The London Map Craze

Londoners have always liked maps, perhaps because they use them every day to find their way around this massive city. The most famous map is also a work of art – Harry Beck’s 1931 design for the underground – and almost every household has a battered old A-Z somewhere.

But over the last year there has been an explosion in mapping over the internet and the craze shows no sign of abating. Maps have become entertainment as well as tour guides.

Whereas previously your friends may have used Facebook and Twitter to link to cat videos on Youtube or crazy pictures on Flickr, now they’re also linking to maps that help us to see London in a new light.

What does the BBC use to mark the death of musician Gerry Rafferty? Not just an obituary, but a map of hit songs about locations in London including Rafferty’s own ‘Baker Street’.

Maps have long been used to illustrate more than just geography – take a look at John Snow’s 1854 cholera map, the Temperance Society’s 1886 map of public houses, or even Wenceslaus Hollar’s map of the damage caused by the Great Fire of London in 1666.

But these days maps are easier to create than ever before, even for non-geeks. Want a map to help you avoid the police during the student protests? Or a map of ‘non-Boris‘ bike racks in central London? You got it.

New mapping sites are popping up nearly every day, some of them genuinely impressive even if their actual use is limited. As you’d expect, transport is a common subject. This real-time map of London tube trains was doing the rounds throughout December, as was the London ‘Boris’ bike share map and this neat map/display showing the travel time between every tube station. And if you prefer buses, there’s an animated ‘flowprint’ of London bus journeys.

Photo hasn't loaded
The Football Supporter Map of London

What else can you map? Well, there’s communities like London’s football supporters (above) or London’s street gangs. And sure, there are maps showing how badly London was hit by German bombs during WWII, but how about animating the first night of the Blitz?

Books and film? Find the local libraries threatened with closure, pore over an interactive map of more than 400 books set in different areas of London or 100 locations used in films.

Then art, and this staggeringly massive hand drawn map of Greater London and a map of Banksy graffiti locations. But there should also be a London version of these strange ‘graphical anagrams’. Naturally companies are jumping on the map craze to sell artworks – would you like a London typeface map? That’ll be £43. Or how about £99 for a canvas map to put on your wall?

People are also swapping digital copies of startling historical artifacts, such as these plans for railway stations in London 1864, an old tube map from 1908 or even this mystifying map of ‘social and functional analysis‘.

And what about the future? A map works for that too – such as this vision of London-on-Sea in 2100.

Photo hasn't loaded
London-on-Sea 2100

Is this just a passing craze? Projects to keep an eye on include this one to add 3D models to London on Google Earth or the strangely relaxing London Sound Survey, which offers the chance to listen to recordings with titles like ‘Under Tower Bridge’ and inside ‘St Bartholomew the Great’ church (mostly quiet, with occasional bleeps from a tourist’s camera). Then there’s always the London 2012 Olympics.

And if you need a weekly fix of all things cartographical, then check out the blogs Google Maps Mania or Map of the Week for a regular fix.

World of Murder Maps

Who created the first ‘murder map’? What did it show, and where?

Theoretically it could have been a scrap of paper featuring a rough pencil diagram and a cross to mark the spot. It could even have been drawn by the murderer himself.

But legend has it that the murder map truly began with a crime ‘mashup’ put together by journalist and web developer Adrian Holovaty in May 2005.

The website was then known as chicagocrime.org, and mapped not only murder but other types of crime in that city. Nowadays it’s part of a wider network called everyblock.com which maps everything from restaurant reviews in the local media to a house going on sale. And yes, murders.

This kind of murder mapping uses data taken directly from the local police force. As a result it gives little detail other than the location and a rough category (e.g domestic).

Crime Reports

A similar example, shown above, is http://www.crimereports.com – which describes itself as ‘the largest and most comprehensive crime-mapping network in the world’. The first thing you notice about it is that it tells you the location of every sex offender. There are a lot of them (the little triangles). And strangely if you click on a triangle it gives you their name, age, eye colour and photo.

These sites don’t extend to the UK yet, but they could do if our police forces published their data. For example, Spotcrime.org plainly intended to capture this ‘market’ but has since fallen into disrepair. It was last updated in London to reflect the student fee protests at Millbank in October last year.

As for dedicated murder maps, they tend to be run either by local newspapers, dedicated journalists or even community volunteers. This doesn’t mean they are all simple Google Map-based projects, like the one put together by the Daily Record in July 2008.

The Manchester Evening News were perhaps the first in the UK to join the trend in January 2008, by mapping every fatal shooting in the city since 1999, adding names, ages and a small photo for each victim. Sadly it doesn’t seem to have been updated since December 2009.

BBC Online joined the fray with its impressive map and statistical database of teenage murders across Britain in 2008 and 2009, at the height of concerns about youth crime and knives. It would have been interesting if they had continued the project, but alas they did not.

The true home of murder maps remains the US, and the most impressive example is still the LA Homicide Report. Its main innovation was that each homicide became in effect a separate blog entry. From this information an impressive database was built.

Homicide ReportHomicide Report 2

Not only does it map each murder since 2007 but it also displays the data in a very accessible way. The victims’ photos are displayed underneath in a gallery, each marker takes you to a detailed report of the crime and statistics for age, ethnicity and cause of death are all on the front page.

