On the Map

There’s a very simple pleasure to be taken in finding your home on a map. I’m not sure what it is, but maps are inherently fascinating and turning out of Turnham Green tube station to see huge maps of Chiswick with an orchard in the first one (1893) where my home is now and my road appearing in the second (1914), is immensely satisfying. We’re On the Map!

“We were terribly pleased at the turn out and how happy people were” said Karen Liebreich after Sunday’s official opening of the mural which she and Sarah Cruz had created. And people were happy. Lots of people were, like me, were finding their homes on the maps and finding it hugely gratifying.

At one level it’s purely aesthetic. The maps are attractive. It’s also that they’re deceptively simple. Orchards. Roads. Simples! None of the messy, complicated, unpleasant aspects of life are represented on a map, just nice clean lines and a simple narrative.

Maps call to people who perceive the world in a spatially-oriented way. Our brains give us the ability to move around in an environment using an innate sense of direction and in some people this skill is more developed than in others. A study by scientists at University College in London in based on MRI scans of taxi drivers in 2000 found that their hippocampus was more highly developed than most people’s. Their grey matter grew and adapted to help them store detailed mental maps of the city. So the guys in the taxi rank should be in their element parked beside the Chiswick Timeline!

There’s also an emotional satisfaction. We like to have a sense of belonging. One woman told me she liked the Timeline because ‘it connects us in Bedford Park with the rest of Chiswick’. I resisted the urge to point out that there was already a socking great road which did that quite effectively, but when not being wilfully obtuse I see what she means – the colourful display draws the eye and invites you towards it whereas manky old brickwork covered in pigeon droppings tended to the opposite effect.

Artists Marthe Armitage, Sir Peter Blake and Jan Pienkowski (seated) with other VIP guests and Torin Douglas on mic. The artists’ work is included in the mural.

I think the Chiswick Timeline is special. It reinforces that sense of belonging to those who live here and people who are visiting will find it inviting. A head’s up as they come out of the tube that this isn’t just another iteration of London’s unrelieved urban sprawl, but a community with heart and character.