Feargus O'Sullivan is a contributing writer to CityLab, covering Europe. His writing focuses on housing, gentrification and social change, infrastructure, urban policy, and national cultures. He has previously contributed to The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, and Next City, among other publications.
With Londonmapper, we can visualize anything from knife crime to hedgehog sightings in the British capital.
City map geeks should approach Londonmapper with caution. Before you get halfway through this new London mapping site, launched last weekend, the bulk of your morning might be gone. Dubbed “a social atlas of London” by its makers, geographers Danny Dorling and Benjamin Hennig, Londonmapper aims to “provide comprehensive insights into the state of poverty and inequality in the [British] capital,” according to its own mission statement. As a resource for understanding London, it’s invaluable, letting users chart anything from health problems to knife crime using data gleaned each year since the millennium. The site is also just a great place for the plain curious, showing you where London’s atheists live, how the city’s binge drinkers are distributed, and where to find its hedgehogs, as well as wonkish delights like this citywide age distribution gif.
For non-Londoners, a good way to start exploring the site is to get your bearings with their reference map.
The next map shows London’s boroughs resized to reflect how many people live there. You’ll notice, for example, that the dense borough of Tower Hamlets swells while more spacious, suburban Bromley shrinks.
The borough map becomes yet more distorted when you look at house prices, which give it a fish eye quality. High property values make London’s center and its immediate North and West bulge while East and Southeast London are squashed to a thin ring.
Maps of boroughs as a whole can be something of a blunt instrument, however, as many contain pockets of both wealth and poverty. That’s why you need maps like the one below, which focus on far smaller electoral wards. This one shows the number of people per dwelling.
Some local knowledge helps here, as this isn’t a straightforward map of poverty.
Notice how this map has dark patches in the East and West, suggesting high density and possible overcrowding. These areas are indeed less wealthy – the darkest patch in the west, for example, is a focal point for London’s Polish community. But as these areas were built mainly as suburban houses with gardens (albeit tiny ones), housing units here also tend to have more bedrooms. Perhaps more worrying is the patch of dark brown in the center of the map, suggesting overcrowding in the central borough of Tower Hamlets, where apartments rather than houses predominate. A probably more accurate index of the areas where poverty clusters is this map showing claimants of Jobseekers’ Allowance, a welfare benefit for the unemployed.
Comparing the maps can also throw up some interesting questions. The map below, for example, shows the proportion of white residents for each electoral ward. As you can see, white people predominate in almost all London neighborhoods, but the areas where they constitute over 87 percent of residents are overwhelmingly on the city’s suburban edges.
Compare this distribution to this map of votes in the 2008 mayoral election, and you see that most voters for avowed anti-immigration parties (BNP, UKIP, English Democrats) live in areas in which immigrants, white or otherwise, rarely live. So is this evidence of white flight, or a suggestion that suspicion of immigrants reduces through actual daily contact?
There are also some maps that have a simple, practical use, such as the one below detailing which wards have best access to public transport.
There’s a predictable agglutination of sludge brown in the middle, signifying excellent links, but the map also has some surprises. I hadn’t yet realized that Barking – the brown speck in a sea of green to the east of the map – had such good transport links. If I feel like moving further out of town sometime soon, I might now be more likely to head out that way.