Local council wards are really very interesting, actually

The Highlands, home of big wards. Image: Getty.

Did you know that the UK’s biggest ward accounts for 2 per cent of the total area of the UK? You did? Ok then, did you know that only one UK ward out of more than 9,000 begins with “z”? Perhaps you did.

But did you know that “Plumpton, Streat, East Chiltington and St John (Without)” is the longest ward name in the UK, and also perhaps the best? How about the fact that there are 11 UK wards bigger than Greater London and the smallest ward in the country (in the City of London) is not very big at all – 0.044 km2 (about 6 football pitches). The ward that you’d most like to drink? Why, that’s the ward of “Speyside Glenlivet” (in Moray), surely.

Time for some maps now. They all have the name of the local authority they’re in in the top left, with the ward name along the bottom.

Not quite as big as Trinidad and Tobago, but close enough.

It’s small, ancient and has about 320 people.

Zetland ward, in Redcar and Cleveland.

If you’re a local councillor in the UK’s biggest ward you have an awful lot of ground to cover, as you can see below for the journey between Achiltibuie and Kinloch Hourn, which are both in the same ward but over three hours apart. Extra points if you can pronounce Achiltibuie (I can but I have a bit of an advantage on the Highland-place-names-as-Shibboleth thing).

The route between Achiltibuie and Kinloch Hourn, in the same ward. Image: Google Maps.

There are two really, really big wards in the UK. One is shown above: that’s Wester Ross, Strathpeffer and Lochalsh. The other is North, West and Central Sutherland. Both are in the north west Highlands, and are more than 4,800 km2 in size (that’s over 1,800 square miles, which is close to three times the size of Greater London, or 18 City of Edinburghs).

The biggest ones in other parts of the UK are a good bit smaller, and here they are below. Overall, the 10 biggest UK wards account for more than 10 per cent of the land area of the UK, and the 100 biggest account for just over 30 per cent of the UK’s land area. You could fit almost 3,000 of the smallest UK wards in Wester Ross, Strathpeffer and Lochalsh, but I don’t think it’s a very sensible idea so I’d advise against it.

By far the biggest ward in England.

Just a smidgen bigger than Torr Head and Rathlin.

The biggest ward in Wales is also a donut ward.

The other humongous ward. 

All this isn’t supposed to be profound or anything like that, just a bit of map trivia, so read on for a bit more about the little wards. The smallest wards in the UK are all in the City of London, and we’ve seen the smallest of those above (Queenhithe) so let’s look at smallest ones in different parts of the UK instead.

Northern Ireland’s smallest ward.

Scotland’s smallest ward.

The smallest ward in Wales.

Not the street of Charles Booth fame, but it is small.

Wards are actually very important though, and they represent a very important part of local democracy in the UK – so there are some practical implications to this kind of thing, particularly when you consider the different areas people represent and how widely they can vary, even within a single local authority. For example, in Northumberland the biggest ward is more than 1,100 times the size of the smallest. In the Highland Council area in Scotland, the biggest ward is over 1,300 times the size of the smallest.
But did you know that wards can also be mapped with a basemap in greyscale? You didn’t? Okay, here’s proof, with a selection of wards covering more than 100 km2.

Lots of big wards in this neck of the woods.

Not anywhere near Bolton.

Another donut ward - I’m not sure how many there actually are.

10th biggest ward in Northern Ireland.

Yes, the Isle of Skye is a single ward (pop about 10,500).

I like the name of this ward.

Notes: I used ward boundaries for 2018 from the ONS Open Geography Portal. This file contains 9,114 wards for the UK, with 7,446 in England, 462 in Northern Ireland, 354 in Scotland and 852 in Wales. Scotland has relatively few wards compared to Northern Ireland and England but I won’t go into that here.

My favourite ward? Not sure, but Aird and Loch Ness is definitely a contender – see below. It contains all of Loch Ness, is pleasingly-shaped and is only a little bit smaller than Luxembourg. Then there is “Highland” ward which is not in “Highland” (the council area) but is in the Highlands but in the Perth and Kinross council area. I have loads more of these maps but that’s enough for today.

The midgie capital of the world (at least in my experience).

Hmm.

 

Dr Alasdair Rae is a senior lecturer in the urban studies & planning department of the University of Sheffield. This article was originally posted on his blog, and is reposted here with the author's permission.

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On boarded-up storefronts, muralists offer words of hope

The murals on closed storefronts aim "to end ugly wall syndrome." (Courtesy of Beautify)

In Los Angeles, Melrose Avenue has a new mural that reads: “Cancel plans, not humanity.”

