Thames & Tube

20 September 2009

I’ve had such a busy week I haven’t had the time to report on one on this week’s best map-related story. “Mild furore” was the way the rumours started to spread in the twittersphere and blogospehere early Monday and by Tuesday had spread to mainstream news and resulted in a U-turn by Wednesday.

What am I talking about? The decision to remove the River Thames (and the ‘zones’) from the London Underground map.

Npw you see it:

Now you don’t:

Let’s start by talking about rivers: rivers aren’t just a place where water slows, they’re a geogrphical feature of the landscape. In a city where you have a river – especcially where it’s a large river – it’s an essemtial means of orientating yourself: am I north, south, east, west, close to the river, far away, where is it in relation to me… In London there’s the added “norf/sarf” dimension – people who have strong views on which side of the river is best to live (before you ask i’m a north of the river person). The river not only flows through the city but flows through it’s history. It’s shaped the city physically more than any other feature.

So the decision to remove it from the tube map shows an ignorance of how people interract with space. What’s the purpose of the tube map? You look at it to work out where you’re going to, and where you’re coming from. How do you orientate yourself with a) no index, b) no zones and c) no river unless you already know exactly on the map where your station is? And if you do why look at it?

Of course TfL had a point the the map had become cluttered and they were reverting to the purpose of Harry Beck’s original. And there are other arguments for the sudden evaporation of the Thames: the underground map is schematic (it doesn’t represent geographical reality), and when you’re underground it really doesn’t metter where the river actually is.

Harry Beck redesigned the map from the spaghetti scrawl that existed before into something that mis-represented geography but – more importantly – into something which easilly showed lines and connections so people could see where they’re going to, and from, easilly. But it’s removal shows a misconception of the Underground map as art, rather than a functional information-giving tool.


Further reading: Mark Easton’s fantastic blog this week looks at rivers on underground maps around the world. Ianvisits found historical film footage which provided an interesting theory on why the Thames may have been drained.


27 July 2008

I’ve unashamedly been keeping my distance from the news recently – holidays are great for that… and had no real desire to get back into it too much since my return. More dismay for the labour party isn’t something I want to engage in too much, but I appear, unfortunately to have missed some interesting thing I would normally have been blogging on.

Despite the exuberant gayness of the weeks I’ve missed I haven’t heard any more from Heinz, despite the fact the Advertising Standards Authority won’t be investigating. Yesterday I bought Sainsbury’s organic baked beans… I also missed out on the fun of Iris Robinson’s descent into madness and it’s implications for the Tory and DUP partnership. Lighter news I missed may have been a second resignation in two months for Boris Johnson, and another appointment. I’ve even not commented on the Evening Standard’s assertion that there are more gays in the London tory party than on Old Compton Street (they’re trying to fight political correctness don’t you know)…

And sadly I was somewhere travelling through the Alps while the Pride parade, attended by 825,000 people (!), and Boris’s pink stetson, were winding their way through London’s streets. I’m also missing this year’s Europride in Stockholm after the holiday took all my money and time over the last few weeks. And the need for a night in led to me missing a plethora of acts on the final night of G-A-Y at the Astoria (although it appears Kylie didn’t show up)… I’ll be sad to see it go…

Anyway, to make up for this I’ll take some time today so ignore the politics and write an entry on another favourite topic of food – what else could I write about after a holiday in Italy???!!!

Multicultural London

26 June 2008

From Dave Hill at the Guardian:

Pandering to prejudices about multiculturalism isn’t difficult until you find yourself in charge of the most multicultural city on earth and maybe discover that this isn’t an aberration forced on Londoners by Trotskyites but is, in fact, its authentic character. Deleting the GLA post of women’s adviser is one thing, deleting the principal of equal opportunities another. Feeding off resentments of funding for causes like anti-racism can work for you in opposition, but in power you may discover that these might not have been mere ruses for squandering taxpayers’ money on your allies after all: especially when you have a BNP man at your elbow at mayor’s question time.

London really is a city like no other. It is far more open to other cultures than any other city in the world through both an national economic openness allowing people to come and settle here and cultural advantages, especially language. Other major world cities have similar qualities, but none is as open as London.

A melting pot where the ingredients are constantly changing surely needs more than just a celebration of it’s diversity. It needs a carrot and a stick. It needs leadership which gives guidance as well as nice words – like a mother who knows when to scold a child and when to let the child relish in play.

Dave’s article is well worth a read.

Observer interview with Ken Livingstone

23 June 2008

Sunday’s Observer carried an interview with Ken Livingstone. Interesting to see what someone does after the most personal job in politics for eight years. Read it here.

