Wednesday 5 June 2024 - Monocle Minute | Monocle

Wednesday. 5/6/2024

The Monocle Minute

The Opinion

Image: Alamy


By tightening up its drug laws, Portland is prioritising residents’ safety and wellbeing

Last weekend, Portland’s 117th Rose Festival saw a parade of floats, marching bands, dance troupes and colourful specimens of the city’s signature flower. The uplifting scene in Oregon’s largest city, which has previously featured in Monocle’s Quality of Life survey, comes after a sharp downturn. Restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic, as well as violent racial-justice protests, hollowed out the city centre in 2020. Recovery was hampered that year by the decision to decriminalise hard drugs. Thankfully, the city’s misguided experiment – decriminalise first, set up treatment later – is coming to an end.

For three years, Portland has suffered the consequences of this popular but poorly implemented initiative. Eliminating penalties for hard drugs while fentanyl flooded the streets spawned a grim scene. Drug dealers preyed on users of the highly addictive drug, who smoked themselves into a stupor on sidewalks and in parks. In theory, law enforcement could prod drug users into treatment with civil infractions. But without the threat of jail time, addicts flouted the law with impunity. During the first two years of the experiment, only 36 people voluntarily underwent a health screening – the first step towards treatment. Oregon’s legislature voted to recriminalise drug possession in March, 10 months after lawmakers in the state of Washington did the same. In May, British Columbia’s lawmakers instituted a sensible prohibition on public drug use. All three jurisdictions will suspend harsher punishments if addicts enrol in treatment.

These decisions are overdue acknowledgement that elected officials must prioritise the majority. In Oregon’s case, a study trip to Portugal, much publicised as the country that legalised drugs, revealed how the Iberian country employs both carrots and sticks to address drug addiction. A generation ago, Monocle’s perennial Quality of Life nominee Zürich was home to Europe’s worst open-air drug market. Platzspitz was known as “needle park” for its sprawling heroin scene. Today it’s a delightful riverfront park next to the Swiss National Museum and Zürich Hauptbahnhof. There is still hope for similar transformations in West Coast cities such as Portland; the first step is admitting that there is a problem.

Gregory Scruggs is Monocle’s Seattle correspondent. For more opinion, analysis and insight, subscribe to Monocle today.

The Briefings

Badge of honour: Australia’s foreign-recruit drive

Image: Alamy

Defence / Australia

Australia recruits foreigners to bolster its armed forces

The Australian Defence Force is experiencing a significant shortfall in recruitment so it has announced this week that it will soon allow recruits from foreign countries to enter its ranks. Starting in July, New Zealand nationals who have lived in Australia for at least a year can apply to join. Come January, this will be extended to those from Canada, the US and UK, all nations that are part of an intelligence-sharing network.

New recruits will be able to apply for citizenship after three months of service. Some ministers have hinted that this could be opened up to permanent residents from any nation in the future. With instability brewing across the South China Sea and the Korean Peninsula, the country is doing what it can to bolster its defence force.

Image: Micromobility Europe

Mobility / Amsterdam

Micromobility Europe: good things come in small packages

The world’s largest conference dedicated to small vehicles starts today in Amsterdam. More than 75 international speakers and 1,000 attendees, ranging from company founders and manufacturers to developers and city authorities are expected at this year’s edition of Micromobility Europe. As cities around the world continue to find ways to improve transport connections and commutes, many are turning to lightweight vehicles, such as bicycles or scooters, as sustainable solutions.

The two-day event will explore how micromoblity can shape our urban environments in the long term, with sessions on e-bike regulations and last-mile delivery solutions. For those who think that there’s no fun to be had in micro, think twice: there’s even a talk on the intersection between micromobility and motor sports.

Tourism / Japan

Shibuya plans to bottle up street-drinking for good

Japanese authorities have announced that an ordinance restricting street-drinking in Tokyo’s Shibuya district on public holidays could be extended to a year-round ban. The self-governed ward is considering expanding the scope of the law in a bid to curb overtourism. This March, more than three million overseas visitors came to Japan in a single month for the first time. Authorities have also cited an increase in littering, sound pollution and obstruction of traffic as reasons for the change. There is currently no penalty for street-drinking in Shibuya – and it’s unclear whether an emboldening of patrols will be enough to combat the issue.

Beyond the Headlines

The List / Urban planning

How cities are harnessing technology to future-proof urban environments

The latest episode of ‘The Urbanist’ on Monocle Radio, shares three lessons on how urban-predictability data can help us design, plan and build better cities.

1. Pearl: Person-Environment-Activity Research Laboratory
This new research centre funded by University College London is one of the world’s most advanced simulation facilities and has drawn the interest of film studios, as well as architects, urban designers and neuroscientists. It simulates real urban environments under controlled conditions, manipulating variables such as ground, lighting, soundscape and smell, to examine how people interact with city spaces.

2. Bloomberg Philanthropies’s City AI Connect
The ability of artificial-intelligence software to quickly churn through data and make predictions based on its findings could prove helpful for countries around the world. Bloomberg Philanthropies has launched City AI Connect, a new tool that helps planners to learn from each other’s data and aid each other in finding solutions to urban problems.

3. ‘Digital Structures: Data and Urban Strategies of the Civic Future’
Architect and designer Wendy Fok’s recent book explores how the digital world can help to safeguard cities from future risks. Focusing on digital approaches to urban design, it examines how these can help predict how we live in cities that are better prepared for potential threats.

To hear more about these urbanism initiatives, tune in to the latest episode of ‘The Urbanist’ on Monocle Radio.

Monocle Radio / Monocle on Design

David Rockwell, repurposing seafood waste, Tom Fereday

Architect David Rockwell reflects on his 40-year career, during which he has created a sense of drama through design, both on and off stage. We also meet emerging designers turning seafood waste into glassware and fashion. Plus: product-and-furniture designer Tom Fereday shares how the Australian industry continues to flourish.


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