I conducted Myers-Briggs personality assessments of London's 11 tube lines. Here's what I learnt

"What are you thinking?" Image: Getty.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator assessment is a set of questions, to which someone’s answers will supposedly tell you exactly what kind of personality they have. For example, you can find out whether they think about things, or perhaps have feelings.

The test was created by mother and daughter Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers, fans of psychologist Carl Jung, after Katharine noticed that her son-in-law had a different personality to the rest of her family, something that definitely required formal and rigorous investigation.

Someone’s Myers-Briggs Type is represented by a sequence of 4 letters. You sometimes see these on online dating or social media profiles: “I’m an INFJ”, someone might say, which means that they’re "Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling and Judging". The opposite would be an ESTP: "Extroverted, Sensing, Thinking and Perceiving". Some famous ESTPs, according to my extensive research, include David Cameron, Hermann Goering, Madonna and the Circle Line. 

You might think it would be hard to judge the personality type of the Circle Line, because it’s a tunnel in London with some trains in it, but you’d be wrong. All the tube lines have Twitter accounts these days – and whilst the normal way to establish a Myers-Briggs Type is get someone to fill in a questionnaire, it’s apparently possible to use a sample of text to analyse the personality of the author.

So, in 2013, I ran an analysis on all a collection of the tweets that have been posted by each London Underground line – and here’s what I found:

Almost every tube line is either ESTJ (a personality type sometimes described as "The Doer") or ESTP ("The Guardian"). There's just one exception: the Waterloo & City Line is ESFP – "The Performer" – a personality type shared by Miley Cyrus.

That the Waterloo & City lines has a fundamental difference in personality from its peers seems to be borne out by looking at how the different tubelines interact. Here's a slightly confusing diagram showing how often the different tube lines mention each other on Twitter. The redder the boxes, the less "social" a line is:

Lines tweeting on the horizontal, lines being tweeted at on the vertical. Samples of around ~3200 tweets per line.

The Waterloo & City Line is by far the least social. The other lines just aren’t interested in it, and it isn’t particularly interested in them. But why is it so different?

The line opened in 1898, built by the London & South Western Railway, because even after they’d gone to all the effort of moving their terminus from Vauxhall to Waterloo, that still didn’t actually get most commuters to where they worked in the City. It’s the only London Underground line that’s completely underground (taking trains on and off the line used to be done using a hydraulic lift; nowadays they use a crane). But for a long time, it wasn’t really a London Underground line at all. It doesn’t even appear on Harry Beck’s original 1933 tube map, despite pre-dating it by over 30 years.

The original Harry Beck tube map

That it opened as an independent railway line isn’t unusual among the older London Underground lines. What is unusual is that it was still operated by Network South East a national rail line until 1994, when it was decided to correct the anomaly before rail privatisation took place. For arcane contractual reasons, London Underground bought the line for a pound.

The 1987 tube map does include the W&C, but it’s marked as a National Rail service.

Once integrated into the tube network proper the line was given the exciting colour of turquoise, all the good colours having already been used up. At least it’s better than what the Jubilee Line has been known to claim is “silver”. Chinny reckon.

Maybe that long isolation from the “proper” underground lines has taken its toll, marked the Waterloo & City out as different. The sad thing is, it seems like it’s trying to be chatty and approachable: it may be the line that tweets the least but, if we look at how much each line tweets given the number of stations on it, or the total line length, the Waterloo & City has them all beat hands down. It’s also the least egotistical line, mentioning itself less than any of the others.

 

Whoa, District line, get over yourself.

If we look at the words it uses the most, we can see while it’s pretty work-focussed, it is a fan of Easter and the Paralympics.

Perhaps it’s the case that we can’t learn absolutely everything about a thing by analysing its Twitter account. Perhaps. So I took my second ever trip on the Waterloo & City Line, making the journey in the order the name suggests. That I’ve only used it twice in 10 years might not be not that uncommon, as trips on it account for less than 1 per cent of all Underground journeys made in London.

But for what it is, it’s hard to fault: at around 9 minutes (including getting to the platforms) it’s still the fastest way of making the journey between Waterloo and Bank, if you don’t fancy cycling really fast or taking a helicopter. And it’s definitely the most efficient bit of tube line naming on the whole system:

Waterloo & City Line Map

The line’s name was actually even more functional when it was opened, as until 1940 the terminus in the City was called City.