This is particularly impressive when you consider that there are over 800 homicides a year in Los Angeles. Still, it would be nice to have an idea whether the case was ever solved or if any suspects went to trial. At present the only updates are provided by members of the public adding their own comments.

Many major cities in America now have their own murder map, although the quality varies wildly. In Oakland, California they have an impressive map filter but very little information on the crimes themselves. This goes for Philadelphia too, which has an impressive database going back to 1988 but no sense of the story behind the name, age, race and gender of the victim.

Some maps are staggering just to look at. Take this one of Puerto Rico, which appears to have been launched this month:

Puerta Rico

This is an island slightly smaller in area than Cyprus with what appears to be 577 murders for the year 2010. Below the map is printed the disclaimer ‘Many murders do not appear on the map due to lack of specific information about the crime scene.’ Those purple balloons represent ‘unknown’ while yellow is ‘error or stray bullet’, green is ‘hate’, red is ‘drugs’ and blue is ‘fight or revenge’.

Other projects are more stylised, such as the ‘Not just a number‘ website project which won awards for the way it mapped homicides in 2007.

There are many, many other examples, including a map for Flint, Michigan, which closed in March 2009. Its founder, freelance journalist Gordon Young, said in his blog:

It sparked some good discussions about how to cover homicides, but it proved to be way more work than I imagined. More importantly, I didn’t feel it was really providing much of a memorial to the people who died in Flint.

Ideally a murder map should not just map all murders but provide some kind of service to the community, whether by telling the victim’s side of the story, offering some context for the crime or giving an insight into how these cases are dealt with by the police, the media and the justice system.

If the database and the information within it are good enough, a map provides an alternative to the official statistics and may result in more openness in government. In this department, if nothing else, we are still lagging a long way behind the US.

________

Map list:

Europe: Copenhagen, Denmark, Madrid (2007 only),

USA: Alabama (Anniston, Birmingham), Arizona, California (Berkeley, Fresno, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Luis Obispo), Connecticut (New Haven), Delaware, Illinois (Chicago), Florida (Orlando), Kansas (Kansas City, Wichita), Louisiana (New Orleans), Maryland (Baltimore), New Jersey (Essex County), New York, Pennsylvania (Philadelphia), Tennessee (Memphis), Texas (Houston), Washington D.C

Canada: Saskatoon, Toronto, Vancouver

Other: Argentina (Cordoba), Puerto Rico

How to Name a Serial Killer

Photo hasn't loaded
'The Crossbow Cannibal'

Every report of the case of serial killer Stephen Griffiths referred to him as the ‘Crossbow Cannibal’. But where did this name come from?

Griffiths gave this name when making his first court appearance before Magistrates in May 2010.

He didn’t come up with it himself – because it had already featured in a headline in the Sun newspaper on May 27.

It read: ‘Uni boffin quizzed on crossbow cannibal killings’

This is an example of a journalist ‘dubbing’ a killer, in an attempt to make them more memorable.

‘Dubbing’ in this way is often hotly contested – Stephen Wright, the man who killed five women in the Ipswich area in 2006, was referred to variously as the ‘Suffolk Strangler’, the ‘Ipswich Ripper’, the ‘East Anglian Ripper’ or the ‘Red-light Ripper’.

Usually newspapers steer away from using their rivals’ tags unless they become universally recognised by the public.

This time Griffiths went for something he had read while in custody. He could have come up with his own but it seems he liked the attention he was already getting.

Giving nicknames to serial killers may strike many as gruesome or a glorification of the criminal over his victims, who are quickly forgotten. However, the practice is a long-standing one and must pre-date newspapers.

So what makes a memorable nickname?

  1. Alliteration – Stockwell Strangler, Crossbow Cannibal, Moors Murderers, Beast of the Bastille, Giggling Granny
  2. Rhyme – Gay Slayer, Hannibal the Cannibal
  3. Rhythm – Jack the Ripper, Doctor Death
  4. Allusion / Imitation – Yorkshire Ripper, Angel of Death, The Terminator, Camden Ripper
  5. Originality – Chessboard Killer, Zodiac Killer, Shoe Fetish Slayer, The Hippopotamus, Teacup Poisoner

A Literary Graph of Murder

What does this graph tell us? It’s meant to show the frequency of the terms murder and homicide in English books from the time of ‘Jack the Ripper’ to the present day.

Ngram murder and homicide

The answer is probably ‘not much’ – apart from showing that murder is used much more often (in those books that have been scanned by Google) than homicide. Murder also spiked in use at around 1931, which may or may not be related to the output of Agatha Christie and others at that time.

But Google’s Books Ngram Viewer is still an interesting ‘visualisation tool’ which allows anyone to input words or phrases to create their own graph. You can also click different time periods to see which books make up the data.

Examples already doing the rounds include ‘love vs war’ or ‘geek vs nerd’.

Here’s what happens when you type in ‘Jack the Ripper.’

Ngrams Jack the Ripper

Just to prove it isn’t entirely accurate, closer inspection shows the first blip clocks in at 1870. It turns out these entries result from cataloguing based on the founding date of the organisation producing the material or scanning errors caused by ‘OCR’ (Optical Character Recognition).

On the other hand the database quickly reveals that in 1894 a bull named Jack the Ripper was listed in the Ayrshire Cattle Herd Book Society of Great Britain and Ireland.