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. 


 

 
 
 
 

Segregated playgrounds are just the start: inequality is built into the fabric of our cities

Yet more luxury flats. Image: Getty.

Developers in London have come under scrutiny for segregating people who live in social or affordable housing from residents who pay market rates. Prominent cases have included children from social housing being blocked from using a playground in a new development, and “poor doors” providing separate entrances for social housing residents.

Of course, segregation has long been a reality in cities around the world. For example, gated communities have been documented in the US cities since the 1970s, while racially segregated urban areas existed in South Africa under apartheid. Research by myself and other academics has shown that urban spaces which divide and exclude society’s poorer or more vulnerable citizens are still expanding rapidly, even replacing public provision of facilities and services – such as parks and playgrounds – in cities around the world.

Gated developments in Gurgaon, India, have created a patchwork of privatised services; elite developments in Hanoi, Vietnam, offer rich residents cleaner air; and luxury condos in Toronto, Canada, displace local residents in favour of foreign investors. An extreme example is the Eko Atlantic project in Nigeria – a private city being built in Lagos, where the majority of other residents face extreme levels of deprivation and poverty.

A commodity, or a right?

Although these developments come with their own unique context and characteristics, they all have one thing in common: they effectively segregate city dwellers. By providing the sorts of facilities and services which would normally be run by public authorities, but reserving them exclusively for certain residents, such developments threaten the wider public’s access to green spaces, decent housing, playgrounds and even safe sewage systems.

Access to basic services, which was once considered to be the right of all citizens, is at risk of becoming a commodity. Privatisation may start with minor services such as the landscaping or upkeep of neighbourhoods: for example, the maintenance of some new-build estates in the UK are being left to developers in return for a service charge. This might seem insignificant, but it introduces an unregulated cost for the residents.

Privatising the provision of municipal services may be seen by some as a way for wealthier residents to enjoy a better standard of living – as in Hanoi. But in the worst cases, it puts in a paywall in front of fundamental services such as sewage disposal – as happened in Gurgaon. In other words, privatisation may start with insignificant services and expand to more fundamental ones, creating greater segregation and inequality in cities.


A divided city

My own research on branded housing projects in Turkey has highlighted the drastic consequences of the gradual expansion of exclusive services and facilities through segregated developments. These private housing developments – known for their extensive use of branding – have sprung up in Istanbul and other Turkish cities over the past two decades, since the government began to favour a more neoliberal approach.

By 2014, there were more than 800 branded housing projects in Istanbul alone. They vary in scale from a single high-rise building to developments aiming to accommodate more than 20,000 residents. Today, this development type can be seen in every city in Turkey, from small towns to the largest metropolitan areas.

The branded housing projects are segregated by design, often featuring a single tower or an enclosing cluster of buildings, as well as walls and fences. They provide an extensive array of services and facilities exclusively for their residents, including parks, playgrounds, sports pitches, health clinics and landscaping.

Making the same services and facilities available within each project effectively prevents interaction between residents and people living outside of their development. What’s more, these projects often exist in neighbourhoods which lack publicly accessible open spaces such as parks and playgrounds.

This is a city-wide problem in Istanbul since the amount of publicly accessible green spaces in Istanbul is as low as 2.2 per cent of the total urban area. In London, 33 per cent of the city’s area is made up of parks and gardens open to the public – which shows the severity of the problem in Istanbul.

These branded housing projects do not feature any affordable units or social housing, so there are no opportunities for less privileged city-dwellers to enjoy vital facilities such as green spaces. This has knock-on effects on excluded residents’ mental and physical health, contributing to greater inequality in these respects, too.

Emerging alternatives

To prevent increasing inequality, exclusion and segregation in cities, fundamental urban services must be maintained or improved and kept in public ownership and made accessible for every city-dweller. There are emerging alternatives that show ways to do this and challenge privatisation policies.

For example, in some cities, local governments have “remunicipalised” key services, bringing them back into public ownership. A report by Dutch think-tank the Transnational Institute identified 235 cases where water supplies were remunicipalised across 37 countries between 2000 and 2015. The water remunicipalisation tracker keeps track of successful examples of remunicipalisation cases around the world, as well as ongoing campaigns.

It is vitally important to keep urban services public and reverse subtle forms or privatisation by focusing on delivering a decent standard of living for all residents. Local authorities need to be committed to this goal – but they must also receive adequate funds from local taxes and central governments. Only then, will quality services be available to all people living in cities.

The Conversation

Bilge Serin, Research Associate, University of Glasgow.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.