It’s an artwork by Corie Mattie, a street artist who kindly reminds us of our togetherness under quarantine. She and many other artists are putting murals up across the US as part of the Back to the Streets campaign, which aims to add some color to the streets – specifically on boarded up storefronts and abandoned streets that feel deserted during the coronavirus pandemic.

The goal is to bring some beauty to the streets while everything is boarded up – “to end ugly wall syndrome,” says project founder Evan Meyer. “It’s to get people to care about their communities, be part of the process.” 


Many of the murals are painted on plywood panels that cover the entryways to independent businesses that have shut down during the pandemic. The project aims to prevent a sense of decay, especially as some businesses start to open back up while their neighbours remain closed.

“We need to protect our streets from becoming sad places quickly, when places are abandoned and don’t feel like they have love or life,” says Meyer, who is also the CEO of Beautify, a company that connects artists with places to make murals. Among the murals made during the pandemic, one at a department store says “Togetherness,” while another says: “You can’t quarantine love.”

“We’re seeing messages like hope, positivity and community,” Meyer says. “More than ever, it’s a time for community.”


(Courtesy of Beautify)

With artist-led projects in L.A., Seattle, San Francisco, Santa Monica, Pasadena, and others, the goal is to get 1,000 murals up across America. Murals are also being painted in small towns in Iowa, like Council Bluffs and Dubuque, and an earlier mural in New York City’s Rockaway Beach was created in 2014 with the same goal of bringing some life to neglected buildings that needed renovation after Hurricane Sandy

“We need to protect our streets from becoming sad places with broken windows, tagging and crime,” says Meyer. “A lot can happen if a place feels like it’s unwatched.” 

Los Angeles councilmember David Ryu endorsed the initiative in a recent blog post, saying it has helped boost morale on the streets of L.A. “When we brighten blighted walls, we improve neighborhoods,” he wrote. “It’s critical to have more business owners enlist their walls here to bring some much needed love and recognition to their establishment and their neighborhood.” 

The effort stems from a sister project called Beautify Earth, which has helped address a litter problem in Santa Monica’s commercial district. In addition to a cleanup force, the project has painted more than 100 murals on walls, dumpsters, utility boxes and garbage cans across the city.

On the Beautify website, artists can find business improvement districts, real estate developers, landlords and business owners who want to see something on their empty walls. Each artist who gets a commissioned wall through the Beautify website is paid 78% of the stipend, and Beautify takes a 22% administration fee. 

Meyer says he often explains to business owners that art can help their business.

“A lot of people have white empty wall space on their liquor stores, condos, park walls, even residential spaces,” says Meyer, adding that many are afraid to put something on their walls. “It’s not a liability, it’s an asset. Art protects walls, it is a graffiti abatement strategy.”


(Courtesy of Beautify)

Beautify isn’t alone in its field. Among the other cities that have similar mural projects, ArtPlace America has supported over 200 art murals across the US. Wynwood Walls, a public art project in Miami spearheaded by local developer Tony Goldman, has helped create a popular public art hotspot with murals by artists Shepard Fairey and Ron English. 

Chicago’s city government, too, has publicly funded over 500 murals through its Percent-for-Art program, which pays artists to paint walls on municipal buildings. A grassroots street art project in the state of Zacatecas, Mexico, has artists painting murals in violent and marginalised neighbourhoods. Similar crime prevention ventures have been initiated in Topeka, Kansas, in St. Louis, Missouri, and in Toronto, Canada, which has placed over 140 murals across the city over the past decade. 


Artist Ruben Rojas has painted murals saying "You Can't Quarantine Love" in several spots across Santa Monica, California. (Courtesy of Beautify)

One artist working with Beautify’s project is Ruben Rojas, who is overwhelmed by the response to his mural, “You Can’t Quarantine Love,” which has been painted in several spots across Santa Monica and beyond.

“Every day, I see the shares, photos of my murals, amazing captions and direct messages from folks that are truly heartwarming,” Rojas says. “I’ve seen this particular mural go around the world with ‘thank you’ messages from Johannesburg, Germany, and Italy. It really is humbling.”

Meyer says that kind of social media engagement shows how a mural can turn a plain old wall into a landmark. 

“Murals get seen,” he says. “People take photos and share them on social media. Nobody takes photos of your ugly white wall. Murals are the story of the local community.”

Nadja Sayej is an arts and culture journalist based in New York City.