It is a commonly held belief among Londoners that their city is a dwarf on the world stage and, lacking the high-rise buildings of Manhattan and Hong Kong, must be very low density. Neither of these beliefs are actually the case.
We have already shown London’s population is larger than the World City average even though its area is smaller. At the metropolitan level, London’s population density, expressed as the number of people per hectare, is well above the median for the World City Ranking and only behind the Asian cities of Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo and Seoul.
London’s metro has a higher population density than all the European, American and Australian cities in the ranking. Why then does the myth of London’s low density city still persist?
Part of the answer lies with the size of areas studied when looking at density, and partly with the mistaken belief that cities with skyscrapers accommodate more people per unit of land than traditional mid-rise street patterns.
The urban cores of most cities are considerably higher-density than outlying areas. Because the administrative areas of different cities vary in size and definition, some cover only this urban core, while others cover the same area as the metro region. If the density of Greater London is compared with the very small urban area of Department de Paris, London looks very low by comparison, but the size of the different areas are not comparable. At the administrative area level, Greater London still has a higher density than 12 of the other cities.
Our idea of what densities are possible in cities is often given by small-scale studies of very central areas or neighbourhoods, not the whole city. To illustrate this we have selected central neighbourhoods of varying sizes for which data is readily available in each of the 20 cities. London’s central borough of Kensington and Chelsea has a population density virtually identical to the median of the 20 cities and higher than nine of them. But each of these areas differ widely in size from others.