This blog is to capture all articles relating to good work including initiatives and successes with regards to gangs (predominantly in London), but also good news stories involving young people more generally.

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Friday, 15 February 2013

Gang Maps (page from original site)


Below is from the Gang Maps page at the old LondonStreetGangs site, to see the Google Maps use the links at the end of this post.

Human Territoriality

Territoriality commonly refers to the processes and practices that regulate and/or control the use of space (Alonso 1999). A derivative of the Latin nouns terra (earth, land) and verb terrere (to warn or frighten of), territory can imply defended as well as bounded space (Gottmann 1973; Gold 1982). Territorial behaviour is frequently argued to be fundamental to human behaviour, however, for young people it has increasingly been argued that it significantly constraints their lives, particularly in disadvantaged areas (Pickering et al 2008).

Whilst animal territoriality relates to physiological needs linked with survival, human territoriality also embraces advanced needs for “identity, status, recognition by others, and achievement of self image” (Gold 1982, p.6). Hall (1966) claimed that humans made use of strategies to defend land and turf with Porteous (1977) dividing this space into micro (my chair), meso (my city) and macro (my country) spatial units.

According to Robert Sack, there are ten tendencies that are present during territorial functioning that do not operate independently from one another – see image below.

American gang researcher and geographer Alex Alonso (1999), asserts that the first three tendencies must always be present, stating that the classification tendency [tendency number 1] “is fulfilled when a group makes a claim to an area, and claims dominance over this space. This space must also be recognised and respected by other groups. Classification pertains to and is specific to an area...Successful communication [tendency number 2] of a territory requires that boundaries are understood and recognised. Territoriality is also a very efficient strategy to not only occupy and operate within a particular locale, but it also functions as an enforcement tool to control over that area [tendency number 3]. The fourth tendency, reifying power, is accomplished by how a group dominates public space and challenges those that attempt to contest their presence. It is the method by which groups reemphasise their dominant position. This can occur on any scale from street corner groups to nation-states.” (Alonso 1998, p.49)

Gang “Territory”

Many early studies of gang formation were developed with the assertion that gang members resided locally, within their neighbourhood or territory (Thrasher 1927; Whyte 1943). Whilst this assertion held true in previous eras, the increased mobility of poor urban families, the influence of school bussing, urban redevelopment and housing regeneration are all factors that have weakened the residency territory relationship (Aldridge et al 2010, Carlie 2002; Decker and Van Winkle 1996, Hagedorn 1988, Tita et al 2005). It has become less important for gang members to reside within their chosen gangs neighbourhood, however, location remains to be an important factor, as observed by Tita et al “gangs ‘hang out’ and need an identifiable physical space for this activity” (2005 p.273).

An observation by many researchers is that gangs have been known to suppress crime, maintain social order, and provide financial stability to economically disadvantaged areas (Pattillo-McCoy 1999; Ratcliffe et al 2011; Suttles 1968; Taylor 2001; Venkatesh 1997, 2006, 2008). Ratcliffe et al contend that “well-established territories serve to manage conflict by keeping individuals from different groups better isolated…[which] leads to the predication that areas solidly controlled by a single gang will have less crime than areas utilised by multiple gangs” (2011 p.5).

One British study, Young people and territoriality in British cities, concluded that territoriality was a cultural expectation passed down to young people from older generations and often had deep historical roots. Interviews with young people from several British cities, including London, revealed that territoriality was learned behaviour and that stories told by older generations were significant in the intergenerational transmission of territorial culture (Pickering et al 2008, p.5). Unsurprisingly, the research also found a strong interrelationship between territoriality and disadvantaged areas. Gangs and territorial youth groups have often been found predominantly in, or originating from, multiply deprived settings and socially disorganised neighbourhoods.

Group crime, or gang crime, involving rival areas has been a constant feature of British urban life for over 100 years. There are many areas of Britain whereby young people have historically sought recognition and respect amongst their peers by taking part in territorial activities, whilst this is not confined to deprived inner cities it is here where this phenomenon has gained the most publicity due to the higher volumes of serious violence, perceived to be motivated by a sense of ownership over place and a willingness to protect the area.

Some qualitative works that highlight territorial “gang violence” in Britain covering the late 1800’s to 1980 include the ‘Gangs of London’ by Brian McDonald, ‘Gangs of Manchester’ by Andrew Davies, ‘Hooligan: a history of respectable fears’ by Geoffrey Pearson and ‘Warrior Kings: South London Gang Wars 1976-1982’ by Noel Smith.

