investments that pay off in the long-term, when the sun does eventually, inevitably, shine.

Christopher Lord is Monocle’s US editor, based in Los Angeles.

Image: Reuters


Threads that bind

School uniforms haven’t been mandatory in France since 1968 but the idea of reintroducing them has become increasingly contentious in recent months – especially after Marine Le Pen’s far-right Rassemblement National filed a motion in favour of them last Thursday. A notable supporter of compulsory uniforms is the country’s first lady, Brigitte Macron, who has said that they should be “simple but not too sad”. Her outspokenness contrasts with the reluctance of the education minister, Pap Ndiaye (pictured, on right, with Macron), to debate the issue. Le Monde recently called Macron “a more and more political first lady”. Her recent willingness to express strong opinions is a far cry from how she avoided the limelight during her husband’s presidential campaign in 2017. Time will tell whether Macron’s new outspokenness is a uniform approach.

Image: Shutterstock


Underlying issues

More than 6,000 National Guard officers have been posted in Mexico City’s subway system, following a series of accidents that the capital’s mayor, Claudia Sheinbaum, has called “abnormal” and suggested could be due to sabotage. Some have criticised the move, claiming that the problem is the result of maintenance, design and operational flaws, and it is unclear how the National Guard will address these problems.

Like Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who the mayor is likely to succeed in the 2024 elections, Sheinbaum has also been accused of relying too heavily on the military. For many subway workers, who have complained about underfunding for years, the move seems more political than practical. Their take? Sheinbaum should have invested in the underground’s infrastructure and addressed deficiencies and construction issues instead. The mayor, however, says that investment in the metro in 2023 is up by about €44.3m on the previous year.

Image: Climeworks

ENVIRONMENT / Switzerland

Buried treasure

Swiss start-up Climeworks has become the first company to pull carbon dioxide from the air and store it underground. The company, whose installations in Iceland resemble large air-conditioning units, uses filters to trap the gas; Reykjavík-based Carbfix then dissolves it in water and traps it in rock. Scaling up the process will take time but major players such as Microsoft and Stripe have already employed Climeworks to offset their future emissions.

It’s a significant step for a technology that scientists claim will be crucial in mitigating climate change. A potential, less savoury consequence is that heavy polluters could use it to continue emitting carbon at the same rate they do now. Still, the news is likely to cause a stir at the World Economic Forum in Davos, which gets under way today – at last year’s conference, about one in 10 delegates arrived by private jet, according to Swiss newspaper Tages Anzeiger. The business community needs as many pollution-reduction options as it can get.

Image: Aïda Muluneh / Efie Gallery Dubai

Art / Dubai

Saturation point

Ethiopian photographer Aïda Muluneh has a new exhibition. Dubai’s Efie Gallery, in the city’s Al Quoz neighbourhood, will host The Art of Advocacy until 24 February. It is a showcase of Muluneh’s most recent works, which feature vivid acrylic hues hand-painted onto photographic prints and act as a reminder of her striking aesthetic of sharp contrasts in full saturation. Muluneh is celebrated for her ability to merge art with activism on topics ranging from food shortages and water scarcity to pictorial references of Ethiopian culture and the lives of women.

Her acclaimed 2020 series The Road of Glory, commissioned for the Nobel Peace Prize exhibition, will also be on show at the gallery in Dubai. As an African artist showing in the UAE, the exhibition is proof of the art world’s evolving landscape. “This exhibition is a way to promote cultural exchange between Africa and the Middle East,” Kwame Mintah, founder of Efie Gallery, tells The Monocle Minute. Here’s to expanding horizons.

Image: Rodrigo Navarro

Monocle 24 / Monocle On Design

Tatiana Bilbao, Vitra, Pith

Renowned architect Tatiana Bilbao shares some insights on her practice and we tour Vitra’s London showroom. Plus: the founders of paper and stationery brand Pith pay us a visit.

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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