For some reason, on the day I took my trip, every single advert displayed in the carriage was for a special brand of Beats by Dre headphones aimed at executives. Not even a single one for that hair clinic. All Beats, as far as the eye could see.

As my trip was on a weekday afternoon no-one much was about which is good because people might have thought I was a bit of a weirdo for taking photos of Beats by Dr Dre adverts.Empty train

At the other end I walked up what as far as I can tell is the tunnel that gave the line the nickname “The Drain”. I have never heard anyone actually call the Waterloo & City Line “The Drain”, but it says they do in about four different books, so it must be true. Anyway, I guess this tunnel is a bit like a drain, if drains had lights and steps? I’m not going to start calling the Waterloo & City Line “The Drain”.

The Drain

Later that day I found a book in Guildhall Library which is mainly about 200 pages of Victorians arguing about corners but does have some exciting fold-out diagrams of the Waterloo & City Line – handy for if you want to want to build a Waterloo & City Line. Here’s a very bad photograph:

To be honest, I didn’t really learn a lot about the Waterloo & City Line from this experience. I think it’s just some trains? The tweets are almost certainly just written by someone in an office, and this has probably been a largely pointless exercise.

But then the Myers-Briggs test is itself a largely pointless exercise, taken seriously only by people who work in HR and designers of bad online quizzes, where you can find out if you’re more or less perceptive than Clara from Doctor Who. So let’s call that the point and move on with our lives.

Ed Jefferson writes some things on the internet. He tweets as @edjeff

An earlier version of this article appeared on his blog, Some Fool Notion, in September 2013. It's reposted here with his permission.

 
 
 
 

Owning public space is expensive. So why do developers want to do it?

Granary Yard, London. Image: Getty.

A great deal has been written about privately owned public space, or POPS. A Guardian investigation earlier this year revealed the proliferation of “pseudo-public spaces”. Tales of people being watched, removed from or told off in POPS have spread online. Activists have taken to monitoring POPS, and politicians on both sides of the pond are calling for reforms in how they are run.

Local authorities’ motives for selling off public spaces are normally simple: getting companies to buy and maintain public space saves precious public pounds. Less straightforward and often overlooked in this debate is why – given the maintenance costs, public safety concerns and increasingly unflattering media attention – developers would actually want to own public space in the first place.

To answer that question it’s important to note that POPS can’t be viewed as isolated places, like parks or other public spaces might be. For the companies that own them, public spaces are bound up in the business that takes place inside their private buildings; POPS are tools that allow them, in one way or another, to boost profits.

Trade-offs

In some cities, such as Hong Kong and New York, ownership of public space is a trade-off for the right to bend the rules in planning and zoning. In 1961 New York introduced a policy that came to be known as ‘incentive zoning’. Developers who took on the provision of some public space could build wider, taller buildings, ignoring restrictions that had previously required staggered vertical growth to let sunlight and air into streets.

Since then, the city has allowed developers to build 20m square feet of private space in exchange for 80 acres of POPS, or 525 individual spaces, according to watchdog Advocates for Privately Owned Public Space (APOPS).

Several of those spaces lie in Trump Tower. Before the King of the Deal began construction on his new headquarters in 1979, he secured a pretty good deal with the city: Trump Tower would provide two atriums, two gardens, some restrooms and some benches for public use; in exchange 20 floors could be added to the top of the skyscraper. That’s quite a lot of condos.

Shockingly, the current president has not always kept up his end of the bargain and has been fined multiple times for dissuading members of the public from using POPS by doing things like placing flower pots on top of benches – violating a 1975 rule which said that companies had to provide amenities that actually make public spaces useable. The incident might suggest the failure of the ‘honour system’ under which POPS operate day-to-day. Once developers have secured their extra square footage, they might be tempted to undermine, subtly, the ‘public’ nature of their public spaces.

But what about where there aren’t necessarily planning benefits to providing public space? Why would companies go to the trouble of managing spaces that the council would otherwise take care of?


Attracting the ‘right sort’

Granary Square, part of the £5bn redevelopment of London’s Kings Cross, has been open since 2012. It is one of Europe’s largest privately-owned public spaces and has become a focal point for concerns over corporate control of public space. Yet developers of the neighbouring Coal Drop Yards site, due to open in October 2018, are also making their “dynamic new public space” a key point in marketing.

