Pump Neighborhoods




John Snow published two versions of his cholera map. The first, which appeared in On The Mode Of Communication Of Cholera (Snow 1855a), is more famous. The second, which appeared in the Report On The Cholera Outbreak In The Parish Of St. James, Westminster, During The Autumn Of 1854 (Snow 1855b), is more important. What makes it so is that Snow adds a graphical annotation of the “neighborhood”, the set of addresses that he contends is most likely to use of the Broad Street pump:

By identifying the pump’s neighborhood, Snow sets limits on where we should and where we should not find fatalities. Ideally, this would help support his claims that cholera is a waterborne disease and that the Broad Street pump is the source of the outbreak. Looking at the second map Snow writes: “it will be observed that the deaths either very much diminish, or cease altogether, at every point where it becomes decidedly nearer to send to another pump that to the one in Broad street” (Snow 1855b, 109).

To help assess the map helps Snow’s case, I provide functions that allow you to analyze and visualize two flavors of pump neighborhoods: Voronoi tessellation, which is based on the Euclidean distance between pumps, and walking distance, which is based on the paths travelled along the network of roads. In either case, the guiding principle is the same. All else being equal, people choose the closest pump.

Voronoi tessellation

Cliff and Haggett (1988) appear to be the first to use Voronoi tessellation1 to compute pump neighborhoods. In their digitization of Snow’s map, Dodson and Tolber (1992) also included coordinates for 13 Voronoi cells. These are available in HistData::Snow.polygons. To replicate that effort, I use deldir::deldir(). I find that, with the exception of the border between the neighborhoods of the Market Place and the Adam and Eve Court pumps (pumps #1 and #2), Dodson and Tobler’s computation are otherwise identical.

To explore the data using this approach, you can use neighborhoodVoronoi(), which can create a range of neighborhoods based on the pumps you select. The figure below plots the 321 fatality “addresses” and the Voronoi cells for the 13 pumps in the original map.


The results are summarized using the print() method. Note that “Pearson” is “Count” minus “Expected” divided by the square root of “Expected”:

# print(neighborhoodVoronoi()) or
##    pump.id Count Percent  Expected    Pearson
## 1        1     0    0.00 19.491634 -4.4149330
## 2        2     1    0.31  6.234668 -2.0964402
## 3        3    10    3.12 13.983773 -1.0653256
## 4        4    13    4.05 30.413400 -3.1575562
## 5        5     3    0.93 26.463696 -4.5611166
## 6        6    39   12.15 39.860757 -0.1363352
## 7        7   182   56.70 27.189136 29.6895576
## 8        8    12    3.74 22.112172 -2.1504470
## 9        9    17    5.30 15.531287  0.3726776
## 10      10    38   11.84 18.976903  4.3668529
## 11      11     2    0.62 24.627339 -4.5595790
## 12      12     2    0.62 29.671129 -5.0799548
## 13      13     2    0.62 46.444106 -6.5215206

Walking distance

The obvious criticism against using Voronoi tessellation to analyze Snow’s map is that the neighborhoods it describes are based solely on the Euclidean distance between water pumps. Roads and buildings don’t matter: people walk to water pumps in straight line fashion rather than along a path of roads and streets.

Not only is this unrealistic, it’s also contrary to how Snow thought about the problem. Snow’s graphical annotation appears to be based on a computation of walking distance. He writes: “The inner dotted line on the map shews [sic] the various points which have been found by careful measurement to be at an equal distance by the nearest road from the pump in Broad Street and the surrounding pumps …” (Report On The Cholera Outbreak In The Parish Of St. James, Westminster, During The Autumn Of 1854, p. 109.).

While the details of his computations are lost to history, I replicate and extend his efforts by writing functions that allow you to compute and visualize pump neighborhoods based on walking distance.2 My implementation works by transforming the roads on the map into a network graph and turning the computation of walking distance into a graph theory problem. For each case (observed or simulated), I compute the shortest path, weighted by the length of roads, to the nearest pump. Then, by drawing the unique paths for all cases, a pump’s neighborhood emerges:


The summary results are:

# print(neighborhoodWalking()) or
##   3   4   5   6   7   8   9  10  11  12 
##  12   6   1  44 189  14  32  20   2   1

“Expected” walking neighborhoods

To get a sense of the full reach of a walking neighborhood, I extend the approach above to “expected” or simulated data. Using sp::spsample() and sp::Polygon(), I place 5000 regularly spaced points, found in “regular.cases”, across the map and compute the shortest path to the nearest pump. This allows me to see the full range of the different pump neighborhoods. I do this in two ways. In the first, I identify neighborhoods by coloring roads.3

plot(neighborhoodWalking(case.set = "expected"))

In the second, I identify neighborhoods by coloring regions using points or polygons.4 The points approach, shown below, is faster and less tolerant of classification errors.

plot(neighborhoodWalking(case.set = "expected"), type = "area.points")

The virtue of the polygon approach, which is still under development and may return an error for certain configurations, is that it better lends itself to building graphs at different scales.

streetNameLocator("marshall street", zoom = TRUE, highlight = FALSE,
  add.title = FALSE, radius = 0.5)

While easier to “read”, these area graphs are potentially more misleading. Conceptually, the problem is that they take the focus away from roads and puts it on regions, which may not be meaningful because they can represent locations where there are no roads or residences. Computationally, the problem is that the shape of neighborhoods are sensitive to how we determines a case’s street address. Depending on our choice, this can produce different results.

Exploring scenarios

Beyond comparing methods (e.g., walking v. Euclidean distance), this package also allows you to explore different scenarios. For example, Snow argues that residents found the water from the Carnaby and Little Marlborough Street pump (#6) to be of low quality and actually preferred to go to the Broad Street pump (#7).5 Using this package, you can examine this possibility by selecting or excluding pumps: