You’ve seen ‘em and you’ve loved ‘em instantly. The highly legible maps disposed outside the Tube and all over the streets in central London. Finally a map that is designed for its user. The center of each map stands precisely where I am, it faces where I face and it looks where I look, it tells me what’s within a 5 minute walk, and the landmarks are drawn in 3-D so I recognize them instantly.
I am lost? Not for long, not in London. For these maps are everywhere. And I can read them instantly. Within a nano-second, I find my bearings again.
What a departure from regular maps. With other city maps I can think of, the map ends up covering the edge of where I am, it faces north (but I’m not facing North, am I!?), and it is not designed for walkers. These London maps are a master stroke that every city in the world should be coveting – and copying.
In case you are wondering, these maps don’t have a name!? Rather, they are part of “Legible London”, a program by TfL Transport for London. Actually TfL calls them “monoliths”. And “miniliths”. And “interlith” even. And don’t think I’m making this up! So let’s ignore the names. Rather, we need to remember that TfL is behind this initiative, I’ll get back to that.
So what do I find not to like with these wonderful maps? Only that there are not enough of them. The other day, I found myself behind the Cutty Sark in Greenwich. Well, no monoliths in Greenwich! I am still walking Greenwich as I write it feels, because I was lost for such a long time there. Silly to be lost near the Prime Meridian, isn’t it!?
I then concluded that these maps must be the initiative of individual boroughs. But no, quite the opposite. City-wide TfL unleashed “Legible London” to counter the overly diverse, borough-specific, signage that made circulating across London a riddle wrapped inside a mystery. “Legible London” was first launched in 2006. It followed the path of the city of Bristol (and the London borough of Islington, if you want to know).
But here is the thing, after the initial launch, TfL never followed through. They equipped a few boroughs here and there, but they never covered the whole of London. So all I want to say is: give us more. More of the same. All across London, and everywhere around the world perhaps. Whatever agency is implementing this for TfL may want to market Legible to Paris and to Rome and to New York and Saint-Petersburg and Delhi and all the cities that we love.
These maps make the city friendly and comforting. You gain time of course. You also feel welcome, you feel esteemed and considered. You gain a sense of control over your surroundings. Soon, you feel a sense of ownership in this city that was alien until a minute ago.
Mini-maps: they don’t have a name, but boy are they useful!