Should London demand better names for its tube lines?

Yawn. Image: TfL.

In the heat of the craze for Egyptology that followed the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb, it was seriously suggested that the London Underground route from Morden to Edgware be called the Tutancamden (Tootancamden in some tellings) line. The name used the same awkward portmanteau language that brought us “Bakerloo”, to commemorate the exotic thrill of both the boy king’s tomb and the new ability to travel between Tooting and Camden through a tunnel.

The portmanteau word is awkward, more so even than Bakerloo, and it is a little hard to see the connection between the majestic, ancient majesty of the pyramids and either Tooting or Camden. But still, it’s a more interesting name than the Northern line, and might have provided the pretext for the stations on the route to have an Ancient Egypt-influenced Art Deco look. The current decor of Kentish Town and Mornington Crescent stations has its charms – but imagine them with the odd blue scarab or red lotus motif? 

The Northern line isn’t the only one to have more exotic name suggestions rejected. The portmanteaus Warvic (Walthamstow to Victoria) and Viking (Victoria to Kings Cross) were suggested for what instead became the Victoria line in 1955. Although the name is actually only a third-hand tribute to Queen Victoria – the line is named after the London Victoria station, itself named for its placement on Victoria Street which was named after the Queen in 1851 – it still has the same aura of fatuous forelock-tugging.

And on balance, weren’t the Vikings a less destructive force in the world than Queen Victoria? And more deserving of a tube line named after them? While the 1950s were a time of less vigorous cultural appropriation than the 1920s, there might also have been some inspiration to be had when designing a Viking themed tube line.


Sadly, none of the other tube lines seem to have solicited such interesting/stupid suggestions for names as Viking or Tutancamden. Instead they gained uncontroversial names based on some combination of the names of the companies that owned the line prior to London Underground’s formation, description or geography. The main exception to this was the Jubilee line, an authentic expression of contemporary royal fervour in exactly the way the naming of the Victoria line wasn’t.

Are these banal names a problem, and should we demand better? A nod to Tutankhamun in the name of the Tutancamden line might bring a welcome evocation of the Nile’s fertile banks to a mundane trip to Archway; while the Viking line would, if nothing else, give a hint of the kind of bustle you’ll experience changing at Victoria in the rush hour. But would it be useful or helpful for the tube lines to have better, cooler, more interesting names? 

I’m not sure. The names of the tube lines themselves are, in practice, largely irrelevant to a system primarily navigated by tracing coloured lines on a map, so snappier names wouldn’t necessarily provide any recognition value for newcomers to the city. It’s also arguable that giving each line more character would be counter-productive – the identity of the London Underground is it’s the Underground. It’s the tube: that’s the identity that matters.

Also, goddamit, those names may be boring but there’s plenty of solid, admittedly slightly dull history in each of those tube line names. The abandoned Northern Heights plan to extend the Underground from Edgware to Bushey Heath might not be quite as exciting as cracking open the tomb of a long lost pharaoh to discover the treasure within, but its worthy of commemoration in its own way; even the layered logic of naming a line after a station after a street after a queen has a story of its own to tell.

They may not be very exciting historical stories, but they’re ours, and I can’t think of anything more authentically British than that.  

If you have strong feelings about possible names of the tube lines, tweet us.

 
 
 
 

Urgently needed: Timely, more detailed standardized data on US evictions

Graffiti asking for rent forgiveness is seen on a wall on La Brea Ave amid the Covid-19 pandemic in Los Angeles, California. (Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty Images)

Last week the Eviction Lab, a team of eviction and housing policy researchers at Princeton University, released a new dashboard that provides timely, city-level US eviction data for use in monitoring eviction spikes and other trends as Covid restrictions ease. 

In 2018, Eviction Lab released the first national database of evictions in the US. The nationwide data are granular, going down to the level of a few city blocks in some places, but lagged by several years, so their use is more geared toward understanding the scope of the problem across the US, rather than making timely decisions to help city residents now. 

Eviction Lab’s new Eviction Tracking System, however, provides weekly updates on evictions by city and compares them to baseline data from past years. The researchers hope that the timeliness of this new data will allow for quicker action in the event that the US begins to see a wave of evictions once Covid eviction moratoriums are phased out.

But, due to a lack of standardization in eviction filings across the US, the Eviction Tracking System is currently available for only 11 cities, leaving many more places facing a high risk of eviction spikes out of the loop.

Each city included in the Eviction Tracking System shows rolling weekly and monthly eviction filing counts. A percent change is calculated by comparing current eviction filings to baseline eviction filings for a quick look at whether a city might be experiencing an uptick.

Timely US eviction data for a handful of cities is now available from the Eviction Lab. (Courtesy Eviction Lab)

The tracking system also provides a more detailed report on each city’s Covid eviction moratorium efforts and more granular geographic and demographic information on the city’s evictions.

