Monday 5 June 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Monday. 5/6/2023

The Monocle Minute

Image: Reuters

Opinion / Christopher Lord

Downtown on the up

The TV adaptation of Fatal Attraction just ended in the US and the finale of this tale of infidelity was perhaps not its most surprising twist. In the retelling, the setting shifted from 1980s New York to the grand law offices, packed diners and after-work boozers of downtown Los Angeles in the early 2000s. It was inadvertently nostalgic for a time when every big firm wanted an office in the urban core.

The picture is quite different today. Downtown Los Angeles just clocked a record 30 per cent vacancy rate for its offices, almost half the occupancy that it had pre-pandemic. The Californian city is not alone – Atlanta has a comparable glut of empty office space, with Washington, Chicago and Philadelphia not far behind. The outlook appears bleak but, in Los Angeles at least, I see signs of an urban transformation happening.

The offices aren’t going to fill up again anytime soon but downtown is becoming a place where people go to have fun instead. There’s a palpable bustle in the bars as well as a steady stream of decent hotels, galleries and retail destinations opening up.

Some quarters are still edgy and the city hasn’t got a grip on homelessness. Yet in the evenings, the streets downtown are not deserted as they were 18 months ago and more people are moving here in search of cheaper rents – a consequence, in part, of relaxed zoning rules that have allowed developers to convert fallow office blocks into homes. San Francisco, the other poster child for downtown deterioration, is only just getting on board with this. A recent report, co-authored by architecture firm Gensler, found that 40 per cent of central San Francisco would be ripe for residential development. Downtown America is in the throes of a painful transition but if it can find its new attraction then this doesn’t have to be fatal.

Christopher Lord is Monocle’s US editor. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.

Image: Reuters

Politics / Brazil

Presidential beefs

Brazil’s right-leaning lower house has stripped powers from the country’s new Ministry of Indigenous Peoples and Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change – a move that directly opposes President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s progressive agenda. The change, which will prevent both government bodies from legalising the boundaries of any new indigenous territories and managing a register that is a key tool for monitoring illegal deforestation, is largely a result of lobbying by the country’s “beef caucus”, which believes Lula’s reforms would harm agribusiness exports. Putting a damper on hopes that Brazil could reverse former president Jair Bolsonaro’s devastating environmental policies, the move is also a reminder that many of the groups that backed the conservative leader still hold power and influence. Turning the page, it seems, may prove harder than Lula initially thought.

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / USA & Norway

Come in from the cold

The US has announced plans to open its northernmost diplomatic station later this year. As revealed by the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, the diplomatic mission in Tromsø, Norway, will be his country’s only one north of the Arctic Circle. The outpost will house a singular diplomat, acting as consul, who, according to Blinken, will work with “like-minded allies” to advance the country’s vision of “a peaceful, stable and cooperative Arctic.”

In 1994, following the end of the Cold War, the US State Department shuttered its previous Tromsø base. This resumption in activity signals a hotting up in the previously peaceful Arctic region. It also indicates a growing divide between the hitherto communicative Arctic Council members, who have shut out Russia following its invasion of Ukraine. While this is a small diplomatic manoeuvre, it highlights a renewed geostrategic importance for the region.

Image: Luke O'Donovan

Architecture / London

Playful approach

The London Festival of Architecture is now in full swing, taking place across the UK capital until 30 June. With more than 400 events, including talks, studio visits and workshops, it’s a chance to explore iconic buildings and forgotten corners of the city. “On one hand, it’s about celebrating London as a global hub for architecture,” the festival’s director, Rosa Rogina, tells The Monocle Minute. “But equally it’s about providing a space where all people are empowered to dream big and think creatively about their city.”

One project meeting this brief is Urban Playground (pictured), a temporary installation by London-based studio McCloy + Muchemwa. Located at Fen Court in the heart of London’s business district, the project’s design is inspired by children’s toys and intended to encourage moments of amusement. If it is truly successful, it will also encourage people to consider how the city can be better designed to enhance the ways that we live, work and play.

Image: Tobea/Seatrac

Technology / Greece

Uplifting experience

At this time of year, daydreams of sun-soaked afternoons spent by the sea become a reality. But for people who use wheelchairs, trips to the beach – and dips in the water – can be extremely difficult without help. Greek company Tobea is looking to change that. The firm’s latest invention, Seatrac, aims to make beaches more accessible through the implementation of mechanised bathing chairs that lift users in and out of the water via a remote control.

A roll-out, co-funded by the Greek government and the European Regional Development Fund, will see Seatrac systems installed at 220 beaches across the country this summer. With more than 30 million tourists visiting Greece and its islands every year, this move is long overdue. Also operational in Italy, Cyprus and Latvia, Seatrac has plans to launch in new markets later this year – including the UK, US, Spain and Turkey.

Image: Alamy

Monocle Radio / The Urbanist

The Fiat Tagliero Building, Asmara

Isabella Jewell explores how colonialism shaped the distinctly Italian architecture of the Eritrean capital.


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