Living Somewhere Nice, Cheap and Close In – Pick Two!


Skip straight to the 3D graph!

When people decide to move to London, one very simple model of desired location might be to work out how important staying somewhere nice, cheap, and well located for the centre of the city is – and the relative importance of these three factors. Unfortunately, like most places, you can’t get all three of these in London. Somewhere nice and central will typically cost more, for those reasons; while a cheaper area will either be not so nice, or poorly connected (or, if you are really unlucky, both). Similarly, there’s some nice and cheap, places, but you’ll spend half your life getting to somewhere interesting so might miss out on the London “experience”. Ultimately, you have to pick your favoured two out of the three!

Is it really true that there is no magic place in London where all three factors score well? To see the possible correlations between these three factors, I’ve calculated the ward* averages for these, and have created a 3D plot, using High Charts. Have a look at the plot here. The “sweet” spot is point 0,0,0 (£0/house, 0 score for deprivation, 0 minutes to central) on the graph – this is at the bottom left as you first load it in.

Use your mouse to spin around the graph – this allows you to spot outliers more easily, and also collapse down one of the variables, so that you can compare the other two directly on a 2D graph. Unfortunately, you can’t spin the graph using touch (i.e. on a phone/tablet) however you can still see the tooltip popups when clicking/hovering on a ward. Click/touch on the borough names, to hide/show the boroughs concerned. Details on data sources and method used are on the graph’s page.

The curve away from the sweet spot shows that there is a reasonably good inverse correlation between house prices and deprivation, and house prices and nearness to the city centre. However, it also shows there is no correlation between deprivation and nearness. Newington is cheap and close in, but deprived. Havering Park is cheap and a nice area, but it takes ages to get in from there. The City of London is nice and close by – but very expensive. Other outliers include Merton Village which is very nice – but expensive and a long way out, while Norwood Green (Ealing) is deprived and far out (but cheap). Finally, Bishop’s in Lambeth is expensive and deprived – but at least it’s a short walk into the centre of London.

Try out the interactive graph and find the area you are destined to live in.


p.s. If you are not sure where your ward is, try clicking on the blobs within your borough here.

* Wards are a good way to split up London – there are around 600 of them, which is a nice amount of granularity, and importantly they have real-world names, unlike the “purer” equivalent Middle Super Output Areas (MSOAs). Using postcode “outcodes” would be even better, as these are the most familiar “coded” way of distinguishing areas by non-statisticians, but statistical data isn’t often aggregated in this way.

Visit the new Shop
High quality lithographic prints of London data, designed by Oliver O'Brien

UKDS Census Applications Conference


I was in Manchester a couple of weeks ago for a UKDS conference on applications of the Census 2011 datasets that have been made available, through the ONS, NOMIS, UKDS and other organisations/projects. The conference was to celebrate the outputs and projects that have happened thus far, now that the Census itself is four years old and most of the main data releases have been made.

It was a good opportunity to present a talk on DataShine, which I made a little more technical than previously, focusing on the cartographical and technological decisions behind the design of the suite of websites.

I enjoyed an interesting talk by Dr Chris Gale, outlining graphically the processes behind creating the 2011 OAC geodemographic classification. Chris’s code, which was open sourced, was recently used by the ONS to create a local-authority level classification. There was also some discussion towards the end of the two-day meeting on the 2021 Census, in particular whether it will happen (it almost certainly well) and what it will be like (similar to 2011 but focused on online responses to cut costs).


After the conference close I had time to look around MOSI (the Museum of Science and Industry) which is mainly incorporated around an old railyard, terminus of the world’s oldest passenger railway and containing the world’s oldest station (opened in 1830, closed to passengers in 1844). But I was most impressed by the collection of airplanes in the adjoining hangar (once a lovely old market building), which included a Kamakaze. I also had a quick look around the Whitworth Gallery extension which has been nominated for this year’s Stirling Prize.


