Mapping protest over urban space in London

During my PhD, I have developed a database of conflicts about built environment issues in London. I started to present maps built with it at the first London Action and Research on Regeneration Group seminar held at UCL. A first version of the map summarising some the results is published in the second volume of Urban Pamphleteer (thanks to B. Campkin, D. Roberts and R. Ross)

I started my fieldwork in a context where a London -wide network of activists - Just Space - was being consolidated through the process of the Examination in Public of the London regional strategy (the London Plan). In order to situate historically and geographically this network and other cases of strategic action on which I was working at the time, I started to gather examples of conflicts which had occurred around built environment issues - broadly defined. Trying to put in place a more systematic methodology, I got interested in different online databases which I could access when I was working at The London School of Economics. I began searching the Evening Standard digital archive and looked for conflicts and campaigns. I did so over a period of roughly 15 years (1998 - 2013).

Having started to visualise the first results
, it became clear that what I was actually mapping had more to do with how conflicts were represented in the press than their actual geography (McCarthy, McPhail and Smith, 1996, Fillieule, 2007, Cottle, 2008, Stoddart and MacDonald, 2011). The maps were telling as much about the visibility of campaigns as their invisibilities in the public sphere. Comparing the maps to what activists and academics recalled from recent protest cycles in London, it appeared that some campaigns were significantly under-reported. I then began to look through other digital newspaper archives, especially local editions of national newspapers such as The Guardian or The Independent, in order to understand how the geographical coverage of this type of events would change.

The first map on the right shows the campaigns covered in the Evening Standard. Each dot represents a campaign, covered by one or more articles. Most of them are concentrated around the central area, reflecting the interest of ES correspondents for major schemes, as they involve the most important property developers. Campaigns are actually reported in the business and property section, hence the bias towards inner London.

The second map illustrates the results of a similar research undertaken on local editions of national newspapers. In this case, the distribution of triangles shows a more intense activity in areas left blank on the first map. Local contentious events being reported in the community section of local papers, the implication of a major name from the property sector is considered to be less "newsworthy" than in the Evening Standard. This situation offers more space to local campaigns.

The gmap of the protests can be accessed here
Key and details can be found here
Both can - happily - be amended*

One way to develop further the project would be to draw a map based on the archives of local newspapers covering areas which are well-known for the tensions brought about by regeneration, such as Tower Hamlets (Est London Advertiser), Hackney (Hackney Gazette) and Newham (Newham Recoder). In the absence of a searchable comprehensive archive for these areas, alternative ways to collect this information could be investigated.

* This work is distributed under a Creative Commons license.