From an infographic of Olympic venues to street-by-street damage inflicted by the Blitz.

Some maps simply tell you how to get from here to there, but others give you a unique glimpse into the character of a place. With the eyes of the world on the Olympics for the next couple weeks, we looked to the blog Mapping London for some cartographic insight into the host city.

The site, run by Ollie O'Brien and James Cheshire of the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis at University College London, has posted some 80 London maps over the past year and a half. The works range in subject from demographics and data to transportation and history.

"People want to know what a map says about where they live or to imagine the characteristics of a place they haven't visited," says Cheshire. "They are used for so much more than navigation — a good map can communicate a tremendous amount of information."

Olympic Venues

This is an extract from an impressive infographic of Olympic venues created by This view focuses on the 2.5-square-kilometer Olympic Park, home to the Olympic Stadium, the Aquatics Center, and several other arenas. The full map provides brief descriptions of the major sites and stretches far across the city.

O'Brien notes that the map isn't "geographically correct" but rather indicative of general locales. "This makes it a very poor map for navigating around London between the venues, but a good graphic illustrating just how many venues in London there are, and how they relate geographically to the major London landmarks," he writes.

London Surnames

In early 2011 Cheshire published a series of 15 maps designed to show the popularity of surnames across London. As in a word cloud, the size of the surname changes to reflect its prevalence (taken from a 2001 election roll) — though only the top 15 names in each area are documented here. Cheshire, who created the maps as part of his doctoral work, calls his final thoughts on the maps "contradictory" (via a posting under O'Brien's name):

The first is that a surprising number of Londoners share the same name (especially with their immediate neighbours). The second is that despite the dominance of relatively few surnames at the top of the rankings, the further down the rankings you get the more you see of London’s population diversity.

Every Bus Trip

This data map, produced by Cheshire and Joan Serras, shows the roughly 114,000 bus trips completed in London every day. (A single "trip" consists of a bus finishing its route.) Roads that handle few bus routes are thin and yellow; those that handle many routes are wider and redder, depending on the particular volume. "The map demonstrates the impressive coverage of London’s bus network and how integral it is to London’s transport infrastructure," writes Cheshire.

Tweets v. Flickr

Another data map — this one tracks the location of tweets (in blue) and Flickr photographs (in orange) from around the city. The white dots represent places where both Twitter and Flickr activity occurred. The map was produced by Eric Fischer, who did a series of similar maps with various cities around the world, which can be seen at Flickr.

O'Brien notes the high level of Flickr activity at London's photogenic nature sites: an orange blob at Kew Gardens at the left, an outline of the Thames River throughout, and another blob at Greenwich Park on the right. He also notes the neighborhoods with large young populations, which correspond to Twitter use: Croydon, at the bottom, and Kingston, near the lower-left corner.

Blitz Map

This extract shows the buildings that were damaged during the Blitz of World War II. The bombings by the German Luftwaffe began in September of 1940 and lasted more than eight months. On the map, black buildings were destroyed, purple ones were damaged beyond repair, and red ones were severely damaged but perhaps salvageable. The map provides a striking visual image of how much harder the East End was hit than the West End, writes O'Brien.

Hand-Drawn Map

Artist and illustrator Jenni Sparks drew an entire map (above, an excerpt) of downtown London by hand. The buildings and landmarks are done in black-and-white and the Tube lines are coded by color. As O'Brien points out, the map comes with relevant annotations that you wouldn't find on a traditional map:

Dalston comes with a bicycle, plastic-framed glasses and a moustache. Canary Wharf is festooned with various currency symbols. … The Olympic Stadium alos [sic] appears, complete with some shining Olympic rings.

The map is available for sale at Sparks's blog.

Why Not Walk It?

As our Feargus O'Sullivan reported a couple weeks back, London officials have known for a while now that the Olympics would push the city's transit system to its limits. This map, by the Transport for London agency, promotes walking during the Games by estimating the time it would take to get from various transit "hotstops" to various other parts of the city on foot. The stop — in this case, Fenchurch Street — is ringed by four concentric circles that indicate a 10-, 15-, 20-, and 25-minute walk.

All maps courtesy of Mapping London.

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