Visit the new Shop
High quality lithographic prints of London data, designed by Oliver O'Brien

China: Fuzhou


I spent a week in Fuzhou earlier in July, in China’s Fujian provice, presenting and attending a summer school and conference, respectively, at Fuzhou University. I’ve already blogged the conference itself (read it here) but during the week I got plenty of time, outside of the conference to get a feel for Fuzhou and this small part of China. Here are some notes:


There is a bikeshare system in Fuzhou, but it is small (by Chinese standards). I saw a few bikeshare docking stations during my trip, in particular one outside the university, which was complete with a (closed) booth for an attendant (I think this is where you get a smartcard to operate it). Each station has 10-20 docks, generally nearly full of the bright orange and green bikes, docked under a bus-stop-style shelter that also contains an alarm light, CCTV and loudspeaker, and red scrolling LED information screen. Adjacent there were typically 10-20 further bikes chained together, presumably for manual restocking by the attendant when they are there. The one thing I did not see, at any point during the trip, was anyone actually using the bikeshare bikes. The modal share of cycling is low anyway in Fuzhou (the roads are intimidating, but this doesn’t stop the swarms of electric bike users) but I wasn’t expecting to see a completely unused bikeshare system in a country so famous for the transport mode.


Transport in General
Fuzhou is a city of nearly five million people – half the size of London. And yet it has no metro, tram or commuter rail (apart from a couple of stations right on the outskirts). So everyone travels by car, taxi (very cheap – £1 for most journeys), bus (10p per journey, air-conditioned and frequent), or electric bike. Probably 50% car, 15% bus, 30% electric bike, 5% taxi. Walking is not so popular as the roads are generally very wide and difficult to cross (you don’t generally get much space given to you at zebra crossing!) and likely because of the hot climate at this time of the year. The one mode that I saw extremely little of, is pedal cycling. I had heard that cycling has quickly become an “uncool” thing to do in China, it is interesting to contrast with the rapidly rising cycling use in London – albeit from a low base. London’s cycling mode share was also once much higher and also had a sharp fall – maybe London is just ahead of hte curve.


Climate and Pollution
Fuzhou is a southern Chinese city. It’s around an hour’s drive in from the coast, where its airport is. It’s north of the many cities near Hong Kong – about 90 minutes on a plan from the latter – but south of Shanghai, and a long way south from Beijing. The climate is therefore quite hot and muggy at this time of year. As you might expect from a city of five million people where most people drive, a haze of pollution was often visible where I was there. However, the haze is not too bad. Fuzhou is helped in this by being surrounded on most sides by thickly forested mountains, which often rise up steeply, immediately beyond the city limits. One of these ranges indeed forms the Fuzhou National Forest Park which contains a wide variety of trees, including a 1000-year old tree with its elderly branches supported by concrete pillars! The masses of trees on all sides no doubt help with some soaking up of pollutants. Many of the large roads have lines of thickly foliaged trees running along them, and the bridges for pedestrian crossings, and highway flyovers, also have lines of shrubs and bushes all the way along them, which doubtless also help absorb pollutants and keep the haze under control. The street foliage also has the side effect of making many views of the city look quite pretty, with lines of green and purple plants softening the concrete structures and making the city seem to blend into the landscape.


Urban Structure
Fuzhou is a city largely of apartment blocks. Strikingly, the centre of the city has virtually no construction going on – it is as dense it as needs to be, Fuzhou’s population does not need to increase, and the congestion need not get any worse. A few from the central hotel reveals almost no cranes, anywhere on the horizon, apart from some small ones for the aforementioned metro construction project. This is starkly different to the edges of the city, at the few gaps between the mountains, particularly along the road leading to the airport and the coast. There is a brand-new high-speed railway station at this edge of the city, and it also is the direction towards the shipbuilding and electronics industry factories that are a few miles distant. The area around the station is relatively free of apartment buildings, but huge numbers are currently being built, many 30-40 stories high and often built very close to each other, in clusters with distinct designs. The new station and the good road leading outwards it presumably the spur. This is infrastructure building, and developers responding to this, on a grand scale.


