A graphic designer just got his unauthorised redesign adopted as the official Luxembourg bus map

Artist and creation: Jug Cerović finds his new map in the wild. Image: Jug Cerović.

Remember Jug Cerović, the Serbian graphic designer who last summer sent us his take on London’s tube map? The city of Luxembourg just adopted his unauthorised re-design of the municipal bus network as its official transport map. Cool.

We suspect Jug has an ulterior motive in publicising his maps: his day job is working for Parisian mapping consultancy INAT. All the same, we thought you might like to read about how an unofficial map became official...

Transport maps are probably the only thing that all inhabitants of a city have in common. The Eiffel Tower or Tower Bridge are not unifying features; the tube map is.

And metro or subway maps are remarkably powerful artefacts. Not only are they accepted as a familiar tool, but they are absolutely trusted by everybody. Nobody questions them, or their origin, or the information they sport: we all take them for granted.


So, he who controls the map controls the mental image of the city that it projects. He who controls the map controls minds.

Tremendous power, isn't it?

I’d go as far as to say that the map is more important than the network itself. Without the map, a multibillion dollar network might as well not be there, since travellers will be unable to navigate it. If a station is erased on the map, for anyone who doesn’t live or work close by, it simply ceases to exist. In this paradoxical situation, it’s the physical network that is actually virtual, while the artefact picturing it is its only reality. The map is the network.

Once you appreciate the power the map has over a city, you start to believe that its creation is too important to be left only to some administration without public scrutiny. As French prime minister Georges Clemenceau once said, “War is too important a matter to be left to the military.”

The Luxembourg Genesis

In May 2015 a reader posted the then official Luxembourg municipal bus map on TransitMaps.net, describing it as “the city’s spaghetti monster”. I must say, he was quite right about the poor quality of the overall design.

The original official map. Click to expand.

The US news site Vox reported the story – and when the news reached Luxembourg, it caused much unease among politicians and officials alike.

When I discovered the map on TransitMaps, I wondered if it could be redesigned to make it more legible. So I started disentangling it:

The existing tangle...

...gradually disentangled. Click to expand.

After managing to tidy up some of this mess, I realised that the network was actually pretty good – but that the map was not representing it well at all.
So I set about designing a brand new version.

My new map encompasses the entire area served by the bus system with two different scales: a pedestrian scale, in the dense central area; and a territorial scale on the periphery.

It shows an enlarged and geographically accurate city centre, surrounded by a smaller, more schematic view of the suburbs.

Symbolically, the Old Town (Ville Haute) is placed at the exact centre of the map for immediate orientation. Its peculiar pentagonal shape is emphasised, and it is shown as a dense urban fabric with packed building intersected by streets and squares.

The structure of the map corresponds to the morphology of the city: all the angles are multiples of 36°, relating to the pentagonal centre.

In terms of information hierarchy, 19 lines go through the city’s central corridor.

These are shown in bright colours...

Click to expand.

...and grouped by their direction.

Click to expand.

The width of the line represents frequency. Thick lines are high frequency services (those that run at 5-10 minute headways); thin ones are low frequency.

Click to expand.

A further 11 lines make up a secondary network.

These are shown in lighter, pastel colours.

Click to expand.

Lastly, I included various elements of the cityscape, to aid navigation: remarkable buildings, parks, rivers, railways and bridges.

Click to expand.

When it was complete I sent it to the place where everything started, TransitMaps. From there, it was picked up by the Luxembourg media – and the local citizens placed such pressure on the politicians that they had no choice left but to contact me. After six months with the Luxembourg Bus Administration, fine tuning the map, last week it was finally made official.

Now everybody is happy: the citizens enjoy a great map, the public transport operating company can show the excellence of its network, the politicians contributed to developing a stronger identity for the city – and I am happy to see a city adopt my creation.

Here’s the map:

 

Click to expand. Or you can download the full sized version on the city of Luxembourg's official website here.

This unlikely genesis for a public transport map is a sign of what awaits us in the near future: a combination of actors (media, social networks, politicians, officials) influencing each other and coming together to create something new. We have finally moved from a vertical decision making process to a deterritorialised and horizontal creativity network.

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A nation that doesn’t officially exist: on Somaliland’s campaign to build a national library in Hargeisa

The Somaliland National Library, Hargeisa. Image: Ahmed Elmi.

For seven years now, there’s been a fundraising campaign underway to build a new national library in a nation that doesn’t officially exist. 

Since 2010, the Somali diaspora have been sending money, to pay for construction of the new building in the capital, Hargeisa. In a video promoting the project, the British journalist Rageeh Omar, who was born in Mogadishu to a Hargeisa family, said it would be... 

“...one of the most important institutions and reference points for all Somalilanders. I hope it sets a benchmark in terms of when a country decides to do something for itself, for the greater good, for learning and for progress – that anything can be achieved.”

Now the first storey of the Somaliland National Library is largely complete. The next step is to fill it with books. The diaspora has been sending those, too.

