5 ideas for making Notre Dame even better than before

A sketch of Notre Dame cathedral circa 1850

President Macron has pledged to rebuild Notre-Dame stone for stone in just five years and make it “even better than before”. His prime minister Edouard Philippe has recently announced an international architecture competition to rebuild the spire. French billionaires have valiantly entered into a philanthropic bidding war to become le grandest fromage to sponsor the re-bolstering of Our Lady of Paris, raising €800m.

Apple is one of the global corporations that’s publicly pledged to help, and the US has managed to find some spare change down the back of the sofa, even though Puerto Rico spent 11 months without power and Flint still has no clean water.

Never mind that Notre-Dame cathedral had begged for a paltry €150 million to shore up its rotting stone and repair the ravages wrought by acid rain, the money has now arrived. All it took was a little live-streamed iconoclasm – a relic-stuffed spire toppling into a raging inferno – to get the charitable impulses flowing. 

While academics and historians argue over which version of Notre Dame is more authentic, I’m sure the 1 per cent might have some pointers on more profit-orientated options for a site.

Given the impressive track record that those with accumulated wealth have when it comes to public space, we can make a few educated guesses about the future direction that Notre-Dame could take to capitalise on this prime plot of Paris property.

1. A luxury concept shop

Bricks and mortar shops are having a hard time up against Jeff Bezos and his warehouses of wrist band-tagged workers. You need to offer a whole lot of Instagram experience to pry would-be buyers off their sofas and away from their Amazon Prime accounts. L’Oreal, LVMH and Dior, whose owner-families have all donated to the Notre Dame fund, would know.

Luxe brands are resorting to salesperson sorcery in the pivot from bricks-to-clicks; a concept store amidst the ruins of the scorched stones would mark the natural evolution of influencer culture meets disaster porn. 


A model outside Dior in Paris. Image: Getty.

2. Or just an Apple store

Apple is bucking the trend of hight street misery. Its gleaming glass churches, filled with Genius Bar acolytes, continue to attract devoted throngs. 

If the Catholic Church is worried about losing its flock, why not embrace the enrapturing effect of new technology? An iPhone in the hand is worth two in the burning bush, as they say. Charging ports on pews could come in handy during long services or tourist queues to see the restored relics. 

Besides, now that activists in Australia have mobilised to have Melbourne’s Federation Square nominated as a heritage site, there’s a cancelled Foster and Partners-designed Apple Store going spare. 


The Apple store opening in Milan. Image: Getty. 

3. Hudson Yards 2.0

Is there a single rich person’s playground that cannot be improved by a retractable roof and a stairway to nowhere™ with some dogdy data ownership laws?

In fact, New York City’s The Shed and The Vessel, architectural equivalents of white elephants, might be better suited to the banks of the Seine.

Kinetic architecture could peel back to reveal the stage set for open-air choral concerts on balmy evenings. The replacement spire might even be improved were it covered in mirrored panels, incorporating a plethora of new vantage points. 


The Vessel in Hudson Yards, New York. Image: Getty.

4. Something Brulalist

Yes, this is an 850-year-old gothic masterpiece that has withstood wars, rebellion, and now the President of the Free World’s inane suggestion to waterbomb a flaming hot stone structure.

True, the survival of Notre-Dame’s most precious relics including the 13th century radiating rose glass windows is largely due to mastel stonemasons. They designed soaring vaults that tugged at heart strings while acting as an ingenious two-way fire break between the roof and the main building.

But really, we all know dastardly modern architects are just itching to turn everything in a morass of concrete. Let them do something weird and modern with those flying buttresses and revel their true villainy.


Clifton Brutalist Cathedral in Bristol. Image: Purcell.

5. A sculpture park

Just put a piece of public art there and write some marketing copy about community, yeah?


Christo Vladimirov Javacheff's Mastaba, Serpentine Lake in London. Image: Getty. 


 

 
 
 
 

What Citymapper’s business plan tells us about the future of Smart Cities

Some buses. Image: David Howard/Wikimedia Commons.

In late September, transport planning app Citymapper announced that it had accumulated £22m in losses, nearly doubling its total loss since the start of 2019. 

Like Uber and Lyft, Citymapper survives on investment funding rounds, hoping to stay around long enough to secure a monopoly. Since the start of 2019, the firm’s main tool for establishing that monopoly has been the “Citymapper Pass”, an attempt to undercut Transport for London’s Oyster Card. 

