Wednesday 17 May 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Wednesday. 17/5/2023

The Monocle Minute

Image: Alamy

Opinion / Carlota Rebelo

Finding new purpose

A building’s legacy lasts for far longer than its original identity. Across Europe and indeed much of the world, symbols of dictatorships, fascism and brutal wars are scattered across cities and can be seen in train stations, friezes and statues. It’s no surprise that, for municipalities and local governments, the question of what to do with one’s controversial building stock is a tricky one to answer.

Berlin has been grappling with the problem for the past 33 years as it debates the future of the city’s former Stasi headquarters (pictured). The vast complex comprises more than 100,000 sq m of office space in a prime location, sitting directly on the U5 U-Bahn line in Lichtenberg. In a city with a significant housing shortage, it’s no wonder that the issue of what to do with the building is a contentious one. Yet reluctant owners and bureaucracy continue to prevent any serious urban intervention from going ahead. In 2020 local authorities announced that the area would be known as a “Campus for Democracy” and become home to archives and an open-air exhibition space (alongside the existing Stasi museum), leaving the rest of the vast, vacant office complex boarded up.

This is a process replicated by other European nations. In Italy, for example, the Palazzo Della Civiltà Italiana was built as a celebration of fascist architecture, yet now houses the headquarters of fashion powerhouse Fendi. It can be hard to decide what to do with controversial urban legacies; there are emotions, history and social aspects to consider. But is allowing such buildings to sit empty instead of claiming them back for your city really the right thing to do? There’s a lesson here. Taking something from a dark period of a nation’s past and turning it into something new has the potential to create a brighter future.

Carlota Rebelo is Monocle Radio’s senior foreign correspondent and the producer of ‘The Urbanist’, Monocle Radio’s weekly podcast dedicated to cities and the built environment. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.

Image: Reuters


League leaders

Yesterday the UAE invited Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad (pictured), to attend the Cop28 climate summit in Dubai this November. The invitation comes as Syria officially returns to the Arab League in preparation for this Friday’s summit in Riyadh. The Assad regime had been in diplomatic isolation for more than a decade as a result of its brutal attacks on civilians following the pro-democracy uprising in 2011. The country remains subject to extensive sanctions from the EU, the US and others. But, according to Bill Law, editor of the Arab Digest, Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been the main drivers in normalising relations between Syria and the rest of the Arab League. “The two countries are eyeing up the opportunity to gain a large slice of Syria’s reconstruction pie, which is worth anywhere between $250bn (€230bn) and $400bn (€368bn), as well as the regional influence that comes with it,” Law tells The Monocle Minute. “Inviting Assad to Cop28 provides a way for them to signal their support for him while moving in on that prize.”

Image: Alamy


Pact and ready

The US has announced plans to sign strategic pacts with Papua New Guinea and Micronesia next week in a move to deter Pacific island nations from closer security ties with China. Papua New Guinea’s prime minister, James Marape, confirmed that the deal would give US armed forces uninhibited access to his country’s territorial waters and airspace.

Joe Biden was originally set to meet with both Marape and Micronesia’s president, Wesley Simina, in Papua New Guinea on Monday after this week’s G7 summit, in what would be the first visit by a sitting US president to the Pacific island nation. However, Biden's trip was postponed to a later date – yet to be announced – due to ongoing negotiations in Washington aiming to avoid a looming US debt default. “The US wants to signal that the region is a strategic priority,” Australian journalist Latika Bourke tells The Monocle Minute. “For decades this has been an area largely left to countries such as Australia but the presence of the US almost feels like an admission that Australia has dropped the ball.”

Image: Alamy

Business / FRANCE

Charm offensive

On Monday, France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, hosted 200 international business leaders including Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk (pictured, second from right, opposite Macron), during the sixth annual Choose France summit in an attempt to boost foreign investment in his country’s economy. Macron announced 28 new projects – with particular emphasis on greener technology and electric vehicles – that are worth a total of €13bn and expected to create 8,000 jobs in the country. According to a survey by Ernst & Young, France remains the most successful European country at securing international investment per capita but whether this is enough to repair Macron’s credibility at home remains to be seen.

“The summit was a speed-dating party attended by some of the most powerful movers and shakers in the business world,” Monocle’s Paris correspondent, Tom Burges Watson, tells The Monocle Minute. “These kinds of numbers have made for some welcome headlines after months of unrest over the pension reform plan. Not to mention that glowing endorsement from Musk, who says that he is very impressed by the direction that the country is heading in.”

Image: Alamy


Baby – one more time?

This week China introduced a series of measures to boost the nation’s slowing birth rate and encourage people to marry and have more than one child. Less than 10 years ago, China’s one-child policy meant that people could be fined for having a second child. Now childbearing is rewarded with tax incentives, housing subsidies and even free or subsidised education for a third child. However, China isn’t the only Asian nation that is struggling with dwindling birth rates. Here are three major Asian countries’ strategies to stave off population decline.

South Korea: In 2020 the city of Busan began offering discounts on taxi fares for pregnant women and new mothers; last year Seoul distributed vouchers worth two million won (€1,440) to parents of newborns.

Singapore: This year Singapore has announced new benefits for parents, including tax relief, expanded paternity leave and a cash gift of up to SG$13,000 (€9,108) for parents of newborns.

Japan: The government is offering ¥1m (€6,926) per child to families to relocate from Tokyo to other parts of the country, hoping that more young people living outside the capital will counteract the effects of a rapidly ageing population.

For more agenda-setting stories, pick up the May issue of Monocle, which is on sale now. Or subscribe to Monocle so you never miss an issue.

Image: Victoria Cagol

Monocle Radio / The Menu

From Michelin stars to markets

Monocle’s Ed Stocker speaks to Riccardo Gaspari and Ludovica Rubbini, the duo behind Michelin-starred restaurant Sanbrite in the Dolomites. Also in the programme: Naomi Xu Elegant heads to the newly opened Salt & Palm restaurant in Singapore and Markus Hippi is joined by Martin Barry, founder and CEO of Manifesto Market, a hospitality brand based in Prague. Plus, the week’s top food and drink headlines.

Monocle Films / Paris

Swimming in the Seine

As Paris embarks on a project to clean up the Seine ahead of the 2024 Olympic Games, we look at the process of readying the city’s river for its water-seeking dwellers, explore how it could affect the city and meet the guerilla urban swimmers who welcome the move.


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