Click to the above image to see a city-level eviction map, in this case for Pittsburgh. (Courtesy Eviction Lab)

As part of their Covid Resource, the Eviction Lab together with Columbia Law School professor Emily Benfer also compiled a scorecard for each US state that ranks Covid-related tenant protection measures. A total of 15 of the 50 US states plus Washington DC received a score of zero because those states provided little if any protections.

CityMetric talked with Peter Hepburn, an assistant professor at Rutgers who just finished a two-year postdoc at the Eviction Lab, and Jeff Reichman, principal at the data science research firm January Advisors, about the struggles involved in collecting and analysing eviction data across the US.

Perhaps the most notable hurdle both researchers addressed is that there’s no standardized reporting of evictions across jurisdictions. Most evictions are reported to county-level governments, however what “reporting” means differs among and even within each county. 

In Texas, evictions go through the Justice of the Peace Courts. In Virginia they’re processed by General District Courts. Judges in Milwaukee are sealing more eviction case documents that come through their courtroom. In Austin, Pittsburgh and Richmond, eviction addresses aren’t available online but ZIP codes are. In Denver you have to pay about $7 to access a single eviction filing. In Alabama*, it’s $10 per eviction filing. 

Once the filings are acquired, the next barrier is normalizing them. While some jurisdictions share reporting systems, many have different fields and formats. Some are digital, but many are images of text or handwritten documents that require optical character recognition programs and natural language processors in order to translate them into data. That, or the filings would have to be processed by hand. 

“There's not enough interns in the world to do that work,” says Hepburn.


Aggregating data from all of these sources and normalizing them requires knowledge of the nuances in each jurisdiction. “It would be nice if, for every region, we were looking for the exact same things,” says Reichman. “Instead, depending on the vendor that they use, and depending on how the data is made available, it's a puzzle for each one.”

In December of 2019, US Senators Michael Bennet of Colorado and Rob Portman of Ohio introduced a bill that would set up state and local grants aimed at reducing low-income evictions. Included in the bill is a measure to enhance data collection. Hepburn is hopeful that the bill could one day mean an easier job for those trying to analyse eviction data.

That said, Hepburn and Reichman caution against the public release of granular eviction data. 

“In a lot of cases, what this gets used for is for tenant screening services,” says Hepburn. “There are companies that go and collect these data and make them available to landlords to try to check and see if their potential tenants have been previously evicted, or even just filed against for eviction, without any sort of judgement.”

According to research by Eviction Lab principal Matthew Desmond and Tracey Shollenberger, who is now vice president of science at Harvard’s Center for Policing Equity, residents who have been evicted or even just filed against for eviction often have a much harder time finding equal-quality housing in the future. That coupled with evidence that evictions affect minority populations at disproportionate rates can lead to widening racial and economic gaps in neighborhoods.

While opening up raw data on evictions to the public would not be the best option, making timely, granular data available to researchers and government officials can improve the system’s ability to respond to potential eviction crises.

Data on current and historical evictions can help city officials spot trends in who is getting evicted and who is doing the evicting. It can help inform new housing policy and reform old housing policies that may put more vulnerable citizens at undue risk.

Hepburn says that the Eviction Lab is currently working, in part with the ACLU, on research that shows the extent to which Black renters are disproportionately affected by the eviction crisis.

More broadly, says Hepburn, better data can help provide some oversight for a system which is largely unregulated.

“It's the Wild West, right? There's no right to representation. Defendants have no right to counsel. They're on their own here,” says Hepburn. “I mean, this is people losing their homes, and they're being processed in bulk very quickly by the system that has very little oversight, and that we know very little about.”

A 2018 report by the Philadelphia Mayor’s Taskforce on Eviction Prevention and Response found that of Philadelphia’s 22,500 eviction cases in 2016, tenants had legal representation in only 9% of them.

Included in Hepburn’s eviction data wishlist is an additional ask, something that is rarely included in any of the filings that the Eviction Lab and January Advisors have been poring over for years. He wants to know the relationship between money owed and monthly rent.

“At the individual level, if you were found to owe $1,500, was that on an apartment that's $1,500 a month? Or was it an apartment that's $500 a month? Because that makes a big difference in the story you're telling about the nature of the crisis, right? If you're letting somebody get three months behind that's different than evicting them immediately once they fall behind,” Hepburn says.

Now that the Eviction Tracking System has been out for a week, Hepburn says one of the next steps is to start reaching out to state and local governments to see if they can garner interest in the project. While he’s not ready to name any names just yet, he says that they’re already involved in talks with some interested parties.

*Correction: This story initially misidentified a jurisdiction that charges $10 to access an eviction filing. It is the state of Alabama, not the city of Atlanta. Also, at the time of publication, Peter Hepburn was an assistant professor at Rutgers, not an associate professor.

Alexandra Kanik is a data reporter at CityMetric.