Wednesday 4 October 2023 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Wednesday. 4/10/2023

The Monocle Minute

The Opinion

Good jeans: Daniel Lurie submits his mayoral bid

Image: Alamy


Outside looking in

San Francisco’s problems with crime, retail theft and homelessness have made it a convenient punching bag for critics of the Democratic Party, which has governed city hall since the 1960s. Now, its mayor, London Breed, a party insider with 20 years in local government, faces a strong challenge to her 2024 re-election bid from a political outsider, one with ties to a historic San Francisco company.

Daniel Lurie may not be a household name in political circles but he is an heir to the fortune of Levi Strauss & Co, famous for its blue jeans and ties to the city, which stretch back to 1853. Last week, Lurie, a philanthropist and anti-poverty campaigner, announced his candidacy, arguing that San Francisco needed a “new era of leadership from the outside.”

Democratic politics in the city have focused on promoting from within: the former mayor, Willie Brown, was a skilled political operator and keen to help protégés such as Breed rise through the ranks. California governor Gavin Newsom and US vice president Kamala Harris are among other mentees. As a one-time resident of the city who worked for a daily paper during Brown’s tenure, I am reluctant to say that this cliquish approach to governing has served it well.

On my last two visits to San Francisco, I was welcomed by scenes of public urination and drug use on street corners. Office vacancy rates are at a record high. Breed argues that she is fighting for progress and has even tried to advocate for a Republican-style initiative to make welfare recipients take drug tests. Yet she faces an uphill climb, with two-thirds of residents maintaining an unfavourable view of her administration. Though Lurie is a registered Democrat, he sees himself as a centrist with support from the all-important tech sector – one without ties to the political establishment that has failed to properly address the city’s chronic problems.

Ivan Carvalho is Monocle’s Milan correspondent and a native of California. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.


Emergency responders enter the Siam Paragon mall

Image: Getty Images

Tourism / Thailand

Safe travels?

One of the new Thai government’s strategies is to use tourism to kickstart its country’s faltering economy. Yesterday, the prime minister, Srettha Thavisin, spoke at a conference in Bangkok about the success of his administration’s decision to waive visa requirements for Chinese passport holders. According to Thavisin, hotel bookings are up 6,000 per cent compared to the same period last year – a staggering figure that underlines Thailand’s economic reliance on Chinese tourists.

The visa-free policy, which came into effect last week on the eve of China’s annual mid-autumn holiday, is part of a series of “high impact, quick wins” designed to support struggling Thai households, which also include cash handouts and caps on energy prices. But the strategy will be tested by news that an armed teenager killed two people and injured several more inside Siam Paragon, one of Bangkok’s most popular luxury shopping malls. The dramatic scenes will do the rounds on Chinese social media and Thavisin will now have to find a quick way of restoring the nation’s image as a safe destination without resorting to the armed guards and airport-style-security measures deployed in other parts of Southeast Asia.

Tall order: construction workers on the roof of the Olympic Stadium, Athens

Image: Getty Images

Urbanism / Greece

Blame game

The decision by Greek authorities to shut down Athens’s iconic Olympic Stadium this week has placed a spotlight on the country’s poor infrastructure management and sparked criticism over the conservative government’s promise to revamp it in 2021. The 70,000-seat venue was opened in 1982 but its famed steel dome, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, was added just before the country hosted the 2004 Summer Olympics.

A recent investigation found that a number of critical hazards were attributed not to the initial construction but rather poor maintenance that authorities had deemed too costly to carry out. While Greece’s opposition leader, Stefanos Kasselakis, jumped at the opportunity to brand this a wider “symbol of a country that is collapsing on all levels”, the government reminded critics that it had instigated the investigation. But while both sides blame one another for the upkeep of a structure that has surpassed each of their government tenures, it would be far worthier to focus on keeping the flame of the 2004 Olympic legacy alive.

Affairs / The Vatican

Faith in the future

As Pope Francis opens the Synod of Bishops today at the Vatican – a global gathering of Catholic bishops and laypeople discussing the future of the church – the role of women within the church will take centre stage for the first time. There is hope among progressive Catholics that this Synod, and a second session next year, could lead to real change for women and their ability to vote on ecclesiastical matters. The reforms come as Pope Francis also expressed openness to Catholic blessings for same-sex couples this week, under the condition that they are not confused with marriage ceremonies for men and women. “Today’s Synod indicates a desire to reach beyond the closed circles of the church and raise a series of discussions, which are likely to continue over a couple of years,” journalist and filmmaker, Mellissa Fung, tells The Monocle Minute. “But it’s also likely to annoy traditionalists, as well as frustrate progressives and liberals, as the Pope is trying to walk a middle path.”

Beyond the Headlines

Hublot Design Prize-winner, Aqui Thami, on right

The List / Design

Out on top

The Hublot Design Prize 2023, a coveted international award ceremony for up-and-coming designers, took place this week at the Kunsthaus Museum in Zürich. Young talents are judged for the quality of their work, which addresses the challenges of society, the environment, equality and inclusion. Here are the six finalists, including this year’s winner:

1. Aqui Thami
This year’s award went to the Bombay-based contemporary artist whose work reflects the visual and cultural influences of her Indigenous upbringing.

2. Deema Assaf
Assaf’s craft has evolved from landscape architecture to urban forestry and interrogates urbanisation in a different light.

3. Gabriel Fontana
Based between Rotterdam and Paris, Fontana’s work investigates social norms, human behaviour and relationships.

4. Jibbe van Schie
Focused on the relationship between material and machine, Van Schie develops every stage in the production process of his work, building machine parts, creating software and assembling electronics.

5. Germane Barnes
Barnes examines architecture by considering it within the framework of colonisation and identity.

6. Trifle Studio
The UK’s first multidisciplinary design practice composed exclusively of artists with learning disabilities, Trifle Studio creates textiles, homeware and illustrations.

Image: Shutterstock

Monocle Radio / Monocle On Culture

Short stories

We explore the medium of short stories through the prism of two new collections by UK writers. Tessa Hadley’s new book, After the Funeral, is characteristically full of sharp observations about personal and familial relationships. Meanwhile, Lawrence Osborne’s Burning Angel and Other Stories is the first collection of short stories from the novelist, in which characters find themselves up against forces that they can’t control.


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