YouGov just polled nearly 8,000 people to prove the existence of the English Midlands

Watford Gap, the traditional boundary between north and south. Image: Wikipedia.

YouGov, a pollster so committed to attracting the attention of journalists that it once literally polled an argument that Stephen Bush and I were having in the office, is at it again. It’s polled the people of the nine official English regions on whether they considered themselves to be in the north of the south, lit the blue touch paper, and retired to Twitter.

This is quite obviously a fantastically silly question: three of the regions literally contain the word “north”, two the word “south”, and two more the words “Midlands”, so you can probably predict where this is going.

The regions, mapped. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

But I’m a sucker for this sort of thing – a Venn diagram mapping interest in regional identities, unanswerable questions and silly polls designed to wind up the internet up would have, in the middle, a picture of my face – so let’s have at it, and see what we can learn.

Here are the results, in map form:

Click to expand.

Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of residents of the north west (92 per cent), north east (91 per cent) and Yorkshire & Humber (91 per cent) regions think they’re in the north. This is no surprise, really, because they very obviously are.

But the north east result still gives me pause for thought. I can believe that a few people in Cheshire (the north west) or north Lincolnshire (Yorkshire & Humber) don’t think of themselves as northerners. But who are these 9 per cent in the north east who don’t think it’s the north of England? Are they holding the map upside down?

The results are only very slightly less emphatic in the south. I can believe 13 per cent in the South West think that’s somehow not “the south”: only 3 per cent think, bafflingly it’s the north, with 7 saying it’s neither, so maybe in their mind it’s “the West Country” or some such.

But I’m a bit confused by the other results. What explains the 3 per cent in the South East who think they’re in the north? I can believe some Oxfordshire residents who think they’re in the Midlands, but the north? Are these people just winding us up?

And as to the 12 per cent of Londoners who don’t think it’s in the south, what’s going on there then? Especially since the southern English identity is, to the first approximation, the Home Counties one – the places from where people commute to London. How could London not be in the south of England? Does southern just mean “votes Tory” now?

It’s in between, though, where things get complicated. Unsurprisingly, the majority of people in the Midlands (65 per cent in the West Midlands, 62 per cent in the East Midlands) don’t consider themselves to live in the north or the south. Which is probably no surprise because the region is literally called the Midlands, a reference to the fact it’s in the middle between the north and the south.

But Midlanders are more likely to consider themselves northern than southern. That may reflect the quirks of regional geography: several of the region’s major cities (Nottingham, Derby, Stoke-on-Trent) are in its northern half. Then again, it may be a more psychological thing, a sign that people feel more affinity to the outsider northern identity than the establishment southern one.

At any rate, most people in most regions clearly aren't falling for YouGov's tricks and are pretty insistent that the Midlands are neither in the north nor the south, thank you very much.

And then there’s the East of England, which is by far the most confused in its place. Okay, only 4 per cent of people there reckon it’s the north, and they are all, clearly, mad. But the rest are more divided than their peers in any other region: 57 per cent say they’re in the south, 35 per cent say neither.

To be fair, the east of England is a bloody stupid idea for a government region anyway. It’s divided between the London commuter suburbs of Essex and Hertfordshire; the more distant Cambridgeshire & Bedfordshire, which are outside the capital’s footprint but nonetheless tend to look in its direction; and the relatively rural and self-contained counties of Norfolk and Suffolk.


It’s never been clear to me why these places belong in a single basket. Places like Watford or Brentwood have more in common with other M25 towns in the South East region than they do with rural Norfolk. My suspicion is that there is a much stronger East Anglian identity, but that it covers too small an area and too few people to be of much use in government statistics, so they stuck it onto a chunk of London commuter territory.

Or, to put it another way, these eight government regions are, in my considered opinion, a load of old cobblers. I can demonstrate this using a single fact: if you get on the Metropolitan line of the London Underground at Northwood and travel four stops west, you’ll pass through three of the blasted things.

Anyway, I think we can safely say this exercise has conclusively proved three things:

1) The official government regions have nothing whatsoever to do with how most people actually view their region of England;

2) YouGov is trolling me;

3) I fall for it, every time.

Has anyone coined the term “Trollster” before? If not, I’m coining it now. YouGov is a social media-savvy trollster. Good for them.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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To beat rising temperatures, Vienna launches a network of 'Cool Streets'

A Vienna resident cools off at one of the city's new Cool Streets installations. (Courtesy Christian Fürthner/Mobilitätsagentur Wien)

Over the past several months, Austria has recorded its highest unemployment rate since World War II, thanks to the economic aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. With no job or a suddenly smaller income – not to mention the continued threat of the virus – many Viennese will opt for a staycation this summer.  

At the same time, last year, Austria’s capital experienced 39 days with temperatures of over 30°C (86°F), one of its hottest summers in history according to the Central Institute for Meteorology and Geodynamics.

