The Tribes of London: London OAC Supergroups

I’m always amazed at how way leads to way when surfing the Internet.

This morning, I thought I’d have a look at some geography blogs, just to see “what’s out there”. I subscribe to a few different geography magazines – Canadian Geographic, the Geographical, National Geographic – as well as others that relate to geography such as the Alternatives Journal and New Internationalist. But more and more frequently, I’m finding the content of magazines, while interesting, not entirely engaging. And when consumer-oriented geoinformation is engaging, it becomes melodramatic and too focus on the unique (and sometimes outrageous) experiences of a few people. Many travel magazines fall into this last category.

So, more and more, I’m turning to blogs, particularly those being maintained by geographers doing geography. This morning, I came across the blog Geo: Geography and the Environment. It’s an off-shoot of the peer-reviewed journal, Geo. I was pleased to see it is British in origin; from my experience of three years teaching geography in England, I know geography is alive and well – perhaps the strongest geography program in any secondary setting in the world.

The blog has numerous fascinating insights into what is being done in geography today – cutting edge stuff that forces me to think. Yes – that’s the difference. The articles in many consumer-oriented magazines are predictable; the same old same old, re-packaged in a different context, but few insights that are new or thought-provoking.

I started off reading about the “Geographies of Openness and Information” which charts the spatial distribution of national-level domain names. Of even greater interest to me, with my bent towards wildlife populations, was the article following: “Learning from guano: In search of a paleo-seabird proxy“. It was a year ago next month that I led a group of 23 Grade 8s, 9s and 11s to Galápagos to take part in on-the-ground conservation research, so, to see how researchers are making use of seemingly disparate data and concepts of crater lakes, Nitogen isotopes and anchovy populations in an historical and pre-history context, is, to me, fascinating.

I particularly enjoyed “Mapping the Tribes of London“. The title itself is fascinating, but what I found was a new way of imagining and describing different “cultures” across the human landscape. It immediately got me thinking about my own neighbourhood. I also checked out places I am familiar with from my years in England. Based on census data, researchers are able to predict the type of people living in specific areas: urbanites, suburbanites, constrained cits dwellers, multicultural metropolitans, for example. It would be an interesting comparative study of the structurally homogenous neighbourhoods in my city of Guelph, here in Canada, with my former city of Chelmsford, UK, with structurally heterogenous neighbourhoods: how different is the human mix of people in the quite different styles of neighbourhoods? Are heterogenous neighbourhoods “superior” (however that may be defined) to structurally homogenous neighbourhoods of the same age? Sounds like a Masters or PhD thesis in the making.

Of course, the hazard in this approach is that it may over-average groups of people into homogenous pods within a neighbourhood, but it seems their scale is large enough to allow for variability within a neighbourhood. The data has been mapped as “OACs” (Output Area Classifications) for the country, and, within London as London OACs or LOACs. I’ve linked each of these to map views from the Datashine website – which, in itself, is a true Weekend Wandering. It makes our Statistics Canada look downright dinosaurian.

As well, the term “tribe” seems to be ill-used. While there is a certain level of homogeneity within a tribe (bringing in the idea of Tobler’s first law of geography: “All things are related, but nearby things are more related (similar) than far away things”), within a traditional tribe, there would be daily or, at least, regular interactions within the tribe. Whereas, with this use of “tribe” people of the same tribe may never interact even though they live in the same neighbourhood and ride the same train to work – so are they really a “tribe”.

Much exploration here and much thought needed around this idea of breaking down a country or city into “tribes”. Very dangerous from my North American point of view, which causes me to eschew the hierarchies and divisions my ancestors escaped from and tried not to repeat here in Canada. But that’s a whole other topic for discussion.


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