Let’s Get Down to McBarcelona? End of Rent Controls ‘Risks Creating Identikit Metropolis’!

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Since the 1990s – and as exemplified by the classic Les Plasticines track Let’s Get Down to Barcelona – the capital of Catalonia has been a preferred destination for creatives from all over the world. Barcelona is one of those relatively rare cities that seems to have used the opportunities from hosting a major sporting competition – the 1992 Summer Olympics – exceptionally well: everything from its swift and well-designed public transportation to Barcelona’s many and varied leisure facilities evince a world-level metropolis, an incredible achievement given its reputation just thirty years ago as an unattractive and unremarkable Mediterranean port city.

However, one of Barcelona’s most cherished features – its superb range of varied, independent retail offerings – is under assault from a 1994 law that is presently coming into force across Spain. This law – which, ironically, was passed by the socialist government of Felipe González Márquez – mandates the end of rent controls for commercial premises from 2014, and the results have been predictable: landlords’ demands in central Barcelona neighbourhoods have escalated skywards. Space which cost €1,000.00 per month is now being offered at €7,000.00, €8,000.00 or even €35,000.00 for just thirty days’ occupation; given that no one but the biggest international brands can pay this kind of money, Barcelona is swiftly becoming colonised and McDonaldized.

The dangers of Barcelona becoming just like any other major international city are many, but two in particular stand out. Firstly, the almost inevitable cultural homogenisation which will ensue is a genuinely sad development, and hardly befitting of a city synonymous with some of the great art movements of the last century. However, given that Barcelona and other Spanish cities confronting similar pressures are located in a country where youth unemployment refuses to fall below 50% and capitalism as traditionally conceived is but a distant memory, a law which wildly jacks up the price of commercial space overnight hardly seems designed to encourage nascent entrepreneurship. A rethink on a piece of legislation has rarely been more appropriate – or urgent.

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Inevitable is Nothing: Europe’s Largest Economy Abolishes Tuition Fees!

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Observations On Incheon, 2014: Does Life Now Resemble Comic Book Art?

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Asian Games 2014 Analysis: When Will Asia Catch Up With Europe?

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Following the dictum of Swedish authors Jonas Ridderstråle and Kjell A. Nordström – that we watch television to figure ourselves out – our Creative Director & CSO recently found himself on a front room floor next to a vintage Toshiba set approaching midnight. Cereal bowl in hand, he had been viewing a 24-hour news network long enough for the same items to be entering their third cycle, but he was transfixed by news of the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, a competition that – like so much coming out of Asia over the past few decades – resembles the future for the entire planet.

The 2014 Asian Games – the seventeenth edition of the competition since its inception after the Second World War – tells us much about where Asia is heading. The television and Internet presentation is iconic and aesthetically pleasing. The facilities and infrastructure are first-class. Even second-tier cities in countries such as South Korea now boast glittering metro systems.

But when it comes to actual athletic and organisational standards, many Asian countries are still punching vastly below their weight. Look away from the top of the medal table – which is predictably occupied by the A3 states of China, Japan and Korea Republic – and the medal count of nations such as India, Indonesia and Pakistan starts to look distinctly worrying. In a ‘flat’ and arguably increasingly heterarchical world, it is increasingly difficult for naturally wealthy countries with populations in the hundreds of millions to justify the unnecessarily inefficacious state of their societies.

The twenty-first century may already be the Asian Century. However, if the continent as a whole is serious about competing with Europe on a sporting level, much remains to be done. The immediate challenge is for 2018 Asian Games hosts Indonesia to put on a decent performance when the show rolls in to Jakarta in four years’ time; while medal tallies can be misleading, drastic underachievement remains a warning signal to the world that all is not right.

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Lost Generation: Finland Donation Exposes Chasm in Syria Refugee #Education Provision!

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Hacked Off: Does the iPhone 6 Foreshadow a Post-Snowden Consumer Electronics Universe?

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One of the more interesting stories that we at Mediolana have been poring over in recent days has been the revelation that the iPhone 6 – a device which has so far made headlines mostly for its purportedly malleable case – is causing concern at the highest level of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (‘FBI’). This is because the ninth iteration of Apple’s iconic mobile handset is also its most secure: the phone’s encryption of emails, photographs and contacts is so comprehensive that Apple will not be able to hand over anything particularly substantive to a law enforcement or intelligence agency in the event of an investigation.

Whether Apple’s claims about the impracticability of trying to crack the iPhone 6’s encryption prove to be correct or not, James B. Comey – a distinguished alumnus of the University of Chicago’s law school and the director of the FBI – is clearly concerned enough to be making pronouncements about the dangers of companies manufacturing and marketing electronic devices that ‘allow people to hold themselves above the law’. Comey may have a point, but after some consideration, we believe that there are at least three even more salient issues that have arisen from this perhaps unexpected iPhone 6 USP:

  1. The Value of Privacy. The iPhone 6 signals that there is an economic value to privacy: consumers will be willing to pay more (or at least allocate their disposable income in a different way) on the basis of whether their data will remain just that. Moreover, in large markets whose jurisdictions are wary of US espionage – think Angela Merkel – the ability of American companies to do business in those countries may depend on their meeting certain encryption standards.
  2. Competing on Security. Google has already announced that the forthcoming version of its own mobile operating system, Android, will have encryption as the default setting. With companies seeking to outdo each other on the impenetrability of their offerings, the conflict between the requirements of consumers and the level of access desired by national or international agencies is likely to intensify in the future.
  3. Trust. With ever-more private and sensitive data being stored on mobile devices, perceived breaches of trust could have significant economic consequences – as well as impacting brand equity. In the notoriously volatile smart devices market, today’s ubiquitous phone is tomorrow’s museum piece – and security may be a key determinant of which manufacturer is next to end up in the bankruptcy courts.

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Voting to Reverse the Decline? Sweden Election Result ‘Decided By Education Policy’!

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