In 2008, the Local Government White Paper set out the aim of creating strong and cohesive communities, a key aspect of this being a sense of belonging to one’s neighbourhood. Gustafson (2001) recognised a “quasi-natural bond...between the place...and its residents [which has] often been considered to be crucial for individual wellbeing and for social cohesion” (Gustafson 2001 p.668). Individuals and groups can achieve a sense of well-being through the exercise of control within predictable routines (Giddens, 1984) and neighbourhoods remain important to everyday experiences and self-identity. Place attachment also provides access to a community of neighbours through social networks (Low and Altman 1992). In turn this can reinforce a communal sense of identity, particularly through shared experiences or a common culture or lifestyle – “in other words, place attachment and territoriality appear to be mutually reinforcing” (Pickering et al 2008, p.12).

In contrast, it is worth noting that place attachment can have the detrimental impact of reinforcing inward-looking tendencies, with immediate local loyalties potentially isolating residents from wider opportunities (Forrest and Kearns, 1999), this is what Suttles (1972) identified as the ‘defended neighbourhood’ whereby outsiders are either superfluous or threatening.

There are two types of maps used within the site to show geographical variations in “gang territories” of London, one which represents areas claimed by gangs (usually larger areas covering districts of post-codes, labelled as gang regions), and areas whereby gangs are known to hang out or reside (usually much smaller areas, usually a street or housing estate). The latter are what has been termed by some academics as ‘Gang Set Spaces’ (see below).

The Google Maps at the bottom of this page are ‘Gang Regions’, many are divided amongst invisible lines that represent postal code districts, particularly in more suburban and outer areas of London. These shapes can be quite misleading as the area where a group actually operates and spends most of its time is far smaller in reality. Whilst groups may lay claim to large areas as their territory, such as an entire postal district, there may only be several or even one location where that group hangs out which might equate to a housing estate, single street or housing block. The gang region maps therefore are imagined spaces; however, in some areas these spaces have become part of a young person’s ‘mind-mapping’ with which to help them determine how they can negotiate safely through urban spaces. The closer you get to central London, the smaller and more defined these gang regions become. Here gang areas are typically defined by roads, railway lines and other physical markers – often housing estate boundaries.

Gang Regions in London Map (London Post Codes only, click image to enlarge)

Gang “Set Space”

Gang ‘Set Space’ was a term coined by Tita et al (2005), derived from interviewing gang members and having them map places where they came together as a sociological group in order to “hang out”. Whilst gangs may claim large ill-defined territories, the main hang out areas are frequently much smaller geographic units, as noted by Tita et al, they (Gang Set Spaces) are much smaller than neighbourhoods or even census tracts. The gang set space represents a relatively small area within a neighbourhood, so whilst a gang can claim ownership and allegiance to an entire neighbourhood (or postal code) as being their “endz”, the notion of set space recognises an actual area within a neighbourhood where gang members come together as a gang. As noted by Tita et al:

“What ‘hot spots’ are to the study of crime, ‘set space’ is to the study of gangs…Thus, just as sets are part of a larger gang, set space is a subset of a larger gang turf or territory” (2005 p.273).

Ratcliffe et al (2011) contend that there are important distinctions between gang territory in general and that of gang set space, the latter being physically small areas within larger gang territory that are most critical to the gang. In London this may be a particular building, block of flats or a street. For example, tower blocks / balconies of flats can be optimal places for gang members to ‘hang out’ owing to physical features (i.e. enhanced visibility of approaching vehicle and foot traffic, including police and/or rivals); where there is participation in the drugs economy a safe house, crack house or phone box may be particularly important to gang set space whilst a main thoroughfare or ‘front line’ may have optimal market features such as a steady stream of potential customers and/or high volume of pedestrian traffic (Eck 1994).

As previously mentioned, within the gang regions there is often only a small number of areas whereby the gang actually hangs out. For example the Wood Green MOB, and its follow on generations, have for many years occupied the N22 postal code in north London. This is a particularly large area which stretches from Bowes Park to the north right down to Turnpike Lane in the south. The area encompasses several housing estates, a busy tube station and large shopping centre. Within that large area are three much smaller notable areas where the gang spends most of its time – Sky City and Sandling’s housing estates and the Avenues (Gladstone Avenue). Furthermore, Anti-Social Behaviour Orders banning alleged members of the gang from Wood Green has contributed to the existence of new gang set space on housing estates within the N11 postal district.

Membership of the gang may be drawn from anywhere in N22, or anywhere in London for that matter (see Residential Outsiders below), however it is these aforementioned smaller set spaces that have always been key locations for members to hang out.

