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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“Stop worrying about hairdressers”: The UK government has misdiagnosed its productivity problem

We’re going as fast as we can, here. Image: Getty.

Gonna level with you here, I have mixed feelings about this one. On the one hand, I’m a huge fan of schadenfreude, so learning that it the government has messed up in a previously unsuspected way gives me this sort of warm glow inside. On the other hand, the way it’s been screwing up is probably making the country poorer, and exacerbating the north south divide. So, mixed reviews really.

Here’s the story. This week the Centre for Cities (CfC) published a major report on Britain’s productivity problem. For the last 200 years, ever since the industrial revolution, this country has got steadily richer. Since the financial crash, though, that seems to have stopped.

The standard narrative on this has it that the problem lies in the ‘long tail’ of unproductive businesses – that is, those that produce less value per hour. Get those guys humming, the thinking goes, and the productivity problem is sorted.

But the CfC’s new report says that this is exactly wrong. The wrong tail: Why Britain’s ‘long tail’ is not the cause of its productivity problems (excellent pun, there) delves into the data on productivity in different types of businesses and different cities, to demonstrate two big points.

The first is that the long tail is the wrong place to look for productivity gains. Many low productivity businesses are low productivity for a reason:

The ability of manufacturing to automate certain processes, or the development of ever more sophisticated computer software in information and communications have greatly increased the output that a worker produces in these industries. But while a fitness instructor may use a smartphone today in place of a ghetto blaster in 1990, he or she can still only instruct one class at a time. And a waiter or waitress can only serve so many tables. Of course, improvements such as the introduction of handheld electronic devices allow orders to be sent to the kitchen more efficiently, will bring benefits, but this improvements won’t radically increase the output of the waiter.

I’d add to that: there is only so fast that people want to eat. There’s a physical limit on the number of diners any restaurant can actually feed.

At any rate, the result of this is that it’s stupid to expect local service businesses to make step changes in productivity. If we actually want to improve productivity we should focus on those which are exporting services to a bigger market.  There are fewer of these, but the potential gains are much bigger. Here’s a chart:

The y-axis reflects number of businesses at different productivities, shown on the x-axis. So bigger numbers on the left are bad; bigger numbers on the right are good. 

The question of which exporting businesses are struggling to expand productivity is what leads to the report’s second insight:

Specifically it is the underperformance of exporting businesses in cities outside of the Greater South East that causes not only divergences across the country in wages and standards of living, but also hampers national productivity. These cities in particular should be of greatest concern to policy makers attempting to improve UK productivity overall.

In other words, it turned out, again, to the north-south divide that did it. I’m shocked. Are you shocked? This is my shocked face.

The best way to demonstrate this shocking insight is with some more graphs. This first one shows the distribution of productivity in local services business in four different types of place: cities in the south east (GSE) in light green, cities in the rest of the country (RoGB) in dark green, non-urban areas in the south east in purple, non-urban areas everywhere else in turquoise.

The four lines are fairly consistent. The light green, representing south eastern cities has a lower peak on the left, meaning slightly fewer low productivity businesses, but is slightly higher on the right, meaning slightly more high productivity businesses. In other words, local services businesses in the south eastern cities are more productive than those elsewhere – but the gap is pretty narrow. 

Now check out the same graph for exporting businesses:

The differences are much more pronounced. Areas outside those south eastern cities have many more lower productivity businesses (the peaks on the left) and significantly fewer high productivity ones (the lower numbers on the right).

In fact, outside the south east, cities are actually less productive than non-urban areas. This is really not what you’d expect to see, and no a good sign for the health of the economy:

The report also uses a few specific examples to illustrate this point. Compare Reading, one of Britain’s richest medium sized cities, with Hull, one of its poorest:

Or, looking to bigger cities, here’s Bristol and Sheffield:

In both cases, the poorer northern cities are clearly lacking in high-value exporting businesses. This is a problem because these don’t just provide well-paying jobs now: they’re also the ones that have the potential to make productivity gains that can lead to even better jobs. The report concludes:

This is a major cause for concern for the national economy – the underperformance of these cities goes a long way to explain both why the rest of Britain lags behind the Greater South East and why it performs poorly on a

European level. To illustrate the impact, if all cities were as productive as those in the Greater South East, the British economy would be 15 per cent more productive and £225bn larger. This is equivalent to Britain being home to four extra city economies the size of Birmingham.

In other words, the lesson here is: stop worrying about the productivity of hairdressers. Start worrying about the productivity of Hull.


You can read the Centre for Cities’ full report here.

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

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