Category: Blog

Following past discussions with staff at Southwark Council and the Greater London Authority, I helped organise a technical  workshop in City Hall this weekend. We brought some key OpenStreetMap geeks together with some keen potential early adopters from the GLA, Southwark and Brent to talk open maps and hack on data & tools. Harry Wood will post a useful rundown of some of the stuff people hacked on over the two days. The only practical thing I did was to work with Rob Scott (OSM) and Scott Day (Southwark Council) to try and extract buildings from the open Ordnance Survey maps so we could merge them into OpenStreetMap without having to manually trace every single one (yawn). For the nerds, I’ve written up our initial results on the wiki. Talking with Scott, it was clear that Southwark probably have a lot of data we could benefit from, and that they…

Read More Map geeks in the bowels of City Hall

February feels a distant memory. Back then, the Conservative Party released a report called Labour’s Two Nations, attacking Labour’s 13 year record on inequality. Britain had become (they suggested) a society of low taxation on the rich and high marginal rates on the poor; under Labour, risky personal lending inflating a housing fantasy replaced prudent saving and improving housing affordability. So do the Conservatives now care deeply about inequality? Darren Johnson put the London Assembly Conservatives to the test this week, proposing that the Mayor of London implement Cameron’s policy of a maximum 20:1 pay ratio in the Greater London Authority group. Here’s the response of the Conservatives: In case you’re fooled into thinking that Darren and the Greens are ignoring the low paid, read Darren’s arguments in The Guardian. If we’re all in this together, shouldn’t government bodies ensure that the lowest paid receive a living wage whilst preventing…

Read More Are the new new Right in this together?

Jenny Jones has produced a new report and this accompanying video, explaining why the Government and Mayor of London’s approach to affordable housing is fundamentally broken. It’s something that a growing number of people know, whether you’ve been priced out or you know someone who has by decades of massive house price rises. It is most severe in London and fancy rural communities, but is a growing problem across the country. I’m pretty proud of the work Jenny and I did on it!

Read More Priced out of buying a home?

The chart below shows a breakdown of where my monthly gross income goes. I’m earning in the region of £30k/year, above the London average but not exactly an enormous sum. One of my favourite adages is that British people want Scandinavian public services with American tax levels.  Raising taxes to tackle the deficit is treated as something approaching political suicide. But do we pay all that much in tax? Put aside the fact that at 36% of the UK’s GDP, the current tax level is lower than under Margaret Thatcher (when it dipped to 40%) and much lower than the Swedish level of around 50%. How does tax affect me? Well my income tax and council tax, which pay for all the basic public services, the roads, waste collection, public transport investment, welfare for people in harder circumstances and much more account for less than my rent, which pays for…

Read More Why so concerned about tax?

This chart shows the 2010 local election results for The Lane, the ward I ran for. After a year of really hard work I doubled the top Green vote to 1,265, but as you can see an incredible surge in votes for Labour stole the show. To get an idea of how much of a difference having the national and local elections on the same day had in London, look at the black lines. I’ve drawn those into to show, roughly, where the votes were in the 2006 local elections. The increased turnout was massive, and it almost all went to Labour/Lib Dem/Conservative candidates. Across Southwark their vote increased between 50-300% whilst the Green vote was up much, much less; we just got left behind. In The Lane, the Lib Dems didn’t even campaign. Their candidates didn’t attend the hustings, they only really put out general election leaflets in the…

Read More Should local elections coincide with the nationals?

A new BNP presence mobilised local anti-fascists in Bermondsey recently by delivering a spiteful leaflet warning that immigration might lead Bermondsey to “end up like Peckham and Camberwell”. A picture showed a west African shop front. Having surveyed nearly a thousand households in Peckham in the past six months, I can see the power of this appeal because the character of Peckham town centre was by far the most frequently raised issue. But how to respond to the BNP whipping up racial explanations? Southwark Green Party have recently published our action plan for Peckham, detailing 17 ways that we could improve the town centre. I hope that this positive and practical response to peoples varied and valid concerns, very few of which seemed motivated by racist or xenophobic views, is exactly the kind of thing that can help counter the BNP. Like it or not, a lot of people are…

Read More What’s wrong with Peckham?

After a week speaking at a digital rights demonstration, a free map meeting, a 600-strong Critical Mass and lots of electioneering capping off days at the office it was quite a relief to complete the weekend with a spade, wheelbarrow and several tonnes of soil. Growing Southwark, who I first came across last September, have been running a community food growing project on the Cossall Estate in Peckham. I planted my broad beans at the event in February – here’s a pic of me with my pots – but this time the work was much more heavy going. Residents, Growing Southwark volunteers and a team from Veoila with 2 master carpenters worked together from Thursday-Sunday to erect a 18×1.5×0.6 meter raised bed. When I got there on Sunday they were filling them up with 16 tonnes of organic soil and soil improver. After a couple of hours lugging large quantities of soil around…

Read More Growing the Cossall Estate

I met up with two map/GIS officers from Southwark Council this evening to continue a discussion about OpenStreetMap; they’re very interested in it. The obvious starting point, with some help from ITO, will be to use OpenStreetMap for the new web mapping service on all zoom levels up to the very detailed Ordnance Survey master maps (which have exact road shapes, buildings, etc.). That’s right – they might replace the commercial stuff with maps that were made by the community and shared for free! Southwark has some pretty well known landmarks – Tower Bridge, the Globe Theatre, Peckham library and Nunhead Cemetery to name but a few. It will be exciting to have OpenStreetMap data of these on the Southwark web site. But wait – it gets better. They’re also interested in discussing real, actual collaboration. To begin with, they might be able to provide data for OpenStreetMap and help…

Read More Map geeks collaborating with Southwark Council?

I’ve a lot of respect for anyone who steps up to run for election with a manifesto that, they genuinely hope, will improve the lot of their constituents. But aside from my obvious partisan reasons, I don’t think I could ever vote for a Pirate Party candidate in these forthcoming national and local elections. I suspect I’m like the majority of people in that I really get put off by politicians saying “don’t vote for Party X or you’ll let Party Y in”, as though they’ve nothing more compelling to offer voters than “we’re not that lot”. Ultimately I would always want people to vote for the party they most support, give or take some tactical voting if they prefer. So if the Pirates are your bag then get involved with them. But the Pirates are an unashamed single issue party. Their manifesto lays out a radical agenda for copyright,…

Read More Why I could never vote for the Pirates

OK, it isn’t really. But an event at City Hall today threw up some difficult lessons for economists from other academic disciplines. After a massive crisis in the global financial system, which was triggered by and hugely deepened a cyclical recession, it’s a pretty easy time to have a dig. So here they go! Paul Ormerod kicked off with lessons from physics. The big one was: use empirical evidence and discovery to test, falsify and improve theories. In economics, evidence has very little status whilst most theory is developed in ignorance of evidence. His pet example was the work done on networks and effects such as herding (e.g. fashions and fads), which has barely scratched the surface of classical economic theory. Luc Bovens gave a fascinating dissection of the financial crisis using Aristotle’s Nicomachean ethics. Who is morally culpable for the crisis, he asked? In the tradition of all good…

Read More Why is economics a load of rubbish?