The interviewer reflects on the eight years as Mayor:

He has an eye for detail, he delegates well, and he gets things done. Even his worst enemies agree that he was hugely instrumental in London winning the Olympic bid, throwing himself behind it early on, and whatever you think about the congestion charge system, it’s not that it doesn’t work. The question of his Blairesque ‘legacy’ is still up for grabs, but it’s down to him that Crossrail is finally going to happen and by anybody’s measure there’s a whole lot more buses on the roads. You even occasionally these days see a copper on a mountain bike rather than a panda car – he’s very proud of the fact that he’s ‘the first politician in 30 years to get policemen back out on the streets’.

The new Mayor has not yet received – the same reception. The Mayorality is a political position unlike any other in British politics – the Mayor is the executive power, a single person, there’s no cabinet or government, the buck stops with him. The Ken Livingstone style was very different to the Boris style – he got advised by people and retained key decisions whereas Boris delegates to deputies.

The interview also talks about Livingstone’s outspokenness:

But then it’s his outspokenness, his anti-politicianness, which has always endeared him to the public. He says it how he finds it, and has a talent for insults like no other. When I ask about Veronica Wadley, editor of the Evening Standard, which campaigned against his re-election, he calls her ‘pure evil’. And he refused to compare Amanda Platell, the former Tory spin-doctor and now Daily Mail columnist, to an attack dog ‘because that’s unfair to attack dogs’.

The interview discusses Ken Livingstone’s love of London, and politics:

‘I could never leave. I love it here. It’s where I want my children to grow up. When people say to me, “You shouldn’t have lost to Boris, it’s not fair”, I say to them, “If someone can remove you from political power, you shouldn’t be there. This is the life that we have chosen.” That’s a line in Godfather II when Hyman Roth says, “Mo Green was like a son to me, but when he was killed, I didn’t complain because this is the life we have chosen.” And these are the rules.’

It goes on to discuss the importance of personal and political loyalty to Livingstone, which damaged him – for example his support for Lee Jasper despite criticisms and accusations against him. It appears the new Mayor is being quicker to try and prevent such accusations when concerns over inappropriate comments by his own team have been raised (however it came about).

The interview also touches on what Ken Livingston is doing now – including his turning up at Mayor’s Questions at City Hall to see how his successor is doing, which has led to this response from Tristram Hunt:

Livingstone was a great mayor, but his era is over. Either Ken should go and play with the forces of international capital for which he expressed such admiration during his time in City Hall. Or, like a Cricklewood Cincinnatus, he should tend his garden and feed his newts, having served his civitas well.

Hunt also says that

Despite Boris Johnson’s recent clanger over the Olympics memorandum of understanding – which he claimed didn’t exist, when it was up for everyone to see on a government website – the new mayor has not thus far proved a disaster”

(which I assume is not a measure of success thus far).

The difficulty being Mayor is that you deal with big, strategic issues. You are the leader showing the way to go, you are, generally, not empowered by law to get on the ground and change some of the big things (but have the greatest influence over transport and policing). The main power is to influence and direct others. The approach Mayor Johnson is taking is more collaborative and may work, but only if he shows leadership and an absolutely clear theology behind what he is doing. Livingstone’s was clear, but criticised for being divisive. How will the new Mayor’s work?

Rise update 2

21 June 2008

The public sector union UNISON have removed funding from Rise festival this year after the change of emphasis removing the anti-racism festival message as noted here and here. UNISON said:

“As long as the anti-racist message is removed from the Rise festival, UNISON will have no part in funding it. London is a city of 270 nationalities. It is a city where different cultures should flourish, and racism should have no place. Sadly, on the streets of our capital many people face inequality, abuse and even violence on account of their race”

More here and here.

on Architecture (updated)

20 June 2008

The London Architecture festival was addressed by the Mayor last night who said:

It is true that I did once take a paper in architecture at university but the syllabus ended after the invention of the Corinthian column and before the Romans introduced the arch and though I look up with a delighted eye at many of the revolutionary buildings going up in London my profoundest thought is that I like the crashed mothership by Daniel Libeskind on Holloway Road, and I like the cornices and the triglyphs and the metopes and the caryatids of the more traditional buildings but I have come to the conclusion that I like each more for its proximity to the other.

…the rest of it however was also interesting and, in theory, more readable! It’s available here.

Also today the owners of Battersea Power Station launched their own plans

Rise Update

18 June 2008

Interesting updates to the Rise story provided by both the Mayor’s cultural adviser at the Guardian Comment is Free website, and an initial response to it by Dave Hill here which says:

There’s a proper debate to be had about anti-racism, multiculturalism and GLA arts funding, but I don’t think Mirza’s piece contributed much to it. Gratuitous swipes against Lee Jasper do not advance the case for change and neither do airy urgings to “trust the people.”

I’m not sure how “doing anti-racism for real” (for a few hours of festival) is compensation for an event which envouraged it for 365 days a year… The Tory Troll brings a more sinister angle here with the BNP’s response to dropping the anti-racism message.

Not sure if the issue was raised at Mayor’s Questions today but would like to find out



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