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The sprawl of Edinburgh with the flattened bulk of Arthur’s Seat visible bottom-right The sprawl of Edinburgh with the flattened bulk of Arthur’s Seat visible bottom-right Ordnance Survey
21 Sep
2015
Riding the new fad for adult colouring books, the Ordnance Survey has a produced a set of labyrinthian city maps to get your felt tips into

Ordnance Survey, the national mapping agency for Great Britain, has realised that it is sitting on a mother lode of potential colouring patterns. By rescaling maps of UK cities and stripping back road names, northings and eastings, the OS has revealed tessellating cityscapes bleached of colour. The printouts are available free-of-charge and are great for poring over on a rainy day. Or everyday if, like us, you’re mad for maps. 

The maps are the brainchild of Gemma Nelson, Social Media Manager for Ordnance Survey, and Paul Naylor from the Cartographic Design team. They were created using maps at two scales – OS VectorMap District and OS Open Map Local – to give different levels of detail for people to colour in. The map data was then loaded into GIS where the text was removed.

‘This was the only information removed from the maps,’ says Nelson. ‘Each layer in turn then had its fill colour changed to white and its outline to black.’

MAPsouthampton
The transition from rural into urban is apparent on the outskirts of Southampton, home to the Ordnance Survey since 1841 (Image: OS)

The selection of printable downloads includes the sprawl of central Edinburgh, flanked by craggy Arthur’s seat, as well as inner London, Cardiff, Southampton and the circuit board symmetry of Milton Keynes. 

Nelson assigns the current surge in popularity of adult colouring books as being part of a desire to spend less time on screens and more time with paper. ‘We all spend so much time looking at screens and mobile devices that it’s nice to go back to a physical book from time to time,’ she says. ‘We have also seen an increase in map sales in the last year, which could support this theory.’

MAPmk2
The distinctive grid-road system used in Milton Keynes, more at home in the United States than Europe, was designed in 1967 by Californian urban theorist Melvin Webber. The ‘new city’ was seen as a solution to London’s overspill. Today, it makes for some modernist colouring (Image: OS)

Part of the appeal of the OS’s maps could be put down to the novelty of colouring something from the real world, or somewhere where you have lived or enjoy visiting. For geographers, however, it could be the chance to recreate a map – either restoring it to its usual colour format or trying something completely different and abstract. After all, many geographers colour maps for a living.

‘We’ve had some fantastic feedback from people all around the world and dozens of requests for other locations to cover. We haven’t just been asked for cities either, people are keen to colour in countryside and coastal locations, to try out contour-only maps and even historic maps. We’ve been collating all of the feedback and deciding what to do next.’

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