Consumer Culture
One thing I noticed was that most of the Chinese attendees of the conference I was at had iPhone 6 phones. I’m not sure if this is representative of the Fuzhou population at large, but I was surprised to see no Huawei or Xiomai phones (both Chinese brands, i.e. home-grown). I have a Huawei myself – it is excellently built and I am very happy with it. Apple has done hugely well out of convincing people to pay thousands of extra yuan for the a phone with the Apple branding. Talking about luxury brands in general, Fuzhou has a cluster of these (Christian Dior etc) in a small mall in the centre, and also I spotted a Starbucks and McDonalds lurking nearby. But, Apple aside, in general western brands have little impact. And as for the popularity of the iPhone, the (official) Apple Stores have not made it to Fuzhou yet.

More generally, the food in China takes some getting used to, both the variety of produce and also the local varients. Lychee trees are everywhere (the region is where they were originally from) and there were plenty of other unusual fruits. The look of lychees takes some getting used to, but the taste is very pleasant. Fish features in a lot of dishes, as do various meets – the buffet and “lazy Susan” format though thankfully means the more mysterious items can be ignored! Our host also took us to an upscale restaurant where we had a lot of very spicy food (rare for the region) and also some weak but pleasant Chinese beers.


OpenStreetMap: London Building Coverage


OpenStreetMap is still surprisingly incomplete when it comes to showing buildings for the London area, this is a real contrast to other places (e.g. Birmingham, New York City, Paris) when it comes to completeness of buildings, this is despite some good datasets (e.g Ordnance Survey OpenMap Local) including building outlines. It’s one reason why I used Ordnance Survey data (the Vector Map District product) rather than OpenStreetMap data for my North/South print.

The map below (click to view a larger version with readable labels and crisper detail, you may need to click it twice if your browser resizes it), and the extract above, show OpenStreetMap buildings in white, overlaid on OS OpenMap Local buildings, from the recent (March 2015) release, in red. The Greater London boundary is in blue. I’ve included the Multipolygon buildings (stored as relations in the OSM database), extracting them direct from OpenStreetMap using Overpass Turbo. The rest of the OSM buildings come via the QGIS OpenStreetMap plugin. The labels also come from OS OpenMap Local, which slightly concerningly for our National Mapping Agency, misspells Hampstead.

The spotty nature of the OSM coverage reveals individual contributions. For example, Swanley in the far south east of the map is comprehensively mapped, thanks presumably due to an enthusiastic local. West Clapham is also well mapped (it looks like a small-area bulk import here from OpenMap) but east Clapham is looking sparse. Sometimes, OpenStreetMap is better – often, the detail of the buildings that are mapped exceeds OpenMap’s. There are also a few cases where OSM correctly doesn’t map buildings which have been recently knocked down but the destruction hasn’t made it through to OpenMap yet, which typically can have a lag of a year. For example, the Heygate Estate in Elephant & Castle is now gone.

The relative lack of completeness of building data in OpenStreetMap, for London, where the project began in 2004, is – in fact – likely due to it being where the project began. London has always an active community, and it drew many of the capital’s roads and quite a few key buildings, long before most other cities were nearly as complete. As a result, when the Bing aerial imagery and official open datasets of building outlines became more recently available, mainly around 2010, there was a reluctance to use these newer tools to go over areas that had already been mapped. Bulk importing such data is a no-no if it means disturbing someone’s prior manual work, and updating and correcting an already mapped area (where the roads, at least, are drawn) is a lot less glamorous than adding in features to a blank canvas. As a result, London is only slowly gaining its buildings on OSM while other cities jumped ahead. Its size doesn’t help either – the city is a low density city and it has huge expanses of low, not particularly glamorous buildings.

An couple of OpenStreetMap indoor tracing parties might be all that’s needed to fix this and get London into shape. Then the OpenStreetMap jigsaw will look even more awesome.


Click for a larger version. Data Copyright OpenStreetMap contributors (ODbL) and Crown Copyright and Database Right Ordnance Survey (OGL).

The City of London Commute

Here’s a graphic I’ve made by taking a number of screenshots of DataShine Commute graphics, showing the different methods of travelling to work in the City of London, that is, the Square Mile area at the heart of London where hundreds of thousands and financial and other employees work.

