Hedgehogs and beyond: Introducing Londonmapper

LondonmapperGood things come to those who wait. Today we are officially launching the Londonmapper website, a project that I started working on following the completion of my PhD in 2011. Over the past 2 1/2 years we developed the scope of the project which aims to become a new Social Atlas of London, a project that has not been undertaken since Shepherd et al’s work in the 1970s. But it wouldn’t be me if this would be an ordinary mapping project. Londonmapper is a growing collection of all kinds of cartograms that map a wide range of data to give a comprehensive picture of the diversity in the city.
We’ve never had so much data. At Londonmapper we don’t aim to collect more, but to show these existing numbers in a new light. We’re building on the hugely successful Worldmapper website which produced images revealing social inequalities on a global scale. This is the first time we’re applying the same, though more advanced, techniques to a city.
In many ways London is the world in one city, super diverse in the variety of communities living here. But it’s also massively unequal. Just take life expectancy: the difference between Hackney and the West End is the same as the difference between England and Guatemala. The city has many disparities like this, though few are inevitable or insurmountable.
Our aim is to show these inequalities, as well as the issues on which we’re more equal. We’ve taken data, mainly from government sources, on hundreds of different social, economic and environmental issues and created maps that are distorted according to what the numbers mean; for example, if it’s much more expensive to rent in Westminster than in Enfield, then the borough of Westminster will be stretched out and be larger on the map than Enfield. We’ve also created several ways of seeing the same data, and all of the numbers are in traditional spreadsheets for those who want to dig a bit more.
Too often we’re unaware of the extent of inequalities within the city, or are presented with images, where, for instance, poor areas look small on the map because often they are crowded areas that become underrepresented in conventional maps. As a result we may think of poverty and inequality as problems which just blight the lives of a few people and that London is just a place for the very wealthy. Londonmapper will attempt to address some of these common misconceptions.
Currently there are over 300 cartographic images that show London since the start of the new century. They cover issues such as the number of people not in work, air pollution and house prices – there’s even one on hedgehogs that I made for the Greater London National Park initiative in collaboration with Guerilla Geographer Dan Raven-Ellison:

Map of Hedgehog Records in London
(click for larger version)

We’ll be adding many more maps over the coming months. On a number of issues we’ll be showing how the city has changed over time suggesting how London might change in the future if those trends continue.
We also plan to include comparisons to other world cities such as New York, Tokyo, Berlin and Paris. This will be limited to a smaller range of issues, but will highlight some of the stark differences, as well as the similarities. The site is an ongoing work and there are many more exciting new visualisations and commentaries to come.

The launch is only just the beginning. Keep your eyes open for new content. Beyond the plans mentioned above, I started working with Alan Parkinson on developing an educational section containing teaching materials which we will realise with the Innovative Geography Teaching Grant that we have recently been awarded by the Royal Geographical Society.

Londonmapper is funded by the Trust for London. The Trust is the largest independent charitable foundation funding work which tackles poverty and inequality in the capital. A key area of its work is supporting projects providing greater insights into the root causes of London’s social problems. Londonmapper is part of this work. In a world awash with data we hope it provides a new way to scan across all the detail to get a better overall impression of what it is we should know and care about.

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