Is this how the tube map will look in 2040?

Oooooooh. Image: Ali Carr.

Great news for fans of London transport, and also fans for whining about how London gets all the transport funding: TfL has big plans.

The capital’s transport authority is currently putting the finishing touches to its shiny new forelock-tugging east-west railway, the Elizabeth line. There are also proposals for a new branch of the Northern line to Battersea, and an extension to the London Overground to Barking Riverside, on the table; plus longer term plans including Crossrail 2, a Bakerloo extension into darkest south east London and, most excitingly of all, more trams.

It can be difficult to envision how all that looks on the map. Lucky for us, then, that an amateur designer has been busy showing us. Ali Carr posted the Unofficial 2040 Tube Map to the Rail UK Forums earlier this year. Here it is now:

Click to expand.

Carr’s map builds on the existing tube map to show a whole host of proposals of varying degrees of probability. It shows Crossrail 2 snaking its way across central London:

It shows the new, Old Oak Common station:

It shows a pair of Northern lines, with the Battersea branch completed and the resulting services split in two:

It shows the Bakerloo line continuing south to Hayes, an eastward Crossrail extension to Gravesend, and a southern London Overground one to Thamesmead:

 

There’s even some stuff I hadn’t realised was on the table, such as an Overground extension to Hounslow, and the Piccadilly line extending to Ealing Broadway to simplify services on the District:

There’s something else it shows, however – not an extended line, but an expanded problem. Through no fault of Carr’s, parts of the new map are a bit of a mess. Consider the areas around Farringdon, Euston and Kings Cross:

Or the new Tramlink route from South Wimbledon to Sutton, which doesn’t seem to interact with the existing one at all:

Or the whole confusing mess of north east London, where multiple tubes and Overground lines are now competing with Crossrail 2 for space:

 

As I say, I really don’t’ think the problem here is with Ali Carr’s handiwork. Rather, it’s because the new map uses the existing one as a template – and the profusion of lines either newly built or newly controlled by Transport for London is making the map unreadable. The map is already losing the cleanness and simplicity that made Harry Beck’s original design so iconic. And the more lines it includes, the more cluttered it becomes.

If even a fraction of TfL’s plans come off, it might be time for a radical rethink.

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

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook


All images courtesy of Ali Carr.

 
 
 
 

In many ways, smart cities are really very dumb

Rio de Janeiro’s control centre. Image: Getty.

It’s not news that anything and everything is increasingly being prefaced with “smart”: phones, watches, homes, fridges, and even water (yes, smartwater exists). And it’s not unintentional either. 

Marketeers know that we, the public, are often stupid enough to believe that thanks to their technology, life is better now than it was way back in, say, the primitive Nineties. Imagine having to, like a Neanderthal, remember how to spell words without an autocorrecting algorithm, or open the fridge door to check if you’d run out of milk, or, worse still, interact with actual people.

So it’s hardly surprising that we’re now also witnessing the rise of the so-called “smart cities”; a concept which presupposes that cities that are not technologically  “smart” are dumb, which, as anyone interested in the millennia-old history of cities — from the crypto-currency grain storage algorythms of ancient Mesopotamia to the complex waste infrastructure of ancient Rome, to London’s public transport infrastructure — will know, is not true.

Deployed in these smart cities are cameras and other networked information-gathering devices, load cells and other “sensing devices” detecting passing pedestrians and vehicles, audio surveillance devices listening for gunshots – and even vending machines equipped with biometric sensors to recognise your face. This is not to mention beacon technology — tiny anonymous looking black boxes hidden in trees and on lampposts — which transmits advertising, offers and other information directly to smart phones in the vicinity. 

If that doesn’t seem sinister enough, take, for example, Rio de Janeiro, where, in 2014, the International Business Machines Corporation designed a mammoth “control centre” that integrates data from 30 agencies for the city’s police. 

Described by the Guardian as having “the functionality of a Bond villian’s techno lair”, the then local mayor, Eduardo Paes, claimed the centre was making the city safer while using technology to deploy its “special” police unit to carry out the state’s “pacification programme”. Launched in 2008, the programme, which aims to push out drug gangs from Rio’s favelas, has been criticised by Amnesty International: “in January and February 2017 in Rio de Janeiro alone, at least 182 people were killed during police operations in marginalized neighbourhoods (favelas) – a 78 per cent increase in comparison to the same period in 2016”.

Sinister or not, as smart cities grow, they create new problems. For example, as urbanist Adam Greenfield writes in Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life, neither the algorithms nor their designers are subject to the ordinary processes of democratic accountability – a problem that international academics are currently attempting to tackle.  


“We need to understand that the authorship of an algorithm intended to guide the distribution of civic resources is itself an inherently political act,” writes Greenfield. “The architects of the smart city have utterly failed to reckon with the reality of power.”

The Real Smart Cities project, founded by Dr Gerald Moore, Dr Noel Fitzpatrick and Professor Bernard Stiegler, is investigating the ways in which so-called “smart city” technologies present a threat to democracy and citizenship, and how digital tools might be used create new forms of community participation.

Fitzpatrick is critical of current discourses around smart cities, which he says “tend to be technical fixes, where technology is presented as a means to solve the problems of the city.” The philosophy underpinning the project is “that technologies function as forms of pharmacology”, he adds, meaning that they can be both positive and negative. “The addictive negative effects are being felt at an individual and collective level.” 

An example of this lies in the way that many of these smart cities replace human workers with disembodied voices — “Alexa we need more toilet roll” — like those used to control the Amazon Echo listening device — the high priestess of smart home. These disembodied voices travel at the speed of light to cavernous, so-called “fulfilment centres”, where an invisible workforce are called into action by our buy-it-now, one-click impulse commands; moving robotically down seemingly endless aisles of algorithmically organised products arranged according to purchase preferences the like of which we never knew we had — someone who buys a crime novel might be more likely to go on and buy cat food, a wireless router, a teapot and a screwdriver. 

Oh to be the archeologists of the future who while digging through mounds of silicon dust happen upon these vast repositories of disembodies voices. That the digital is inherently material and the binary of virtual/real does not hold — there is no cyberspace, just space. Space that is being increasingly populated by technologies that want to watch you, listen to you, get to know you and sense your presence.

One project looking to solve some of the problems of smart cities is that of the development of a “clinic of contribution” within Pleine Commune in greater Paris (an area where one in three live in poverty).This attempts to deal with issues of communication between parents and children where the widespread use of smartphones as parental devices from infancy is having effects on the attention of young children and on the communicative abilities between parents and children. 

This in turn forms part of a wider project in the area that Stiegler describes as “installing a true urban intelligence”, which moves beyond what he sees as the bankrupt idea of smart cities. The aim is to create a “contributory income” in the area that responds to the loss of salaried jobs due to automation and the growth and spread of digitisation. 

The idea being that an income could be paid to residents, on the condition that they perform a service to society. This, if you are unemployed, living in poverty and urban deprivation, sounds like quite a simple and smart idea to try and solve some of the dumb effcts of the digital technology that's implemented in cities under the ideology of being “smart”.