Maps pouring scorn on everyone, coming soon to a city near you

Gillaspie’s map of Denver, the first to be hosted on the site. One comment read: “I love it. Rascist [sic] but funny and informative, lol.” Image: Trent Gillaspie.

When it comes to cities, maps don’t really tell you the whole story. Yes, the roads are marked out, yes there’s sometimes a post office or a pub on there, but sometimes you want to know what locals really think of an area.

Enter Judgemental Maps, a crowdsourced collection of maps handily blazoned with locals’ stereotypes of different neighbourhoods. Want to know where the “white trash, soccer moms” of Pittsburgh are? (Banksville, apparently.) Or where to go in London to find “curry and hipsters”? (Shoreditch, obv.) Judgemental maps have your back.

The site was founded by standup comedian Trent Gillaspie, who realised that jibes about neighbourhoods in his local Denver always went down well in his comedy routine. At the beginning of this year, he decided to commit them to Microsoft Paint and publish them online, and the Denver Judgemental Map was born. It swiftly went viral, was shared online by thousands in and outside the city, and Gillaspie put out a call to comedians he knew in other cities to put together their own.

"People contact us who think it'd be funny to have a judgemental map of their own house."

What he didn’t expect was that map submissions and suggestions would arrive from strangers all over the US, desperate to get their most poisonous or bizarre city observations off their chests. Taking contributions from strangers does have its drawbacks: Gillaspie has no way of knowing whether their observations are dead-on, or unfunny and inaccurate. That goes double when the map covers a city he’s never visited.

The first map of London hosted on the site, which was also its first non-US map, received a pretty poor reception for this reason.  “The comments were like ‘this isn’t accurate’, or ‘this isn’t funny’,” Gillaspie says. “It was hard because I don’t know a lot of the terms. Someone was saying it had a lot of misspellings, but I’m not familiar with ‘English English’, so I couldn’t tell what they were.” (One example: “hipster” misspelt as “hispter”.) Luckily, someone came forward and created a funnier, correctly-spelled London map:

Credit: Tim, @fingertrouble.

Now, Gillaspie gets friends in different cities to check the maps, to make sure everything’s funny and, er, spelled correctly. But even then, maps can fall flat.

The Minneapolis Map is a case in point. It is not, at first glance, any more offensive than the others – neighbourhood labels include “hairdressers”, “sell-out hippies”, and “Democrats with BMWs”.  Yet the comments section exploded (there are 225 at time of writing) with allegations of racism, despite the fact that none of the labels explicitly referenced race. A local news website even ran a poll asking “Were you offended by the Judgemental Map of Minneapolis?” (though only 4 per cent of respondents actually answered “Yes”). Gillaspie says the author requested for her name to be removed from the map because she was getting so much abuse.

More successful maps tend to be those which couch their offensiveness in humour. “Making it more creative makes it more palatable for the audience. A label like ‘you probably haven’t heard of this neighbourhood yet’ is funnier and more effective than ‘rich black people’.”

A high point is the map for 1860s San Francisco, where labels include “Horses now, Baseball Soon” and “abandoned ships”. Gillaspie says he also has a map lined up which covers a single park.

There is a line to be drawn, of course. “We have had older people contact us to try and submit one for their own neighbourhood, or who think ‘it would be fun to have a judgemental map of my house’. It might be funny for you, but is it funny to a bunch of other people? No, probably not.”


Sadiq Khan and Grant Shapps clash over free bus travel for under 18s

A London bus at Victoria station. Image: Getty.

The latest front in the row between Transport for London (TfL) and national government over how to fund the capital’s transport system: free bus travel for the under 18s.

Two weeks ago, you’ll recall, TfL came perilously close to running out of money and was forced to ask for a bail out. The government agreed, but offered less money, and with more strings attached, than the agency wanted. At present, there are a range of fare discounts – some up to 100% – available to children depending on their age and which service they’re using, provided they have the right Oyster card. One of the government’s strings, the mayor’s office says, was to end all free TfL travel for the under 18s, Oyster or no Oyster.

The Department for Transport’s line on all this is that this is about maximising capacity. Many working-age people need to use buses to get to their jobs: they’re more likely to be able to do that, while also social distancing, if those buses aren’t already full of teenagers riding for free. (DfT cited the same motivation for banning the use of the Freedom Pass, which provides free travel for the retired, at peak times.)

But in an open letter to transport secretary Grant Shapps, the mayor, Sadiq Khan, wrote that TfL believed that 30% of children who currently received free travel had a statutory entitlement to it, because they attend schools more than a certain distance from their homes. If TfL doesn’t fund this travel, London’s boroughs must, which apart from loading costs onto local government means replacing an administrative system that already exists with one that doesn’t. 

Some Labour staffers also smell Tory ideological objections to free things for young people at work. To quote Khan’s letter:

“It is abundantly clear that losing free travel would hit the poorest Londoners hardest at a time when finances are stretched more than ever... I want to make sure that families who might not have a choice but to use public transport are not further disadvantaged.”

London’s deputy mayor for transport, Heidi Alexander, is set to meet government officials next week to discuss all this. In the mean time, you can read Khan’s letter here.

UPDATE: The original version of this piece noted that the full agreement between the mayor and DfT remained mysteriously unpublished. Shortly after this story went live, the agreement appeared. Here it is.

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