Maths amid the shopping malls

SDP
December 8, 1995

Locational analysis as a discipline was firmly established within geography by Peter Haggett in the 1960s. Haggett drew upon the work of a large number of North American and Scandinavian geographers to establish the credentials of the area now addressed by Location Science. The area has strong positive and negative associations. On the positive side the area is genuinely interdisciplinary, offering endless possibilities for progress in one area to excite progress in another. On the negative side it is an esoteric pastime providing endless opportunities for mathematicians to vary the assumptions of their approach to produce elegant solutions to problems that have no real application to the kind of world in which most people live.

The content of the first eight issues reflects this dualism in locational analysis. The articles are very much slanted towards the mathematical and the analytical with little attempt to build bridges to other disciplines and approaches. The instruction to authors submitting papers to Location Science to "write their papers in a style which is accessible to interested readers from disciplines other than their own" has not been followed in the vast majority of papers which are heavily laced with equations and written for an audience with a similar perspective. Discussions of "p-Dispersion sum problems", "damper placement problems on space truss structures" and "C-aggregation errors" are fine in specialist mathematical journals but not in journals committed to interdisciplinary communication.

Location Science fails to place the importance of the scientific rigour reflected in its articles in the broader context of locational decision making. We are facing a rash of new out-of-town shopping centres, drive-through restaurants and tourist complexes in Britain. The explanation of why they are located where they are can only be approximated very crudely by locational analysis. The planning system, environmental amenity trade-offs, deregulation and liberalisation and much more will have a direct practical bearing on locational outcomes. The locational outcomes in their turn will pollute the environment, threaten biodiversity, deprive some of accessibility, improve the accessibility of others and restore space-time relationships in urban and regional environments. These are all exciting areas and they are not reflected in this journal.

There is a real opportunity for locational scientists to set their scientific rigour within a wider context. Location Science steers clear of this opportunity and provides another vehicle for the same kind of material that can be found in a number of other journals. This is a shame.

John Whitelegg is managing director, Eco-Logica Limited, and former head of the geography department, Lancaster University.

SDP: The Birth, Life and Death of the Social Democratic Party

Author - Ivor Crewe and Anthony King
ISBN - 0 19 828050 5
Publisher - Oxford University Press
Price - £25.00
Pages - 611

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