Thursday, 13 October 2011

How Big is London?

In studies of cities and urban areas, a common question that crops up is 'how big' a particular city is. I'd be inclined to answer this in terms of population, which for Greater London in mid-2010 was 7.83million. Most urban academics, however, are more pedantic and if you asked them how big London is, they might ask what you mean by 'big' and what you mean by 'London'. So, following the theme of some posts over the past year I decided to take a look at this purely in terms of the land area of some key UK 'cities'. I looked at the London Boroughs for Greater London, plus local authority areas for the English core cities, plus Edinburgh, Glasgow, Cardiff and Belfast. I then put them side by side at the same map scale and produced the following image...

The cities (i.e. the local authorities) in the image above are ranked by land area. London is the largest, at around 610 square miles, and Nottingham is the smallest at around 30 square miles. One issue when thinking about all of this is the extent to which most of the UK's cities are 'underbounded' in the sense that the core local authority area with the name of the city does not reflect the true extent of the functional urban area. Manchester is a classic example of this, whereas Leeds is more 'overbounded'. Tony Champion and Mike Coombes, among others, have written about this - e.g. in this presentation. In many ways this is quite a serious policy challenge, particularly when it comes to understanding and planning for wider metropolitan housing and labour market processes. But I'm getting carried away with myself now!

Finally, I thought it would be interesting to compare the areas in the image above to the UK's largest local authority by area. I did this because a) I'm from the Highland region and b) see reason a). The Highland region is, famously, about the size of Belgium and it is bigger than both Wales and Northern Ireland by some way. In relation to the latter, it is more than twice the size in terms of land area. However, in mid-2010 the total population of the Highland region was only 221,630. A final nugget of information: the Highland region is about 275 times larger than Liverpool. The image below shows the Highland region at the same scale as the areas in the first image. Perhaps we should all move up north and have more space! Or perhaps not.

P.S. The City of London is the smallest administrative 'district' in the UK, at around 1.1 square miles.