Category: Blog

Those who are inclined to compromise can never make a revolution – Kemal Ataturk Every day I set off on my bike for a pleasant three mile commute to work. I love cycling around London, it’s cheap and fun, and I particularly enjoy the spring when lots of “fair weather cyclists” swell our ranks along cycle routes. Much of London is crap to cycle around, but politicians of all colours claim to support a “cycling revolution”. To achieve that, you’d need to make people from all walks of life feel safe – the number one barrier – and make cycling seem pleasant. Southwark Council did an audit of their roads recently and found that it was impossible to get further than a few hundred metres without using a road requiring “advanced” cycling skills. You need to be happy using “busy roads” with “complex junctions and road features” to cycle to…

A mere eighteen months after it had been given to us, Rachel and I went on our Trip Stylist day out around the City of London, “exploring hidden corners and treasures“. We started out with brunch in a very nice little café tucked so well away that it made me wonder how anyone could find it without a tip. It was a very chilly morning, so a warm start was just what we needed. Rachel had mushrooms and a poached egg on soda toast, I tucked into a savoury pancake mountain. We set off on full stomachs along narrow streets and past a few recommended parks in nooks and plaques in crannies to the Museum of London. I’ve cycled and walked past it innumerable times, that odd bunker in the middle of a roundabout, but never entered before. The exhibition design isn’t all that easy to follow, but it took…

Jim Gleeson has an interesting blog entry about the consequences of making a city more liveable. In short, there is a danger that making an area more liveable can price out lower income people. By reducing air pollution and generally improving the local environment in more deprived areas,  richer people will start to move in displacing the people who should have benefitted. His prescription is more housing supply to accompany environmental improvements. But we need to think a bit more carefully about this to get the medicine right for places like London. As he points out, the economic benefits of making an area more desirable will largely go to existing home owners and landlords as the value of the land, and therefore the rent they can charge, increases. Lower income people will be forced to move, presumably (according to Jim’s argument) to less liveable areas. Council and housing association tenants…

Similar to Gail Ramster, I went along to the Friday afternoon part of UK GovCamp 2012 without really knowing why. I suspect most people would say the same thing. You go because… well, you never know which useful people you might bump into, and what interesting things you might hear about. Plus a colleague Janet Hughes was going, and I’d cleared my desk of essential work for the week. Here are a few takeaway thoughts from my afternoon. 1. I barely knew anyone It’s years since I was a fish in a geeky pool, active in the free culture movement, the KDE community, software patent activism and other odds and sods. For the past five years or so I’ve moved onto land, or perhaps a coral reef, to be more involved with issues around the environment, housing and pay inequality. The past two or so have been working as a…

Being actively involved in my local branch of the Green Party means I’ve spent a lot of time wandering around carrying a map of a local ward. Almost nobody seems to know which ward they are in, often because the names are a bit abstract (e.g. “The Lane” in Peckham, which I presume is because “Rye Lane” runs through the middle) or because almost nobody would say they live in the area described (e.g. “Peckham Rye”, which has Peckham Rye Common and Park in the middle and includes areas normally thought to be part of East Dulwich and Nunhead). Since the Ordnance Survey published open data, including political boundaries, it’s been possible to put this information into OpenStreetMap. I’ve finally bothered to start doing this for Southwark – you can see the results on this nice ITO map. Unfortunately the default map on the OpenStreetMap homepage draws the names of…

Payday loans have been in the news today, with industry figureheads trying to persuade the public that they’re offering the punters a good service. Well, if you’re seriously stuck for cash you need or have loans you’re struggling to service, a much better place to start would be a credit union. London Mutual Credit Union, for example, is a not for profit organisation that provides ethical financial services to Southwark and Lambeth boroughs. These services include savings accounts, current accounts and loans to people who find themselves financially excluded from high street banks. They have no shareholders, and all their profits are returned to members. Unlike Wonga & co they are genuinely providing useful services without looking to make a very sizeable profit off the backs of the idiots and the vulnerable. Anyone struggling financially would also be best off seeking help from the Citizen’s Advice Bureau and checking out the…

I was contacted recently by a parent campaigning for a local school to ensure its admissions policy is properly applied. Over-subscribed schools like this one are a common source of frustration and worry up and down the country. Here’s the rub. Which of these two homes would you say is closer to the school, and therefore more likely to secure a place?  By the way, I’m not sure that the location on the left actually is within the catchment area, it’s just a place I randomly chose to illustrate the coming point… Parents at the location on the right were told they were too far from the school. The method they use to calculate safe distances to the school actually suggests that the location on the right is farther away than the location on the left! Why? Because they are calculating distances using a model that measures the distance as if you are…

One of the annoying things about open data is that you often need ninja skills to do anything with it. OpenStreetMap contains a wealth of geodata, but most tools make you jump through several steps involving the command line and all manner of data wrangling just to produce a custom map. Maperitive tries to make it much easier to create nice looking maps. It has been in gestation since late 2007, and is now close to being easy to use. It took me about half an hour of playing around to produce my first nice hiking map of Snowdon, although a problem with NASA’s elevation data led me on a frustrating journey to get Ordnance Survey open data in there to fill the gaps. I also had to work out Maperitive’s settings file for the way features are drawn to make the maps look a little neater and, well, British.…

Here’s to Jenny Newham’s Southern Fried London, a collection of our finest grease merchants and heart attack hucksters. Thanks also to the weird and wonderful world of the South London Press, one of two locals in my neck of the woods, for bringing the blog to my attention. I embarked on my own obsessive photo-documentary project with a friend in an otherwise ordinary market town many years ago, snapping photos of ugly gardens in Bedford. For a year or so I couldn’t walk along a street without noting ugly gardens and trying to remember their location. Perhaps a precursor to my mapping hobby? The project was intended as a loving tribute to the dull places in which most of us live, and a comment on the influence of the endless gardening TV programmes at the time rather than a criticism of the owners. I doff my hat to anyone who makes…

It was probably the Peckham Pavilion at the Venice Biennale that cemented Peckham’s place in London’s art scene. Since then there has been a steady flow of journalists, hipsters and artists dropping in to study contemporary sculpture and relax in a trendy campari bar. But this art world has made little effort to reach out to, and integrate with, its host community. So it was with some scepticism that I made my way to the brilliant Bussey Building for the launch of Theatre Local Peckham, the Royal Court’s second outing into a south London community to stage plays and theatre workshops. They’re hosted by Mickey Smith’s CLF art cafe, an unkempt converted factory normally home to drum and bass nights, community meetings and art fairs. But I was wrong to be sceptical. The Royal Court’s artistic director spoke before the play of their Sloane Square theatre being exclusive, a place that…