Gang Set Spaces in London Map (London Post Codes only, click image to enlarge) 

Residential Outsiders

“Gangs are often assumed or argued to be territorial entities in the popular imagination, by police authorities and even by academic researchers” (Aldridge et al 2010 p.72). A consistent assumption made by academic research in the UK, and elsewhere, is that gangs are grounded in territory. Part of that assumption has it that gang members are resident in the areas where their gang exists, however, this is not always the case (see proliferation of London gangs, London Street Gangs 2008).

Do gang members’ addresses map onto territory? They do not have to and often don’t, the term for these gang members was given as ‘Residential Outsiders’ by academics Judith Aldridge, Robert Ralphs and Juanjo Medina during their research in south Manchester.

In their explanation of residential outsiders, Aldridge et al (2010) draw on similar findings from the US context which have recognised that gang members’ territories and neighbourhoods of residence are not necessarily directly coterminous (Moore et al, 1983), as quoted from a Manchester gang member in their study:

“Most gangs are people that live directly near each other...But as you get more established now you get people from all over that want to be with their cousin, friends, whatever, you know: meeting in jail, however you meet. Hanging around, going out for a few beers, you get part of the gang. I know people from Belmont gangs, people that’s not from Belmont, they haven’t got addresses from Belmont” (*Belmont is a fictional neighbourhood name)

The idea is that close neighbourhood affiliations underpinned the original names and membership of local gangs, however, through time membership evolves to encompass what has been termed residential outsiders. The research in Manchester found that members commonly had addresses away from their gang neighbourhood, including some in what were perceived to be rival gang neighbourhoods. Aldridge et al (2010) identify three primary processes that result in residential outsiders:


As observed by Aldridge et al (2010), residential outsiders can result from gang members being voluntarily or involuntarily re-housed. The formation and proliferation of London gangs over the past twenty years, particularly those in the suburbs, has been aided by mass urban regeneration. For example, many gangs that now exist in suburban parts of south London (Catford, Gipsy Hill, Norwood, Croydon, Thornton Heath, Penge) had their roots in areas such as Brixton, Peckham, Deptford and New Cross - all areas where slum clearance and later demolition of brutalise estates saw the dispersion of families further out of London. Similarly, those in north London suburbs have their roots in Hackney and Haringey boroughs.

What Aldridge et al (2010) highlight as particularly important from a policy perspective is that re-housing gang involved young people and their families has had very little impact, neither did it produce positive outcomes with members retaining their gang activity as residential outsiders. This is very significant considering the Home Office have often put forward re-housing as a viable exit strategy from gang membership.

Residing outside the gang neighbourhood but having family members (usually fathers) residing within it

Aldridge et al (2010, p.77) found that the most common explanation for the existence of residential outsiders derived from the influence of family connections within the gang neighbourhood.

Transition between schools

This was noted as being particularly common in the primary to secondary transition. Whereby young people attend schools away from their neighbourhood of residence, they may become part of gangs away from their home.

How this concept translates into movement through space is also important as popular accounts of territory make the assumption that membership of a gang affects all members in the same way, however, accounts of territorial spaces are highly individualised, as noted by Aldridge et al (2009):

“The extent to which individuals were fearful of ‘straying’ or ‘transgressing’ was often linked more to previous conflict with particular individuals (sometimes even members of their own gang), than to rival gang status per se. In such cases, they were fearful in home territory, ‘rival’ territory and further afield (such as the city centre). Such contradictions contradict simple and straightforward coterminous mapping of territory – of geographical space – to gangs” (Alridge et al 2010, p.78-79)


  • Aldridge, J. Ralphs, R. & Medina, J. (2010) Collateral damage: Territory and policing in an English gang city, In: Goldson, B. Ed. Youth in Crisis? ‘Gangs’, territoriality and violence. Routledge, pp. 78-88 
  • Alonso, Alex, (1999) Territoriality Among African American Street Gangs in Los Angeles, Masters Thesis, University of Southern Calfornia. 
  • Gold, J.R. (1982) Territoriality and human spatial behaviour, Journal of Progressive Human Geography, pp.6-44. 
  • Gustafson, P. (2001) ‘Roots and routes: exploring the relationship between place attachement and mobility’, Journal of Environment and Behaviour, Vol.33, pp.667-686. 
  • Pickering, J. Kintrea, K. Bannister, J. Reid, M. & Suzuki, N. (2008) Young people and territoriality in British cities, Joseph Rowntree Foundation. 
  • Ratcliffe, J. Taniguchi, T.A. & Taylor, R.B. (2011) Gang Set Space, Drug Markets, and Crime around drug corners in Camden NJ, Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 
  • Tita, G.E. Cohen, J. & Engbery, J. (2005) An Ecological Study of the Location of Gang “Set Space”, Journal of Social Problems, Vol.52, pp.272-299. 
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