Where did Pokemon Go get its maps from?

No, it's not quite relevant, but I've been waiting my whole career to use this photo. Image: Getty.

For gamers, Pokémon Go is remarkable thanks to its massive popularity after only a week's release, and its innovative combination of a retro game beloved of 90s kids (Pokémon) with the latest in Augmented Reality (AR).

For us, it's interesting because of the maps. 

While the game has only been officially released in the US and Australia, users have played it all over the world – from my road in Harringay, north London, to the front line of the war against Isis in Mosul, where a former US marine volunteering with Christian militia managed to catch a Squirtle. The game has inserted Pokémon all over the world map, plus "Pokéspots" and "Gyms" where you can lure extra creatures or make them fight each other.

Nintendo seems to have taken the bulk of its map information for the game from Ingress, a previous, much less popular game from Niantic, the company which worked with Nintendo on the game. An Atlantic piece notes that "portals" from this game seem to match the Pokéspots in Pokémon Go. It also notes, though, that the game doesn't credit any street map producer, such as Google or OpenStreetMaps – unusual for a map-based game. 

A player locates a Goldeen. Image: Getty.

However, John Hanke, the CEO and founder of Niantic, was one of the founders of Keyhole, which created Google Earth (and may give us a clue as to the maps' source). He told Mashable that the Pokémon Go team mined Google geotagged photos for public art which could be used as Pokéspots. Others were submitted by Ingress players and then approved by game moderators. Some of the most popular portals from Ingress were then chosen as "gyms" for the new game. 

The benefit of this method is that these are places people (well, Ingress players at least) do visit, and implies they should be easily accessible. This doesn't mean it's foolproof: several people have already reported that their homes were marked as gyms on the game, meaning random gamers turned up outside their doors or lurk about outside. Given you can "own" a gym on the game, some opened with the slightly worrying line: "this is my gym." 

Pokémon themselves are scattered fairly randomly in the game, though water Pokémon appear near or on water. Hanke told Mashable that another, secret set of geographical data was used to match Pokémon to their locations:  "That gets into more [geographic information system]-type of data... and we utilise that to map Pokémon species to appropriate habitats." 

Again, this does lay the game open to goofs. Today, there were reports that a poison gas "Koffing" Pokémon appears when you visit the Holocaust museum in Washington DC.

One final mapping fact: in 2014 Google ran an April Fools Day game in which you could locate Pokémon on its maps feature. The game went down so well that Hanke reportedly wondered whether it could take off as a real game, with the hunt for Pokémon  transposed onto the real world. Nearly eight million downloads later, looks like he was right .



Was the decline in Liverpool’s historic population really that unusual?

A view of Liverpool from Birkenhead. Image: Getty.

It is often reported that Liverpool’s population halved after the 1930s. But is this true? Or is it a myth?

Often, it’s simply assumed that it’s true. The end. Indeed, proud Londoner Lord Adonis – a leading proponent of the Liverpool-bypassing High Speed 2 railway, current chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, and generally a very influential person – stood on the stairs in Liverpool Town Hall in 2011 and said:

“The population of Liverpool has nearly halved in the last 50 years.”

This raises two questions. Firstly, did the population of the City of Liverpool really nearly halve in the 50 year period to 2011? That’s easy to check using this University of Portsmouth website – so I did just that (even though I knew he was wrong anyway). In 2011, the population of the City of Liverpool was 466,415. Fifty years earlier, in 1961, it was 737,637, which equates to a 37 per cent drop. Oops!

In fact, the City of Liverpool’s peak population was recorded in the 1931 Census as 846,302. Its lowest subsequent figure was recorded in the 2001 Census as 439,428 – which represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over a 70 year period.

Compare this to the population figures for the similarly sized City of Manchester. Its peak population also recorded in the 1931 Census as 748,729, and its lowest subsequent figure was also recorded in the 2001 Census, as 392,830. This also represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over the same 70 year period.

So, as can be seen here, Liverpool is not a special case at all. Which makes me wonder why it is often singled out or portrayed as exceptional in this regard, in the media and, indeed, by some badly briefed politicians. Even London has a similar story to tell, and it is told rather well in this recent article by a Londoner, for the Museum of London. (Editor’s note: It’s one of mine.)

