Space relations

A cartographic quest to map London – and the lives in it

Text by Jon Day

Tank _vol 7issue 25

In an age of satellite navigation and Google Street View, it’s easy to forget that maps can represent not just the geography of streets but the journeys, events and social phenomena that take place within them. In their blog, Ollie O’Brien, a researcher at UCL’s Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis, and James Cheshire, a PhD student at UCL, collect and collate maps of London. They’re interested in how the city moves and ticks, and the maps they’ve collected chart data as various as Boris bike journeys, city-specific tweets and football affiliations. At, Cheshire has created an interactive map of London’s surnames (Smiths dominate the suburbs, and there is a massive concentration of Begums in east London). The city has long attracted this kind of radical cartography: in 1854, John Snow plotted cholera deaths onto a map of Soho, identifying a pump on Broadwick Street as the source of the outbreak. Charles Booth’s infamous poverty map from 1898 classified Londoners according to income, dividing them into seven classes ranging from “wealthy” to “occasional labourers, loafers and semi-criminals”. Both are on the website. Most of the maps collected here are useless as aids to navigation, but they are nevertheless informative – and beautiful – in their own right. One of the most striking is a time-lapse visualisation of passenger journeys on the underground, compiled using data taken from Oyster cards. The delicate trails of individual journeys resemble tree roots or the dendrites of neurons. It’s a collection in which you can easily lose yourself. §