This year London celebrates its 150 year old subway system, the Tube. And the Tube’s 70 year old map.

I have always liked maps. When I know that a fishing trip for brook trout is not even on my horizon I can sigh over a map. A trip to a new destination becomes more manageable if I study a map before driving south, east, or my favorite direction, northwest. As a boy living in the woods of northern Minnesota I could look at a map of the world to find Tokyo and then try make some sense of having been born there.

Maps guide. They are a close relative to the ancient wisdom “in all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths”.

The London Tube map has guided London visitors and Londoners visiting unknown parts of their city. The Tube map has also helped Londoners develop a sense of their city.

My London wanderings taught me just what an accretion of neighborhoods and streets it is, with the most fascinating names in the English world. Crouchman’s Close. Jews Walk. Tooting. London streets twist, form bits and pieces, most seeming to end too soon.

Tube map 19331931. Electrical engineer Harry Beck created the Tube map in his spare time. Henry Chu writes that the “simple yet elegant diagram of the 249-mile subway network is hailed as one of the great images of the 20th century”. First rejected then accepted it now serves as an urban icon. It not only guides. It gives identity, access to an understanding of a great city, a city which might be beyond sense if it were not for such a thing as the Tube map.

Max Roberts, a University of Essex psychology professor, tells Chu “London’s actually a very difficult city to get your head around … the Underground map does help people to conceive of London”. And even though “it does distort London … without it, they’d have no idea of London at all.”

So, what are the equivalent Tube maps for other cities? To guide us, to help us make sense of our cities?

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