All the maps are to the same scale and the thickness of the commuting blue lines, which represent the volume of commuters travelling between each home area and the City, are directly comparable across the maps (allowing for the fact that the translucent lines are superimposed on each other in many areas). I have superimposed the outline of the Greater London Authority area, of which the City of London is just a small part at the centre.


There’s lots of interesting patterns. Commuter rail dominates, followed by driving. Car passenger commutes are negligible. The biggest single flow in by train is not from another area of London, but from part of Brentwood in Essex. Taxi flows into the City mainly come from the west of Zone 1 (Mayfair, etc). Cyclists come from all directions, but particularly from the north/north-east. Motorbikes and mopeds, however, mainly come from the south-west (Fulham). The tube flow is from North London mainly, but that’s because that’s where the tubes are. Finally, the bus/coach graphic shows both good use throughout inner-city London (Zones 1-3) but also special commuter coaches that serve the Medway towns in Kent, as well as in Harlow and Oxford. “Other” shows a strong flow from the east – likely commuters getting into work by using the Thames Clipper services from Greenwich and the Isle of Dogs.

Try it out for your own area – click on a dot to see the flows. There is also a Scotland version although only for between local authorities, for now.

Click on the graphic above for a larger version. DataShine is part of the ESRC-funded BODMAS project at UCL. I’ll be talking about this map at the UKDS Census Applications conference tomorrow in Manchester.

China: ICSDM Conference


Last week I was in China for the 2nd IEEE International Conference on Spatial Data Mining (ICSDM), travelling with my lab’s director who was keynoting and giving a day’s teaching at the conference’s accompanying summer school. The conference was based in Fuzhou University, on the western edge of Fuzhou in Fujian Province, a city of five million people about 90 minutes north east of Hong Kong by plane, and an hour’s drive inland from the ocean. The city’s setting is rather dramatic – it is surrounded by forested mountains, and the greenery extends into the city too, where it helps absorb pollution.

IMG_20150709_165709ecThe conference consisted of a number of keynote presentations given by domain experts on topics such as Big Models for Big Data, to Social Media geographic data mining and classification, to multi-source pollution monitoring and modelling. Interspersed with the keynotes were parallel tracks of project presentations, many (but not all) of which were given by Ph.D. candidates and other students at various universities elsewhere in China, as well as at Fuzhou itself. Remote sensing was a major theme of the conference, but other topics included modelling house prices based on demographic information and looking at movements of people using the Chinese equivalents of Facebook and Twitter.

As well as the conference itself there was time for a number of walks in the local forest parks and up some mountains – tough in the heat and humidity of southern China in the summer, but well worth it for the views. We also visited a number of temple buildings and other areas popular with tourists.

It was a well organised conference and was interesting to attend – not least to see that the sorts of research topics that we are familiar with here in quantitative geography at UCL, are carried out in China too – but with a local perspective, based on the different datasets available and cultural habits. The keynote talks also added a good, rounded perspective on the spatial data mining field as it currently stands. All in all, an eye-opening week.


Tube Line Closure Map


The Tube Line Closure Map accesses Transport for London’s REST API for line disruption information (both live and planned) and uses the information there to animate a geographical vector map of the network, showing closed sections as lines flashing dots, with solid lines for unaffected parts. The idea is similar to TfL’s official disruption map, however the official one just colours in the disrupted links while greying out the working lines (or vice versa) which I think is less intuitive. My solution preserves the familiar line colours for both working and closed sections.

My inspiration was the New York City MTA’s Weekender disruptions map, because this also blinks things to alert the viewer to problems – in this case it blinks stations which are specially closed. Conversely the MTA’s Weekender maps is actually a Beck-style (or actually Vignelli) schematic whereas the regular MTA map is pseudo-geographical. I’ve gone the other way, my idea being that using a geographical map rather than an abstract schematic allows people to see walking routes and other alternatives, if their regular line is closed.

Technical details: I extended my OpenStreetMap-based network map, breaking it up so that every link between stations is treated separately, this allows the links to be referenced using the official station codes. Sequences of codes are supplied by the TfL API to indicate closed sections, and by comparing these sequences with the link codes, I can create a map that dynamically changes its look with the supplied data. The distruption data is pulled in via JQuery AJAX, and OpenLayers 3 is used to restyle the lines appropriately.

