The innermost City of London sees a fifty-five-fold population increase during the day. So how big is "London"—really?by Alasdair Rae / November 3, 2017 / Leave a comment
If someone were to ask you “what’s the population of London?,” you might be tempted to say “8.8 million,” because that’s how many people lived there in 2016 according to the Office for National Statistics.
If you’re a wonk with any sense of self-respect, however, you would be compelled to ask “what do you mean by London?” Or, if you’re an uber-wonk, you might go further, and ask: “what do you mean by ‘population’?”
Add these two questions together and you arrive at a perennial problem for urbanists and planners worldwide: the issue of how we define cities, and where their boundaries lie.
This seemingly arcane question has real-world implications, because big cities like London need to understand their “functional economic geography” if they are to plan properly; for infrastructure, transport, housing, economic development and so on. Thus, the question of where London “ends” may seem odd, but it’s important.
One way to think about where cities end is to look at their commuter footprint. Within the UK London has by far the largest. This is something I attempted to map using data from the most recent Census to visualise the pull of London’s labour market.
As far out as Cambridge, Hastings, Margate and Salisbury, one in twenty workers commute to London. This is not surprising, and it would be a stretch to claim ‘London’ extends this far, since the area in the map has a population of around 15 million.