TfL just released a map with three different Elizabeth Lines on it

What the- Image: TfL.

One of the sillier pieces I have written this year – and isn’t that a competitive title? - was, in effect, a lengthy dissertation on the word “line”. Was a line a line if it branched? Was the Northern line a line, or more of a network? And so forth. It’s amazing how many words you can get out of these things if you try.

Anyway. I'm not saying that Transport for London are deliberately trolling me, but I do think it might be stretching its the definition of the word “line” to the limit. Here’s a draft of its new tube map, reflecting services as they’ll be next December, showing the Elizabeth Line for the first time:

Click to expand.

It might not be immediately obvious what's weird about this – In which case, look more closely at Paddington, or Liverpool Street:

Click to expand.

More like the Elizabeth Lines, am I right?

The trio of different Elizabeth Lines is an artefact of the way TfL is assembling the route formally known as Crossrail in stages. The Liverpool Street-Shenfield section has been operated by MTR as part of the TfL Rail franchise since May 2015. Next May, the Paddington inner suburban services, currently branded as Heathrow Connect, will come under the same banner.


Seven months later, the first proper bit of Crossrail – the actual tunnel, or at least most of it – opens, providing services between Paddington and Abbey Wood via Whitechapel and Canary Wharf.

But that’s when things get complicated – because it won’t yet be ready to connect up to the services on either side. The Shenfield line is expected to join the line in May 2019; the Heathrow route, and the western arm out to Reading, the following December.

So that leaves TfL with a dilemma. Next December it’ll be running three separate services that will one day become part of the Elizabeth Line – but which won’t, yet, be considered a single line. The map suggests that the authority’s intended solution is to brand them all as Elizabeth line anyway.

I’m not entirely sold on this, I must say. I can see the logic in showing signs of progress, and they’ll all be part of the Elizabeth Line soon enough. But there is a danger, surely, that someone will want to get from, say, Ilford to Heathrow, glance at the map, and assume they can now do it with one train. In fact, it’ll take three – the same number as now – with two awkward changes, at Paddington and Liverpool Street. Seems to be asking for trouble.

Also, whatever the truth about the District and Northern lines, surely we can all agree that three train services operating entirely separately don't count as one line. Right? Right?

It’s only a draft map – perhaps this’ll change. And on the upside, it has given me something to write about, so.

Anyway, happy Christmas, you lot. Here’s a video of how the new tunnel looks from the inside:

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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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”.