Unfortunately TfL’s feed doesn’t include station closure information – or rather, it does, but is not granular enough (i.e. it’s not on a line-by-line basis) or incorrect (Tufnell Park is shown only as “Part Closed” in the API, whereas it is properly closed for the next few months) – so I’m only showing line closures, not station closures. One other interesting benefit of the map is it allows me to see that there are quite a lot of mistakes in TfL’s own feed – generally the map shows sections open that they are reporting as closed. There’s also a few quirks, e.g. the Waterloo & City Line is always shown as disrupted on Sundays (it has no Sunday service anyway) whereas the Rominster Line in the far eastern part of the network, which also has no Sunday service, is always shown as available.

Try it out

General Election Maps for 2015


When I first moved to UCL CASA back in 2010, the first online map I created from scratch was one showing swings in the general election that year. So it seemed fitting to update the old code with the data from the 2015 general election, which took place last week. You can see the resulting maps here – use the dropdowns to switch between headline swing, winner, second places, turnout % variations, majorities, political colour and individual party votes and X-to-Y swings.

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 15.09.08

My style of Javascript coding back in 2010 was – not great. I didn’t use JQuery or event AJAX, choosing instead to dump the results of the database query straight into the Javascript as the page was loaded in, using PHP. I was also using OpenLayers 2, which required some rather elaborate and unintuitive coding to get the colours/shapes working. My custom background map was also rather ugly looking. You can see what the map looked like in this old blog post. I did a partial tidyup in 2013 (rounded corners, yay!) but kept the grey background and slightly overbearing UI.

Now, in 2015, I’ve taken the chance to use the attractive HERE Maps background map, with some opacity and tinting, and tidied up the UI so it takes up much less of the screen. However, I decided to leave the code as OpenLayers 2 and not AJAX-ify the data load, as it does work pretty well “as is”. The constituency boundaries are now overlaid as a simplified GeoJSON (OL 2 doesn’t handle TopoJSON). For my time map, I was using OL 3 and TopoJSON. Ideally I would combine the two…

Link to the interactive maps.


Street Trees of Southwark

Above is an excerpt of a large, coloured-dot based graphic showing the locations of street trees in Rotherhithe, part of the London Borough of Southwark in London, as released by them to the OpenStreetMap database back in 2010. You can download the full version (12MB PDF). Street trees are trees on public land managed by LB Southwark, and generally include lines of trees on the pavements of residential streets, as well as in council housing estates and public parks. By mapping just the trees, the street network and park locations are revealed, due to their linear pattern or clumping of many types of trees in a small area, respectively. Trees of the same genus have the same colour, on this graphic.

southwarktrees_thinWhy did I choose Southwark for this graphic? Well, it was at the time (and still is) the only London borough that had donated its street tree data in this way. It is also quite a green borough, with a high density of street trees, second only to Islington (which ironically has the smallest proportion of green space of any London borough). There are street tree databases for all the boroughs, but the data generally has some commercial value, and can also be quite sensitive (tree location data can useful for building planning and design, and the exact locations of trees can also be important for neighbourly disputes and other damage claims. It would of course be lovely to have a map of the whole of London – one exists, although it is not freely available. There are street tree maps of other cities, including this very pretty one of New York City by Jill Hubley. There’s also a not-so-nice but still worthy one for Washington DC.

Also well as a PDF version, you can download a zip-file containing a three files: a GeoJSON-format file of the 56000-odd street trees with their species and some other metadata, a QGIS style file for linking the species to the colours, and a QGIS project file if you just want to load it up straight away. You may alternatively prefer to get the data directly from OpenStreetMap itself, using a mechanism like Overpass Turbo.

A version of this map appears in London: The Information Capital, by James Cheshire and Oliver Urberti (who added an attractive colour key using the leaf shapes of each tree genus). You can see most of it below. I previously talked about another contribution I made to the same book, OpenStreetMappers of London, where I also detailed the process and released the data, so think of this post as a continuation of a very small series where I make available the data from my contributions to the book.