Cushman Wakefield, the real estate company in charge of Coal Drops Yard, says that the vision of the developers, Argent, has been to “retain the historical architecture to create a dramatic environment that will attract visitors to the 100,000 square feet of boutiques”. The key word here is “attract”. By designing and managing POPS, developers can attract the consumers who are essential to the success of their sites and who might be put off by a grubby council-managed square – or by a sterile shopping mall door.

A 2011 London Assembly Report found that the expansion of Canary Wharf in the 1990s was a turning point for developers who now “assume that they themselves will take ownership of an open space, with absolute control, in order to protect the value of the development as a whole”. In many ways this is a win-win situation; who doesn’t appreciate a nice water feature or shrub or whatever else big developer money can buy?

The caveat is, as academic Tridib Banerjee pointed out back in 2001: “The public is welcome as long as they are patrons of shops and restaurants, office workers, or clients of businesses located on the premises. But access to and use of the space is only a privilege and not a right” – hence the stories of security guards removing protesters or homeless people who threaten the aspirational appeal of places like Granary Square.

In the US, developers have taken this kind of space-curation even further, using public spaces as part of their formula for attracting the right kind of worker, as well as consumer, for nearby businesses. In Cincinnati, developer 3CDC transformed the notoriously crime-ridden Over-The-Rhine (OTR) neighbourhood into a young professional paradise. Pouring $47m into an initial make-over in 2010, 3CDC beautified parks and public space as well as private buildings.

To do so, the firm received $50 million  in funding from corporations like Procter and Gamble, whose Cincinnati headquarters sits to the South-West of OTR. This kind of hyper-gentrification has profoundly change the demographics of the neighbourhood – to the anger of many long-term residents – attracting, essentially, the kind of people who work at Procter and Gamble.

Elsewhere, in cities like Alpharetta, Georgia, 3CDC have taken their public space management even further, running events and entertainment designed to attract productive young people to otherwise dull neighbourhoods.

Data pools

The proposed partnership between the city of Toronto and Sidewalk Labs (owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet) has highlighted another motive for companies to own public space: the most modern of all resources, data.

Data collection is at the heart of the ‘smart city’ utopia: the idea that by turning public spaces and the people into them into a vast data pool, tech companies can find ways to improve transport, the environment and urban quality of life. If approved next year, Sidewalk would take over the mostly derelict east waterfront area, developing public and private space filled with sensors.

 Of course, this isn’t altruism. The Globe and Mail describe Sidewalk’s desired role as “the private garbage collectors of data”. It’s an apt phrase that reflects the merging of public service and private opportunity in Toronto’s future public space.

The data that Sidewalk could collect in Toronto would be used by Google in its commercial projects. Indeed, they’ve already done so in New York’s LinkNYC and London’s LinkUK. Kiosks installed around the cities provide the public with wifi and charging points, whilst monitoring traffic and pedestrians and generating data to feed into Google Maps.

The subway station at Hudson Yards, New York City. Image: Getty.

This is all pretty anodyne stuff. Data on how we move around public spaces is probably a small price to pay for more efficient transport information, and of course Sidewalk don’t own the areas around their Link Kiosks. But elsewhere companies’ plans to collect data in their POPS have sparked controversy. In New York’s Hudson Yards development – which Sidewalk also has a stake in – ambiguity over how visitors and residents can opt out of sharing their data when in its public square, have raised concerns over privacy.

In Toronto, Sidewalk have already offered to share their data with the city. However, Martin Kenney, researcher at the University of California at Davis and co-author of 2016’s ‘The Rise of the Platform Economy’, has warned that the potential value of a tech company collecting a community’s data should not be underestimated. “What’s really important is the deals Toronto cuts with Sidewalk may set terms and conditions for the rest of the world," he said after the announcement in October.

The project could crystallise all three motives behind the ownership of POPS. Alongside data collection, Sidewalk will likely have some leeway over planning regulations and will certainly tailor its public spaces to its ideal workers and consumers – Google have already announced that it would move its Canadian headquarters, from their current location in Downton Toronto, into the first pilot phase of the development.

Even if the Sidewalks Lab project never happens, the motives behind companies’ ownership of POPS tell us that cities’ public realms are of increasing interest to private hands.

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