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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Is Britain’s housing crisis a myth?

Council housing in Lambeth, south London. Image: Getty.

I’ve been banging on about the need for Britain to build more houses for so long that I can no longer remember how or when it started. But at some point over the last few years, the need to build more homes has become My Thing. People ask me to speak at housing events, or @ me into arguments they’re having on Twitter on a Sunday morning in the hope I’ll help them out. You can even buy a me-inspired “Build More Bloody Houses” t-shirt.

It’s thus with trepidation about the damage I’m about to do to my #personal #brand that I ask:

Does Britain actually have enough houses? Is it possible I’ve been wrong all this time?

This question has been niggling away at me for some time. As far back as 2015, certain right-wing economists were publishing blogs claiming that the housing crisis was actually a myth. Generally the people who wrote those have taken similarly reality-resistant positions on all sorts of other things, so I wasn’t too worried.

But then, similar arguments started to appear from more credible sources. And today, the Financial Times published an excellent essay on the subject under the headline: “Hammond’s housebuilding budget fix will not repair market”.

All these articles draw on the data to make similar arguments: that the number of new homes built has consistently been larger than the number of new households; that focusing on new home numbers alone is misleading, and we should look at net supply; and that the real villain of the piece is the financialisation of housing, in which the old and rich have poured capital into housing for investment reasons, thus bidding up prices.

In other words, the data seems to suggest we don’t need to build vast numbers of houses at all. Have I been living a lie?

Well, the people who’ve been making this argument are by and large very clever economists trawling through the data, whereas I, by contrast, am a jumped-up internet troll with a blog. And I’m not dismissing the argument that the housing crisis is not entirely about supply of homes, but also about supply of money: it feels pretty clear to me that financialisation is a big factor in getting us into this mess.

Nonetheless, for three reasons, I stand by my belief that there is housing crisis, that it is in large part one of supply, and consequently that building more houses is still a big part of the solution.

Firstly I’m not sold on some of the data – or rather, on the interpretation of it. “There is no housing crisis!” takes tend to go big on household formation figures, and the fact they’ve consistently run behind dwelling numbers. Well, they would, wouldn’t they? By definition you can’t form a household if you don’t have a house.

So “a household” is not a useful measure. It doesn’t tell you if everyone can afford their own space, or whether they are being forced to bunk up with friends or family. In the latter situation, there is still a housing crisis, whatever the household formation figures say. And there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that’s the one we’re living in.

In the same way I’m not quite convinced that average rents is a useful number. Sure, it’s reassuring – and surprising – to know they have grown slower than general prices (although not in London). But all that figure tells you is the price being paid: it doesn’t tell you what is being purchased for that payment. A world in which renters each have their own property may have higher rents than one in which everyone gets one room in an over-crowded shared flat. It’s still the latter which better fits the label “housing crisis”.

Secondly, I’m entirely prepared to believe we’ve been building enough homes in this country to meet housing demand in the aggregate: there are parts of the country where housing is still strikingly affordable.

But that’s no use, because we don’t live in an aggregate UK: we live and work in specific places. Housing demand from one city can be met by building in another, because commuting is a thing – but that’s not always great for quality of life, and more to the point there are limits on how far we can realistically take it. It’s little comfort that Barnsley is building more than enough homes, when the shortage is most acute in Oxford.

So: perhaps there is no national housing crisis. That doesn’t mean there is not a housing crisis, in the sense that large numbers of people cannot access affordable housing in a place convenient for their place of work. National targets are not always helpful.


Thirdly, at risk of going all “anecdote trumps data”, the argument that there is no housing crisis – that, even if young people are priced out of buying by low interest rates, we have enough homes, and rents are reasonable – just doesn’t seem to fit with the lived experience reported by basically every millennial I’ve ever met. Witness the gentrification of previously unfashionable areas, or the gradual takeover of council estates by private renters in their 20s. 

A growing share of the population aren’t just whining about being priced out of ownership: they actively feel that housing costs are crushing them. Perhaps that’s because rents have risen relative to wages; perhaps it’s because there’s something that the data isn’t capturing. But either way, that, to me, sounds like a housing crisis.

To come back to our original question – will building more houses make this better?

Well, it depends where. National targets met by building vast numbers of homes in cities that don’t need them probably won’t make a dent in the places where the crisis is felt. But I still struggle to see how building more homes in, say, Oxford wouldn’t improve the lot of those at the sharp end there: either bringing rents down, or meaning you get more for your money.

There is a housing crisis. It is not a myth. Building more houses may not be sufficient to solve it – but that doesn’t meant it isn’t necessary.

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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