The data is Copyright OpenStreetMap contributors, 2015, under the Open Database Licence, and the origin of most of the data is a bulk-import supplied by Southwark Council. This data is dated from 2010. There are also some trees that were added manually before, and have been added manually since, by other OpenStreetMap contributors. These likely include some private trees (i.e. ones which are not “street” trees or otherwise appear on private land.) Many of these, and some of the council-data trees, don’t have information their genus/species, so appear as “Other” on the map – orange in the above extract.



The week before last I was at GISRUK, the long-running annual academic conference for early (and not-so-early) career researchers in GI Science in the UK, Ireland and further afield. This year’s conference was in Leeds and attracted a record number of 250+ participants. I presented a poster at a meeting the day before the main conference, but otherwise had no talk to give at Leeds, which means I was able to relax and focus on seeing the most interesting sessions. This year we had some great keynotes, including two visually impressive talks from Google’s Ed Parsons and MIT’s Sarah Williams, opening and closing the conference respectively. Outside of the keynotes, there were three main streams running simultaneously, but with the theme regularly changing after each group of talks, which meant for plenty of room swapping.

Some of my favourite talks:

  • With a large UCL attendance, there were plenty of talks on geodemographics and socioeconomic mapping. One of my favourites was from Monsuru Adepeju of the UCL Crime, Policing and Citizenship project, the talk looked at a new way of detecting crime hotspots. The presentation included the below map showing a crime-weighted geodemographic map of London.gisruk1
  • Staying with UCL and geodemographics, but going from crime to food, this classification, developed alongside a major food retailer in the UK, was presented by UCL’s Guy Lansley of the Consumer Data Research Centre, the work linked ethnic-weighted classifications with the popularity of certain food types, to simplify the task of providing particular food-types popular with one or more major ethnic groups in the UK, as the country’s population demographic continues to change and move.gisruk2
  • Staying with the geodemographic theme, Mark Birkin of Leeds gave an overview of geodemographics research in the era of big data, where ever increasing amounts of data allow ever more sophisticated analysis to be performed. The below image shows a slide from a presentation presenting a very detailed geodemographic map – right down to postcode (typically 50 homes) level.gisruk3
  • Away from geodemographics and to cartography: Jonny Huck of Lancaster presented the results of a study into creating a number of map types that encouraged good interaction with the map itself – the aim making maps for mobile devices that were engaging and encouraged people to look at the screen frequently when navigating – but not being so difficult to interpret that they were frustrating. Four styles of map, of the Lancaster University campus, were created from a Google Maps base, and participants were asked to navigate around the campus. The style that proved to be most effective in terms of engagement, while being fun to use, was the “PacMap”, a screenshot of which is shown below. Ironically Google released an unrelated PacMap for the whole world, as part of this year’s “April Fool” Google Maps hack.gisruk4
  • Ed Manley of UCL showed some results of using mobile phone data to derive patterns of mobility through certain parts of an urban area, showing that different communities experience their cities in different ways and to different extents.gisruk5
  • I didn’t see the presentation by Robin Lovelace (Leeds) on his work-in-progress on creating an R/Shiny-based tool for visualising current inter-neighbourhood cycling flows, and predicting future flows based on several scenarios, but I did get a demo of the tool, which is looking impressive, and will be a powerful way to communicate and interrogate a complex dataset.
  • Some other highlights included TransportOAC (Nick Bearman, Liverpool) which is a geodemographic map focused on who people move around the UK. The classification is relatively “noisy” spatially, and London’s unique transport system (compared with the rest of the UK) means it gets a number of classification groups to itself. I also enjoyed Nilufer Aslam’s talk about linking metro smartcard data (from TfL’s Oyster Card) with journey and usage information of bikeshare systems, to see whether they indeed formed a “last mile” option for commuters, and how availability patterns affected this.
  • I presented a poster, below, on DataShine, at the poster session for a meeting immediately prior to GISRUK. The poster summarises the three websites that are my principal output thus far, from the BODMAS project.gisruk6

So, an excellent conference, full of interesting talks on geodemographics and various other GIS-related research. Thanks to the organisers for their hard work in staging a smoothly-run and successful three days.