Research article

How Does London Measure Up?

The population of London’s metropolitan area stands at 14.5 million people.

By this measure, it is the biggest city in Europe and dwarfed only by the modern giants of Asia: Tokyo, Seoul, Shanghai and Beijing, or the sprawling North American metropolises of Los Angeles and New York.

The London metro area, at 8,382km2, is far smaller than any of these cities except Shanghai, and smaller than the World City average metro size of 17,521 km2. This means the London Metro is much more compact than most, and, contrary to popular belief, London’s population density is average for a world city across the entire functional area (see our article on Population Density, Myth and Reality).

The extent of commuting into London is great. Over one million workers commute into the centre from outside London every day, adding to London’s daytime population.

In addition to the commuting population, London’s daytime and overnight population is significantly increased by visitors to the capital. London has the largest number of overnight international visitors among any world city, 18.8 million last year. Between them, they spent US$19.3 billion in 2014-15.

Figure 3

FIGURE 3Mastercard top 20 destination cities

Source: Mastercard

In addition to these international visitors are visitors from the UK. There were 13.7 million of them last year, according to Mastercard and they spent US$4.7 billion. The total income from both domestic and international visitors was US$139 billion, a significant contribution to the London economy.

London’s overnight guests are comprised of both tourist and business visitors. Together, they add to the already considerable demand for space in the city. To put this in perspective, we have calculated the total number of people occupying bedspaces over the course of a year in London and translated this into a ‘temporarily resident’ population, dubbed ‘Guestershire’. The size of Guestershire, resident over the course of a year, is just under 381,000 people. This means London has to accommodate a population greater than Cardiff’s, every night.

London’s land use

Figure 4 shows how London’s 159,000 hectares of land is utilised by different land uses and how this differs borough to borough.

Figure 4

FIGURE 4London's land use by borough

Source: National Land Use Survey

In most London boroughs, the highest proportions of all land are taken, not by buildings, but by green space and water, followed by domestic gardens and roads. By this measure, London is already very much a ‘garden city’, and possibly this is one of the reasons it has become such a globally popular residential location.

It is notable, however, that the central London boroughs with the most built-on land (and the smallest domestic gardens) are also some of the most desirable neighbourhoods. Their desirability is composed of a number of factors including proximity to the centre, historic architectural legacy and urban form.

It must be noted that streets take on a greater importance in their proportionate land-take as generous ‘streetscape’ counterbalances taller, more dense properties and accommodates parking on-street via controlled parking regimes. This denser urban character is typical of many central districts in other world cities.

Figure 5

FIGURE 5Size and population of World City metropolitan areas

Source: Savills World Research

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