conference LBS Thoughts

A different perspective of London

I gave a presentation at the Digital Cities Seminar yesterday and was fascinated by some of the maps Sir Terry Farrell showed as part of his presentation which will be featured in his new book Shaping London.

It is always refreshing to look at how people other than cartographers choose to represent geospatial information, the image below taken from Terry’s presentation show the Thames Gateway, the area of urban redevelopment east of London, and takes its inspiration from Beck’s Underground map.


Thames Gateway
Thames Gateway



Beck’s map (or plan ?) is truly iconic and the map of the Thames gateway uses the Circle Line from it both to provide a geographic anchor for the map and to provide relative scale. I always find it amusing to remind people that one of the most famous maps in the world is the product of a graphic designer based on the principles of laying out electrical circuit diagrams.



Becks Tube Map
Becks Tube Map



In my presentation I made the point that we are increasing moving to a time when maps are customised to an individuals needs, and will become task focused delivered on mobile devices and as a result transient. Indeed for many tasks where a map was once needed a location aware application can provide users with the information they need without a map display.

Just step back and think about this one button from the “infamous” National Rail app for the iPhone.


Next Train Home
Next Train Home


Press it anywhere in the UK, and it will tell you the time of the next train home, and when you would expect to arrive. As a geospatial professional think about all the functionality and data that is hidden behind this simple button, and the analogue sources of information you would need to have access to to provide the answer.

As a Geographer sometimes it hard to accept, but it is still true, that it is often not about the map !!

Written and submitted from the Google Office, London.

4 replies on “A different perspective of London”

“As a Geographer sometimes it hard to accept, but it is still true, that it is often not about the map”

Thanks for pointing this out. We tend to get into GIS via a love a maps, and because of it we often forget that geographic information systems do not, necessarily, require maps. I tend to get blank stares when I point out that a phone book is a geographic information system.

The phrase I often use is “Just because it’s geographic, doesn’t mean it has to be cartographic.”

Perhaps a more broad way would be “Appropriate interfaces for specific uses of individual users.”

I agree with the 2 comments above. We just need to make sure applications are developed by people who understand the nature and complexity of GIS data and functionality.

Not all addresses in AddressPoint are accurately located so this needs to be taken into account otherwise it could produce misleading information. For example if the Member of Parliament’s (MP’s) details are added to the address via a point in polygon operation, an inaccurately located address may end up with the wrong MP’s details.

While AddressPoint is a point in time snapshot of addresses, the National Land and Property Gazetteer (NLPG) has historical and provisional (i.e. future) addresses in it (as well as having accurate and inaccurate locations). If all you want is a dataset of current, accurately located addresses, you need to remove all the other data or at least flag it appropriately.

A find my nearest application may tell you the nearest restaurant/library/whatever is 5 miles away. Is that in a straight line or by the shortest/fastest route? In this example a map might be useful, but at the end of the process rather than as the starting point.

The benefits of creating “mashups” and GIS based applications quickly must be balanced against the issues highlighted above. I’m concerned that “due diligence” may be ignored in favour of the “just get it out there” approach.

A pet irritation for me is applications that ask for a postcode but can’t cope if you don’t put the space in between the 2 parts of the postcode. It only takes a few lines of code to handle postcodes with and without spaces and makes the application much more user friendly.

Having said all that, the proliferation of map based and non-map based GIS applications SHOULD be a good thing for GIS professionals.

We need science more than ever. Science is irreplaceable, but not, I would venture to say, the whole story. As for maps.. In some ways the map is merely an instrument of human understanding, before the splendid and ultimately unknowable fullness of reality.

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