“Segregation is one of the key methods of accommodating difference” (Peach, 1996: abstract)
It’s been interesting to see the large number of responses to the cover of my new book, Mapping Society: The Spatial Dimensions of Social Cartography. Clearly the Charles Booth maps of poverty resonate with anyone who knows London even in a small way. Just as I’ve seen when people visit my offices (where the maps are pinned to the wall), people’s immediate reaction is to peer closely at the map and search for where they live, or at least somewhere familiar, to see what is was like in the 1890s.
It took several iterations to determine which part of the map to show. In the end I chose to centre the image on the West End, rather than the End End of London (which is the more obvious illustration of the spatial dimensions of social cartography, as I wanted to highlight how even in central London, poverty was situated cheek by jowl with prosperity). At the same time, it is clear how the area west of Regents Street is significantly more prosperous than the district to its East.
This matter is not by chance. H.J. Dyos has written how John Nash’s decision on the alignment of the new Regent Street in his masterplan from 1809– 33 was a conscious confirmation of the perceived need for separation between the ‘streets and squares occupied by the nobility and gentry [to the west], and the narrow streets and meaner houses occupied by mechanics and the trading part of the community [to the east, broadly in the Soho district]’.
The spatial configuration of Booth’s West End is worthy of closer scrutiny, and indeed it formed part of a research project I ran over a decade ago, where I compared the two districts to see if my earlier findings regarding a correspondence between poverty and spatial segregation (measured using space syntax methods) was replicated in the West End of London. Indeed this was the case: both in the study area and in its comparator area, north of Oxford Street, we found a rise in spatial integration alongside a rise in prosperity similar to the pattern shown for the East End. It is notable that the integration values for the red (‘middle class’) streets were much higher in the area north of Oxford Street, whilst gold (‘upper middle and upper’ class) streets had an average value which was below the average red values in the north, though only marginally so. (We concluded this reflected the way in which the wealthiest squares of London have the tendency to step back from the main roads, leaving only one flank facing the city’s busier arteries).
Analysis of the study area, which covered the area east of Regent Street and south of Oxford street, also considered morphological factors such as block size, and showed the study area to have much smaller blocks and narrow streets than its surroundings. The effect of smaller block size is an intensification of the grid, with the ability to make more small-scale journeys. In other cases, where this is coupled with high levels of integration, small block size has been found to correspond to areas of intensified commercial activity.
This is explained by Penn (2003), who shows that “one of the primary effects of the built morphology and its use by people” is to enable movement, smaller blocks enable speedier journeys across the grid. Penn’s second effect is that the “morphology of the environment defines a local visual field and so defines the area from which one can derive visual information and within which one can potentially be considered visually co-present with others” (Penn, 2003: 62.12).
In the cases here, smaller blocks are not coupled with large visual fields and high integration, so, the consequence effect is likely to have been localised patterns of movement and social interaction, which do not engage as well with the larger scale built environment (and the larger patterns of socialisation).
These findings help explain how both Soho and the East End emerged over time as poverty areas. It also helps explain how these areas have acquired a history of being the place of sub-cultures, whether of specific economic activities, specific markets or specific social groups, such as the Italian immigrants who set up restaurants in 1880s London.
[i] For full analysis, see section of special issue of Progress in Planning (Vaughan, 2007).
For more on poverty in London, see blog post on the John Snow map of cholera in Soho.
Dyos, Harold J. 1967. The Slums of Victorian London. Victorian Studies XI:5-40.
Peach, Ceri. 1996. The Meaning of Segregation. Planning Practice and Research 11 (2):137-150.
Penn, Alan. 2003. The Shape of Habitable Space. Proceedings of the Fourth International Space Syntax Symposium, London. pp.: 62.01-16
Sponza, Lucio “Italian ‘Penny Ice-men’ in Victorian London” in Kershen, Anne. 2002. Food in the Migrant Experience. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Limited.
Vaughan, L. 2007. The spatial form of poverty in Charles Booth’s London. Progress in Planning: special issue on The Syntax of Segregation, edited by Laura Vaughan 67 (3):231-250.