It is amazing that every day we view maps and rarely think twice about the amount of information they show, or consider them abstractions of reality representing the map maker’s view of the world. This is one of the major criticisms of GIS and spatial science as many believe it is impossible to represent the world effectively, and impartially, within the confines of current map making technology. It is therefore interesting that two relatively minor changes to the London Tube Map have caused such controversy. The intention is to de-clutter the maps as the London transport network becomes more extensive. I accept that the removal of the travel zones can be misleading for people as they will struggle to judge the correct cost of their tickets. It is the removal of the River Thames, however, that has generated the most interest. The Evening Standard quotes Caroline Pidgeon of the London Assembly who is keen to see it as a political issue pointing out that removing the Thames is one of the first soma revisions under a Tory mayor. Of course, maps are used as political statements all the time but people tend not to notice as they rarely become so integral to daily life. The comments attached to the Evening Standard article are also interesting, with one stating that removal of the Thames will be responsible for “destroying the city’s north-south character.”  The suggestion here is that a map can go beyond representation and actually influence the real world. If there is any truth in this it makes maps extremely powerful. For example poorly thought out crime maps may give the wrong impression of high crime in an area, driving down house prices as people choose to live elsewhere. I therefore hope that when we consume maps we subject them to the same scrutiny and scepticism as we have the new London Tube Map.

Judge for yourself:

New Tube Map

New Tube map

Old Tube Map


Maxwell Roberts has written an interesting blog on “Information Pollution and the Underground Map“.