This leads me onto the second question: where have all those people gone: London? The Moon? Mars?

Well, it turns out that the answer is bit boring and obvious actually: after World War 2, lots of people moved to the suburbs. You know: cars, commuter trains, slum clearance, the Blitz, all that stuff. In other words, Liverpool is just like many other places: after the war, this country experienced a depopulation bonanza.

So what form did this movement to the suburbs take, as far as Liverpool was concerned? Well, people moved and were moved to the suburbs of Greater Liverpool, in what are now the outer boroughs of the city region: Halton, Knowsley, St Helens, Sefton, Wirral. Others moved further, to Cheshire West & Chester, West Lancashire, Warrington, even nearby North Wales, as previously discussed here.

In common with many cities, indeed, Liverpool City Council actually built and owned large several ‘New Town’ council estates, to which they moved tens of thousands of people to from Liverpool’s inner districts: Winsford in Cheshire West (where comedian John Bishop grew up), Runcorn in Halton (where comedian John Bishop also grew up), Skelmersdale in West Lancashire, Kirkby in Knowsley. There is nothing unique or sinister here about Liverpool (apart from comedian John Bishop). This was common practice across the country – Indeed, it was central government policy – and resulted in about 160,000 people being ‘removed’ from the Liverpool local authority area.

Many other people also moved to the nearby suburbs of Greater Liverpool to private housing – another trend reflected across the country. It’s worth acknowledging, however, that cities across the world are subject to a level of ‘churn’ in population, whereby many people move out and many people move in, over time, too.

So how did those prominent images of derelict streets in the inner-city part of the City of Liverpool local authority area come about? For that, you have to blame the last Labour government’s over-zealous ‘Housing Market Renewal Initiative’ (HMRI) disaster – and the over enthusiastic participation of the then-Lib Dem controlled city council. On the promise of ‘free’ money from central government, the latter removed hundreds of people from their homes with a view to demolishing the Victorian terraces, and building new replacements. Many of these houses, in truth, were already fully modernised, owner-occupied houses within viable and longstanding communities, as can be seen here in Voelas Street, one of the famous Welsh Streets of Liverpool:

Voelas Street before HMRI implementation. Image: WelshStreets.co.uk.

The same picture after HMRI implementation Image: WelshStreets.co.uk. 

Nonetheless: the council bought the houses and ‘tinned them up’ ready for demolition. Then the coalition Conservative/Lib Dem government, elected in 2010, pulled the plug on the scheme. 

Fast forward to 2017 and many of the condemned houses have been renovated, in a process which is still ongoing. These are over-subscribed when they come to market, suggesting that the idea was never appropriate for Liverpool on that scale. 

At any rate, it turns out that the Liverpool metropolitan population is pretty much the same as it was at its peak in 1931 (depending where the local borough boundaries are arbitrarily drawn). It just begs the question: why are well educated and supposedly clever people misrepresenting the Liverpool metropolis, in particular, in this way so often? Surely they aren’t stupid are they?

And why are some people so determined to always isolate the City of Liverpool from its hinterland, while London is always described in terms of its whole urban area? It just confuses and undermines what would otherwise often be worthwhile comparisons and discussions. Or, to put it another way: “never, ever, compare apples with larger urban zones”.

In a recent Channel 4 documentary, for example, the well-known and respected journalist Michael Burke directly compared the forecast population growths, by 2039, of the City of Liverpool single local authority area against that of the combined 33 local authority areas of Greater London: 42,722 versus 2.187,708. I mean, what bizarre point is such an inappropriate comparison even trying to make? It is like comparing the projected growth of a normal sized-person’s head with the projected growth of the whole of an obese person, over a protracted period.

Having said all that, there is an important sensible conversation to be had as to why the populations of the Greater Liverpool metropolis and others haven’t grown as fast as maybe should have been the case, whilst, in recent times, the Greater London population has been burgeoning. But constantly pitching it as some sort of rare local apocalypse helps no one.

Dave Mail has declared himself CityMetric’s Liverpool City Region correspondent. He will be updating us on the brave new world of Liverpool City Region, mostly monthly, in ‘E-mail from Liverpool City Region’ and he is on twitter @davemail2017.