****

Some background is necessary here to explain the “country that doesn’t exist” part. During the Scramble for Africa of the 1880s, at the height of European imperialism, several different empires established protectorates in the Somali territories on the Horn of Africa. In 1883, the French took the port of Djibouti; the following year, the British grabbed the north coast, which looks out onto the Gulf of Aden. Five years after that, the Italians took the east coast, which faces the Indian Ocean.

And, excepting some uproar during World War II, so things remained for the next 70 years or so.

The Somali territories in 1890. Image: Ingoman/Wikimedia Commons.

When the winds of change arrived in 1960, the British and Italian portions agreed to unite as the Somali Republic: a hair-pin shaped territory, hugging the coast and surrounding Ethiopia on two sides. But British Somaliland gained its independence first: for just five days, at the end of June 1960, it was effectively an independent country. This will become important later.

(In case you are wondering what happened to the French bit, it voted to remain with France in a distinctly dodgy referendum. It later became independent as Djibouti in 1977.)

The new country, informally known as Somalia, had a difficult history: nine years of democracy ended in a coup, and were followed by the 22 year military dictatorship under the presidency of General Siad Barre. In 1991, under pressure from rebel groups including the Hargeisa-based Somali National Movement (SNM), Barre fled, and his government finally collapsed. So, in effect, did the country.

For one thing, it split in two, along the old colonial boundaries: the local authorities in the British portion, backed by the SNM, made a unilateral declaration of independence. In the formerly Italian south, though, things collapsed in a rather more literal sense: the territory centred on Mogadishu was devastated by the Somali civil war, which has killed around 500,000, displaced more than twice that, and is still officially going on.

Somalia (blue) and Somaliland (yellow) in 2016. Image: Nicolay Sidorov/Wikimedia Commons.

The north, meanwhile, got off relatively lightly: today it’s the democratic and moderately prosperous Republic of Somaliland. It claims to be the successor to the independent state of Somaliland, which existed for those five days in June 1960.

This hasn’t persuaded anybody, though, and today it’s the only de facto sovereign state that has never been recognised by a single UN member. Reading about it, one gets the distinct sense that this is because it’s basically doing okay, so its lack of diplomatic recognition has never risen up anyone’s priority list.

Neither has its library.

****
Rageeh Omar described the site of the new library in his fundraising video. It occupies 6,000m2 in the middle of Hargeisa, two minutes from the city’s main hospital, 10 from the presidential palace. In one sequence he stands on the half-completed building’s roof and points out the neighbours: the city’s main high street, with the country’s largest shopping mall; the Ministry of Telecoms that lies right next door.

This spiel, in a video produced by the project’s promoters, suggests something about the new library: that part of its job is to be another in this list of landmarks, more evidence that Hargeisa, a city of 1.5m, should be recognised as the proper capital of a real country.

But it isn’t just that: the description of the library’s function, in the government’s Strategic Plan 2013-2023, makes clear it’s also meant to be a real educational facility. NGOS, the report notes, have focused their resources on primary schools first, secondary schools second and other educational facilities not at all. (This makes sense, given that they want most bang for their buck.)

And so, the new building will provide “the normal functions of public library, but also... additional services that are intentionally aimed at solving the unique education problems of a post conflict society”. It’ll provide books for a network of library trucks, providing “book services” to the regions outside Hargeisa, and a “book dispersal and exchange system”, to provide books for schools and other educational facilities. There’ll even be a “Camel Library Caravan that will specifically aim at accessing the nomadic pastoralists in remote areas”.

All this, it’s hoped, will raise literacy levels, in English as well as the local languages of Arabic and Somali, and so boost the economy too.

As described. Image courtesy of Nimko Ali.

Ahmed Elmi, the London-based Somali who’s founder and director of the library campaign, says that the Somaliland government has invested $192,000 in the library. A further $97,000 came from individual and business donors in both Hargeisa and in the disaspora. “We had higher ambitions,” Elmi tells me, “but we had to humble our approach, since the last three years the country has been suffering from a large drought.”

Now the scheme is moving to its second phase: books, computers and printers, plus landscaping the gardens. This will cost another $175,000. “We are also open to donations of books, furniture and technology,” Emli says. “Or even someone with technical expertise who can help up set-up the librarian system instead of a contemporary donation of a cash sum.” The Czech government, in fact, has helped with the latter: it’s not offered financial support, but has offered to spend four weeks training two librarians.  

Inside the library.

On internet forums frequented by the Somali diaspora, a number of people have left comments about the best way to do this. One said he’d “donated all my old science and maths schoolbooks last year”. And then there’s this:

“At least 16 thousand landers get back to home every year, if everyone bring one book our children will have plenty of books to read. But we should make sure to not bring useless books such celebrity biography books or romantic novels. the kids should have plenty of science,maths and vocational books.”

Which is good advice for all of us, really.


Perhaps the pithiest description of the project comes from its Facebook page: “Africa always suffers food shortage, diseases, civil wars, corruption etc. – but the Somaliland people need a modern library to build a better place for the generations to come.”

The building doesn’t look like much: a squat concrete block, one storey-high. But there’s something about the idea of a country coming together like this to build something that’s rather moving. Books are better than sovereignty anyway.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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