“Gleaming skyscrapers built alongside medieval churches”

The City in 2013. Image: Getty.

The Corporation of London’s chair of planning, on the future of the City.

The capital faces a turbulent few weeks as the long-running Brexit saga plays out in Westminster and Brussels.  But amid this political drama, it’s important to not lose sight of how London is transforming itself for life beyond Brexit.

The City of London embodies this process, with gleaming skyscrapers being built alongside medieval churches.  Our draft local plan – which is open for public consultation until later this week – sets out proposals designed to deliver the next stage of the Square Mile’s evolution.

The City’s planning policy has not only historically led the capital’s agenda but the nation’s. In the 1930s, we were the first to protect the cherished views of St Paul’s Cathedral, London followed. In the 1950s, we were the first to introduce a smokeless zone after the great smog, with the City’s Clean Air Act followed by a national Act.

Today, the City of London is already home to the most sustainable office building in the world, Bloomberg’s European headquarters. But as a business district with a pipeline of more than a dozen office skyscrapers approved for construction, some of which can house up to 12,000 workers at a time, we know that there is more that can be done to enable development that is environmentally sustainable.

We started at the top. With limited space available at ground level, we’ve actively encouraged green roofs for decades. There are over 70 across the Square Mile and just over a week ago reaching new heights with The Garden at 120, a project that has been in the works since 2006.

Of course, great cities are not made from great buildings alone. Our proposed urban greening policy reflects that. It requires – for the first time – that all new developments include a greening element, but this extends not just to roofs, but to the ground level spaces around buildings, and, to the buildings themselves.

With 513,000 workers commuting in and out of the City every day, and tens of thousands more expected on the completion of the Elizabeth Line, part of the challenge for this great city is space. Businesses and residents frequently raise the issue of overcrowding on our medieval streets.

We have made significant progress when it comes to making the City a better environment for pedestrians. For example, the 1960s Aldgate gyratory is now home to drinking fountains, trees, flowing traffic and cycling facilities at Aldgate Square, one of the largest public spaces in the Square Mile.

The City’s local plan proposals take this pursuit of space even further, so that walking routes will be available through and under new buildings – similar to the existing routes through One New Change, Bloomberg and Fen Court and the future 100 Leadenhall Street building, and the space under buildings such as the Cheesegrater and the approved 1 Undershaft. This will enable the workers that pour out of their office buildings at lunch time, to use convenient and direct routes between the incredible examples of architecture that line our City streets. You won’t see this on such a scale anywhere else in London.

These are some of the most uncertain times that we’ve lived through, and our draft local plan is designed to ensure that the City and wider London remains attractive to investment, talent and business well beyond 29 March.

Chris Hayward is planning chairman at the City of London Corporation.


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.