Thursday 13 July 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Thursday. 13/7/2023

The Monocle Minute

Image: Alamy

Opinion / Gregory Scruggs

Clean start

In September my daughter will enrol in a bilingual preschool in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District. On paper, the plan is an urbanist’s fantasy: we will cycle to the school via a “neighbourhood greenway”, a street designed to slow traffic. Once she’s inside the preschool’s seven-storey mixed-use building and I have locked my bike away, a nearby subway station will whisk me away to wherever my day leads.

On the flipside, we have to cycle past one of Seattle’s worst spots where drugs and stolen goods are openly sold on the street. Despite $1bn (€924m) of municipal expenditure on shelters and housing in the past decade, rubbish-strewn encampments – a magnet for gun violence – sprawl nearby. Sporadic police presence and infrequent arrests do little to deter the grim scene, while social-worker outreach barely makes a dent. This deadly cocktail plagues many US cities.

To fix this situation, we need urban politics to look beyond blinkered divisions. Republicans tout law and order, though they are hostile to public transport and social housing. And most municipal elections pit moderate Democrats against progressive ones. While the moderates have shown a willingness to confront urban ills, their good intentions are not enough. The progressives have abandoned the dead-end slogan “defund the police” but they still resist hiring more cops, prosecuting drug crimes and stepping up involuntary commitment. As a result, there is no political home for citizens who want increased investment in quality urbanism and stronger action on street disorder. My city feels cleaner and safer in the 18 months since mayor Bruce Harrell (pictured) took office but he shows little appetite for more housing or new rail lines.

Local leaders must prioritise the needs of the citizens who make cities vibrant. If smoking fentanyl on buses deters commuters, remove those involved. If the escalating cost of cleaning graffiti pushes shopkeepers out of business, prosecute vandalism ordinances. Compassion and tolerance, while noble ideals, have left citizens questioning the viability of their hometowns. If we want to save our cities, it takes the moral and political courage to say no.

Gregory Scruggs is a journalist based in Seattle and a regular Monocle contributor. For more city fixes, pick up the July/August issue of Monocle, or subscribe so you never miss an issue.

Image: Getty Images

Affairs / Global

United front

The shuttle bus that ferried journalists from downtown Vilnius to the Nato summit was emblazoned with a picture of a fighter jet soaring over a blue-and-gold banner and the caption: “While you are waiting for this bus, Ukraine is waiting for F-16s.” Across the city, the Ukrainian flag flew from pretty much everything that you could fly a flag from: cars, windows, streetlamps, balconies and the occasional dog. It was inevitable that the key lessons of the summit, which closed yesterday, would be Ukraine-focused.

Here are three things that we learned:

Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, is beyond doubt the most important European political figure of this century so far. It is quite an achievement to turn up at the summit of an organisation of which your country is not even a member and be the undisputed centre of attention.

Russia’s rampage in Ukraine is felt more viscerally by countries close to its borders. Lithuania and fellow Baltic states Latvia and Estonia understand that it could have been them, had they not taken shelter beneath Nato’s umbrella in 2004.

If you want Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to do something, give him a stage. Last year, during the Nato summit in Madrid, Erdogan acquiesced to inviting Finland and Sweden to join at the last possible minute. This year, he cleaned up the day-one headlines by dropping Turkey’s objections to Sweden’s accession. Amusingly, the announcement by Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orbán, that his country would also welcome Sweden elicited a resounding “whatever”.

Image: Alamy

Diplomacy / USA & China

Weathering the change

The US climate envoy, John Kerry will make an official visit to China later this week to discuss the climate crisis with his Chinese counterpart, Xie Zhenhua (pictured, on right with Kerry). Kerry’s trip is the third by a senior US official to the country in recent weeks, after the Treasury secretary, Janet Yellen, visited earlier this month and the secretary of state, Antony Blinken, did so in June.

US-China climate talks were suspended last year after Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan but, according to analysts, there are reasons to hope for their renewal. “Kerry and Xie know and trust each other, having worked together for a long time,” Isabel Hilton, founder of China Dialogue, tells The Monocle Minute. “Both will be looking for opportunities to talk in an otherwise bleak landscape. They could revive the joint work on methane emissions that was agreed upon in Glasgow but suspended after the Pelosi visit. But I doubt that we will ever see the depth of co-operation that we saw under Barack Obama.”

Image: New New York Plan

Urbanism / USA

Building back better

New York is making its streets more accessible to pedestrians and cyclists with a series of projects headed by its first-ever chief public realms officer. Ya-Ting Liu was appointed to the position earlier this year and handed the task of improving the city as a place to live and work.

With a budget of $375m (€340m), Liu is working alongside city officials to install public plazas on congested streets, widen pavements and create more traffic-free spaces. The city recently announced a separate $500m (€453m) investment in Broadway Junction station to make it more accessible with additional escalators, elevators and pedestrian plazas. Cities across the US will be keeping a close eye on the effect of these projects on New York’s quality of life.

Image: Shutterstock

Fashion / Spain

Heading west

Spanish fashion giant Inditex – which owns Zara, Massimo Dutti and Pull&Bear, among others – recently announced plans to expand further into the US, where it is currently working on more than 30 retail projects. The company plans to renovate its flagship shops in New York, Boston and San Francisco, while opening new spaces across the country, including in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

According to its CEO, Óscar Garcia Maceiras (pictured), the US has the most untapped potential for the business, which is already well established across Europe. Inditex also set a series of sustainability targets, with the aim of achieving net-zero emissions by 2040. Such goals are usually at odds with a business’s expansion plans but, by investing in higher-quality materials and exploring alternative revenue streams, the company is separating itself from its high-street competitors.

Image: Alamy

Monocle Radio / The Menu

Nizamuddin, Delhi

This week we walk through the historic 13th-century neighbourhood of Nizamuddin in Delhi, India, where every nook and cranny is redolent with the hallmarks of Mughlai cuisine. Our guide is Delhi insider Geetanjali Krishna.

Monocle Films / Affairs

Keeping the faith

In this digital age, do we need more forgiveness and sacrifice in our lives? And where can we look for guidance? Monocle Films sat down with Archbishop Elpidophoros of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America to find out how the church strives to address contemporary needs and remain relevant in Greek society today.


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