Who’s on the Map? Using Data to Reimagine Street Name Diversity

Mapping Diversity is a collaborative project between Sheldon.studio and OBC Transeuropa, within EDJNET. The project does not merely raise awareness through data, but tries to empower the local public.

Street names are not neutral

You might not make much of it as you pass through Avenue Victor Hugo in Paris, Via Garibaldi in Venice, or Strada Xenofon in Bucharest. Yet once you start paying attention to it, you can’t stop wondering: Where are all the women? Why are there so many Saints and soldiers, and so few scientists, where are people of any gender, color, or culture?

Screen capture of the title section of the interactive website Mapping Diversity
Title section from Mapping Diversity

What might at first have seemed like a small detail of your daily strolls gains a more profound meaning once you start systematically counting who is present and who is excluded from our toponymy. The lack of diversity in street names doesn’t just tell a story about the type of society we inherited or live in, it tells us something about the one we perpetuate. Studying street names can become a proxy to reveal hidden patterns about collective memory, societal values, and the processes of legitimization of the past.

That is why at Sheldon.studio we felt a great responsibility when OBC Transeuropa approached us to work on a large dataset of 145,933 streets across 30 major European cities in 17 different countries. What patterns would the data reveal? How could we make a broad public empathize with the topic and the massive dataset, igniting actions to demand change?

bar charts show the share of streets named after a woman out of the streets dedicated to individuals by city name
“Share of streets named after a woman out of the streets dedicated to individuals by city name”

Designing a digital commons

The concept

Mapping Diversity is not the first project tackling data about gender representation in cities. For example, in Italy, where we launched the project’s first prototype, the group Toponomastica Femminile for years had compiled lists of women honored in Italian streets, alongside educational initiatives and activism to demand more women representation in the urban landscape.

At the global scale, Mapping Diversity acknowledges the impact of existing projects investigating the lack of streets honoring women, above all EqualStreetNames, Streetnomics, and Las Calles de las Mujeres.

Our first thought was, what could our studio add to such a landscape? We believed we could contribute to contextualizing the data as a “digital commons” in order to reach a wider audience beyond feminist groups, academia, or the mapping community.

Like natural commons, such as oceans and pastures, digital commons are resources that belong to all of us, that are accessible to all of us, and whose care falls on all of us. Rethinking the data about representation in toponymy as a digital common meant going beyond publishing a single data visualization or a single data journalism article. It implied creating a shared knowledge base that drew people in, got them curious about the topic, and made them interested in taking part in the ongoing debate, or even contributing actively to the project.

But how do you design a digital common?

Several screens from the scrollytelling aspect of exploring the map data

Sheldon.studio’s Translate-Relate-Enable framework

To reframe street data as a digital common, we created the Translate-Relate-Enable framework to guide our projects. Let’s see what each component is about and how it has been applied in Mapping Diversity.


While data is often public and formally accessible, it usually requires a diverse skillset to turn it into something relevant for a broad audience. Opening the (open) data is the first step of designing digital commons and refers precisely to this act of translation: from the rows and columns of a spreadsheet to the pieces of meaningful information that are relevant in everyday life.

In Mapping Diversity, we leveraged scrollytelling and the progressive disclosure of information to engagingly communicate the data. These techniques allowed us to translate complexity by breaking the information down into small chunks that are revealed gradually, with brief texts and explanations always contextualizing the numbers and chart. Thus, scrollytelling facilitates the comprehension of data to those who are graphically or statistically illiterate, or just unfamiliar with the topic.

Mobile view of a street in Lyon with the profile on Maryse Bastie
Mobile view of the city of Lyon, France


Translating data is not enough if there is no one to listen to or care. That is why, when designing digital commons, we need to think about ways to bridge the gap between the data and the audience. For example, by providing a hook, a personalized entry point suddenly makes a vast amount of data relevant to a specific person.

Mapping Diversity provides reader-centric storytelling: before digging into the overall insights, you are invited to pick a city – perhaps where you were born, where you are living, or where you had your favorite trip. By choosing a city, you are presented only with the data about that specific place, and you can indulge in exploring the whole map of the streets you have a connection with. Additionally, the spreadsheet’s abstract numbers and data points become more relatable thanks to the inclusion of qualitative data about the women honored. Short descriptions and portraits appear as you navigate the single streets of the city or neighborhood you are exploring, further reducing the distance between the reader and the data.


Digital commons are more than knowledge repositories: once data is translated and relatable, it spurs debates and makes the audience want to contribute and engage with the topic. Digital commons provide tools that facilitate and enable the audience to act upon these desires.

In Mapping Diversity, as the reader scrolls to the end of the page, they find the shocking statistic of how few women are represented in the selected city. At this point, a button flashes and provides an easy way to quickly share the surprising insight on social media. The platform automatically generates the social media card, making it effortless for the reader to take action and populate the public sphere with data to foster an informed debate.

Desktop view of a street in Stockholm with the profile on Clare of Assisi
A view into Stockholm, Sweeden

But access to data about the extent to which our cities exclude and marginalize certain groups of people doesn’t offer a solution on how to build a more equitable society. However, as communities around the world raise questions about what to do with cultural fossils of our past – be it tearing down statues, painting them pink, renaming or contextualizing streets – digital commons such as Mapping Diversity is a tool to facilitate an informed debate beyond niches and filter bubbles.

screen grab of the website with a View of the most frequently named women's street names
View of the most frequently named women’s street names

Nurturing a digital commons

Digital commons do not end with the publication date. The challenging part comes now, as we envision ways to bring the digital project to have an impact in the physical world. That is why in May 2023 we held the first of a series of workshops to connect local communities to the toponymy data of their city. The first pilot has been with a group of students from the Faculty of Education in Brixen, a small town in the surroundings. We explored the town’s streets, surveyed those in people’s names, discovered their stories, and created a new dataset to enrich the platform.

photo of students participating in a workshop on street names
Let the Brixen mapping begin!

Students then co-created an information ecosystem to reduce the distance between citizens and tourists and Brixen’s toponymy data.  It is an approach we rely on to spread the information over several media and places, so as to maximize the impact, offering different touch points in different places and media, so as to target multiple and specific audiences.  So, in specific, a series of data-based posters welcome visitors in the city’s districts. Each poster recapitulates the profession of people whose district’s streets are dedicated to, and then offers an entry point of their faces, birth data, and sorties, opening to the qualitative side of the data. Posters are just one of the possible touchpoints. Newly designed maps suggest street names and data-based city tours. Finally, each street plate comes with a QR code that leads citizens to an informative card, connected to a fictional Instagram account of the historical figure. All those facets, are interconnected, giving rise to a systemic narration, which is not made by a single voice… by the collection of all the small fragments.

data-based poster design in purple advertising the website
The data-based poster
photo of a phone showing the mobile site on the streets of Brixen
The street name informative card is retrieved by a QR code placed closer to the name
multiple iphone mockups of instagram showing shared results on social media from teh program
Brixenfaces, the mockup of the fictional Instagram page to discover all the people celebrated in the Brixen’s streets.

We hope the workshop is just the first step of a longer series: we are currently testing the format to develop a replicable model to enable new localized initiatives throughout Europe. Because sometimes, if data do not exist, people do not exist, and with them, the values that can inspire a more inclusive and equitable society.

List of all women found in the data set (there are many more when scrolling to the right!)

Alice Corona is a data journalist and partner of Sheldon.studio, Matteo Moretti is a designer and founding partner of Sheldon.studio

Matteo Moretti is a designer and cofounder of Sheldon.studio

Alice Corona