The Pass was teased early in the year and then rolled out in the spring, promising unlimited travel in zones 1-2 for £31 a week – cheaper than the TfL rate of £35.10. In effect, that means Citymapper itself is paying the difference for users to ride in zones 1-2. The firm is basically subsidising its customers’ travel on TfL in the hopes of getting people hooked on its app. 

So what's the company’s gameplan? After a painful, two-year long attempt at a joint minibus and taxi service – known variously as Smartbus, SmartRide, and Ride – Citymapper killed off its plans at a bus fleet in July. Instead of brick and mortar, it’s taken a gamble on their mobile mapping service with Pass. It operates as a subscription-based prepaid mobile wallet, which is used in the app (or as a contactless card) and operates as a financial service through MasterCard. Crucially, the service offers fully integrated, unlimited travel, which gives the company vital information about how people are actually moving and travelling in the city.

“What Citymapper is doing is offering a door-to-door view of commuter journeys,” says King’s College London lecturer Jonathan Reades, who researches smart cities and the Oyster card. 

TfL can only glean so much data from your taps in and out, a fact which has been frustrating for smart city researchers studying transit data, as well as companies trying to make use of that data. “Neither Uber nor TfL know what you do once you leave their system. But Citymapper does, because it’s not tied to any one system and – because of geolocation and your search – it knows your real origin and destination.” 

In other words, linking ticketing directly with a mapping service means the company can get data not only about where riders hop on and off the tube, but also how they're planning their route, whether they follow that plan, and what their final destination is. The app is paying to discount users’ fares in order to gain more data.

Door-to-door destinations gives a lot more detailed information about a rider’s profile as well: “Citymapper can see that you’re also looking at high-profile restaurant as destinations, live in an address on a swanky street in Hammersmith, and regularly travel to the City.” Citymapper can gain insights into what kind of people are travelling, where they hang out, and how they cluster in transit systems. 

And on top of finding out data about how users move in a city, Citymapper is also gaining financial data about users through ticketing, which reflects a wider trend of tech companies entering into the financial services market – like Apple’s recent foray into the credit card business with Apple Card. Citymapper is willing to take a massive hit because the data related to how people actually travel, and how they spend their money, can do a lot more for them than help the company run a minibus service: by financialising its mapping service, it’s getting actual ticketing data that Google Maps doesn’t have, while simultaneously helping to build a routing platform that users never really have to leave


The integrated transit app, complete with ticket data, lets Citymapper get a sense of flows and transit corridors. As the Guardian points out, this gives Citymapper a lot of leverage to negotiate with smaller transit providers – scooter services, for example – who want to partner with it down the line. 

“You can start to look at ‘up-sell’ and ‘cross-sell’ opportunities,” explain Reades. “If they see that a particular journey or modal mix is attractive then they are in a position to act on that with their various mobility offerings or to sell that knowledge to others. 

“They might sell locational insights to retailers or network operators,” he goes on. “If you put a scooter bay here then we think that will be well-used since our data indicates X; or if you put a store here then you’ll be capturing more of that desirable scooter demographic.” With the rise of electric rideables, Citymapper can position itself as a platform operator that holds the key to user data – acting a lot like TfL, but for startup scooter companies and car-sharing companies.

The app’s origins tell us a lot about the direction of its monetisation strategy. Originally conceived as “Busmapper”, the app used publicly available transit data as the base for its own datasets, privileging transit data over Google Maps’ focus on walking and driving.  From there it was able to hone in on user data and extract that information to build a more efficient picture of the transit system. By collecting more data, it has better grounds for selling that for urban planning purposes, whether to government or elsewhere.

This kind of data-centred planning is what makes smart cities possible. It’s only become appealing to civic governments, Reades explains, since civic government has become more constrained by funding. “The reason its gaining traction with policy-makers is because the constraints of austerity mean that they’re trying to do more with less. They use data to measure more efficient services.”  

The question now is whether Citymapper’s plan to lure riders away from the Oyster card will be successful in the long term. Consolidated routing and ticketing data is likely only the first step. It may be too early to tell how it will affect public agencies like TfL – but right now Citymapper is establishing itself as a ticketing service - gaining valuable urban data, financialising its app, and running up those losses in the process.

When approached for comment, Citymapper claimed that Pass is not losing money but that it is a “growth startup which is developing its revenue streams”. The company stated that they have never sold data, but “regularly engage with transport authorities around the world to help improve open data and their systems”

Josh Gabert-Doyon tweets as @JoshGD.