Wednesday 29 May 2024 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Wednesday. 29/5/2024

The Monocle Minute

The Opinion

Urban spaces and Bratislava mayor Matus Vallo

Urbanism / Andrew Tuck

Start with children: Bratislava and Tirana mayors show why building better cities can be more playful

Bratislava, the plucky capital of Slovakia, has a plan to become the city famed for putting children at the centre of urban planning – and to inspire others to follow suit. Yesterday saw the opening of a two-day summit called Start with Children, with some 50 global practitioners and 600 delegates in attendance. Matus Vallo, Bratislava’s second-term mayor, is an architect by training (and part-time rock musician) but he explained that another achievement changed his perspective on the need for inclusive urbanism: becoming a father. Indeed, parenthood seems to have been a trigger for many of the speakers upping their game in this regard. Vallo also has some powerful backers for his project; Unicef and Bloomberg Philanthropies are among a long list of partners.

Even though providing parents and their children with parks and playgrounds might seem like a simple vote winner, it’s often not. Turning a traffic-clogged square into a pedestrian-only play zone means that car owners have to forgo their liberties. In some cities, this is enough to get people out on the streets demonstrating. Erion Veliaj, mayor of Tirana, has an incredible track record in delivering this kind of change. His presentation, however, contained slides of opponents pulling down playground construction, with one even brandishing a gun. Urbanists have been shoved into the frontline of a polarised debate about the future of our cities but a look at Tirana’s child-filled Skanderbeg Square is a valuable reminder of what’s to be gained when you start with children.

This doesn’t mean that debate should be avoided, that plans should go unexplained, that participatory urbanism shouldn’t try to move people along willingly (even if you then, as Veliaj insisted, do what’s right and not what’s popular). Urbanists and city-makers should also be clear and confident that the changes they propose are for the youngsters in their midst and that children are not just being used as shields for policies that they find tricky to sell to their voters.

Andrew Tuck is Monocle’s editor in chief. Start with Children continues today and will be featured in a forthcoming episode of ‘The Urbanist’. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.

The Briefings

Going against the grain: Thailand attempts to offload surplus rice

Image: Shutterstock

Politics / Thailand

Rice could tip the scale for exiled former Thai premier

Millions of tonnes of rice are exported from Thailand every year. But a small auction of the staple, planned for 17 June, has been making the front pages. The Pheu Thai Party, which was founded by the country’s former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, and leads the current Thai coalition government, is trying to offload surplus rice bought as part of a controversial agricultural subsidy.

It was originally purchased by the Thai government during the tenure of Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra. Her flawed policy, which allowed rice to be purchased from farmers at above-market rates, directly contributed to her removal from power by military coup in 2014 and subsequent exile. The government’s decision to sell the grain has been severely criticised. It has been stored in warehouses for at least 10 years and opponents claim that Thailand’s reputation as a premium rice provider is being jeopardised for political gain. The old rice is one of the major political leftovers from Yingluck’s three-year premiership and a successful auction could clear the path for her to return to Thailand. Until a deal is done, though, media coverage is likely to be kept on the boil.

Aviation / France

Air France’s First Class check-in cleared for takeoff ahead of the Olympics

Air France will inaugurate a dedicated check-in area for its First Class flyers at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle Airport ahead of this summer’s Olympic Games, for which the carrier is an official partner. The new area will include two private lounges, a security checkpoint and three private suites. It promises to exude the city’s characteristic elegance, with furnishings from French designers Pierre Paulin, Charlotte Perriand and Christophe Pillet, as well as a menu by Alain Ducasse and a spa area by Sisley.

La Première guests will be able to enjoy an entirely private check-in experience, from arriving at the terminal to boarding the aircraft via a private passageway. Aside from being a strong business strategy, it is also a smart form of city branding and a good reminder of Paris’s soft-power skills.

Transport / Australia

Queensland unveils low-cost transport trial. But are cheap fares good policy?

The Australian state of Queensland made headlines this week after it announced that all transport fares within and between Brisbane and the Gold Coast will cost just AU$0.50 (€0.31). The move is part of a six-month trial that will begin in August, to coincide with a state-wide election. According to the Queensland government, the fare will cover any trip via train, light rail, ferry or bus in a bid to offset higher costs of living.

But some analysts are sceptical. “Brisbane is a car-dependent city; only one in 10 journeys is made via public transport,” reporter Paul Osborne tells Monocle Radio’s The Briefing. “Low-cost fares might help but we also need frequent, comfortable and reliable transit systems. If you own a car, why not use it?”

For more about Queensland’s announcement, tune in to Tuesday’s episode of ‘The Briefing’ on Monocle Radio.

Beyond the Headlines

The List / Election watch

Poll position

We are almost halfway through a year that will see millions of voters all over the world head to the polls. The next two weeks are packed with significant elections across continents. Here’s what we can expect.

South Africa’s general election, today
Nelson Mandela led the African National Congress (ANC) into power 30 years ago but today’s elections could mark the end of its political dominance. Early polling suggests that the ANC’s vote share could dip below 40 per cent, compared with 57.5 per cent in 2019, following years of complacency, corruption and bad governance. This could result in a weak coalition with rival parties and expose incumbent president Cyril Ramaphosa to a leadership challenge.

Mexico’s presidential election, 2 June
The country will elect its first female president this Sunday. According to latest polls, the former mayor of Mexico City, Claudia Sheinbaum, has the lead. She is also backed by the ruling Morena party. With more than 20,000 congressional and local positions to be decided, it will also be the biggest ballot in Mexico’s history. However, some voters fear that the election will spark violence from cartels.

The European Parliament’s elections, 6 to 9 June
Expect a major shift to the right across the European Parliament. In its most consequential parliamentary elections in EU history, 27 countries will be voting across across four days. A creeping anti-EU sentiment, driven by the issue of migration, will probably dominate proceedings, with Eurosceptic parties predicted to fare well. The vote could be a defining moment for the EU’s future political direction.

Monocle Radio / The Stack

Fine print

This week on The Stack, we speak with the editor in chief of Garden & Gun, a magazine celebrating the American South. We also discuss the Mexican elections with Brian Winter from Americas Quarterly and talk to Liz Schaffer from Lodestars Anthology about the publication’s new book, Slow Travel Britain.


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