Climate experts expect a similarly sizzling 2020 season, and city officials are now doubling down on efforts to combat the heat by launching a “Cool Streets” initiative as well as a new, state-of-the-art cooling park.

“As the city councilwoman in charge of climate, it is my job to ensure local cooling,” Vienna’s deputy mayor Birgit Hebein proclaimed at the opening of one of 22 new “Cool Streets” on 22 June.

“In Austria, there are already more heat deaths than traffic fatalities,” she added.

Hebein was referring to the 766 people the Austrian Agency for Health and Food Security included in its 2018 heat-associated mortality statistics. The number was up by 31% compared to 2017, and in contrast to the 409 people who died in traffic collisions the same year.

The project includes 18 temporary Cool Streets located across the city, plus four roads that will be redesigned permanently and designated as “Cool Streets Plus”.

“The Plus version includes the planting of trees. Brighter surfaces, which reflect less heat, replace asphalt in addition to the installation of shadow or water elements,” said Kathrin Ivancsits, spokeswoman for the city-owned bureau Mobilitätsagentur, which is coordinating the project.


Vienna's seasonal Cool Streets provide shady places to rest and are closed to cars. (Petra Loho for CityMetric)

In addition to mobile shade dispensers and seating possibilities amid more greenery provided by potted plants, each street features a steel column offering drinking water and spray cooling. The temporary Cool Streets will also remain car-free until 20 September.

A sensor in the granite base releases drinking water and pushes it through 34 nozzles whenever the outside temperature reaches 25°C (77°F) . As soon as the ambient temperature drops to 23°C (73°F), the sensor, which operates from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., turns off the water supply.

The sensors were included in part to allay concerns about legionella, a pathogenic bacteria that can reproduce in water.  

“When the spray stops, the system drains, and therefore no microbial contamination can develop,” said Dr. Hans-Peter Hutter, deputy head of the Department of Environmental Health at the Center for Public Health at Medical University Vienna, in a televised interview.

Hutter also assured the public that there is no increased risk of a Covid-19 infection from the spray as long as people adhere to the one-meter social distance requirement.


But Samer Bagaeen of the University of Kent's School of Architecture and Planning notes that air cooling systems, like the ones used in Germany at abattoirs, have been found recently to be a risk factor for Covid-19 outbreaks.

“The same could be said for spay devices,” he warned.

Vienna’s district councils selected the 22 Cool Street locations with the help of the city’s Urban Heat Vulnerability Index. The map shows where most people suffer from heat by evaluating temperature data, green and water-related infrastructure, and demographic data.

“Urban heat islands can occur when cities replace the natural land cover with dense concentrations of pavement, buildings, and other surfaces that absorb and retain heat,” as the US Environmental Protection Agency states.


A rendering of Vienna's planned park featuring a Coolspot, which is scheduled to open in August. Click to expand.
(Courtesy Carla Lo Landscape Architecture)

Vienna’s sixth district, Mariahilf, is such an area. The construction of the capital’s first “Cooling Park”, a €1 million project covering the 10,600 square-metre Esterházypark, is designed to provide relief. 

Green4Cities, a centre of excellence for green infrastructure in urban areas, designed the park’s main attraction, the “Coolspot”. The nearly 3.40-metre high steel trellis holds three rings equipped with spray nozzles. Textile shading slats, tensioned with steel cables, cover them.

The effects of evaporation and evapotranspiration create a cooler microclimate around the 30 square-metre seating area, alongside other spray spots selectively scattered across the park.

The high-pressure spray also deposits tiny droplets on plant and tree leaves, which stimulates them to sweat even more. All together, these collective measures help to cool their surroundings by up to six degrees.

The landscape architect Carla Lo and her team planned what she calls the “low-tech” park components. “Plants are an essential design element of the Cooling Park,” Lo says. “By unsealing the [soil], we can add new grass, herbaceous beds, and more climate-resistant trees to the existing cultivation”.

Light-coloured, natural stone punctuated by grass seams replaces the old concrete surfaces, and wooden benches meander throughout the park.

Living near the park and yearning for an urban escape close by, Lo says she’s motivated to ensure the park is completed by mid-August.

“If we don't do anything, Vienna will be another eight degrees Celsius hotter in 2050 than it already is,” Hebein said.

Vienna recently came in first in the World's 10 Greenest Cities Index by the consulting agency Resonance.

“There is no one size fits all on how cities respond to urban heat,” says the University of Kent’s Bagaeen, who points out that Vienna was one of the first European cities to set up an Urban Heat Islands Strategic Plan in 2015.

In the short term, prognoses on the city’s future development may be more difficult: Vienna votes this autumn.

Petra Loho is a journalist and photographer based in Austria.