11 ways in which London’s boroughs are a bunch of really stupid shapes

What a bloody mess. Image: Wikipedia.

So here’s a spurious thing someone sent me a link to the other day: a poster from Place in Print, which shows all of London’s boroughs, to scale, in alphabetical order. I never knew I wanted such a thing, and yet:

What it reminds me of is one of those diagrams of what human chromosomes actually look like: suddenly you can see that they’re all funny shapes and some are radically different sizes to others.

Anyway, I am incapable of looking at such a thing without writing a silly listicle of my thoughts on the topic in the hope of viral traffic – you clicked, didn’t you? You’re in no position to judge here – and so, here goes.

Seriously, the size differential is crazy

The largest borough is Bromley, at 150km2. The smallest is Kensington & Chelsea, at 12km2. In other words, the largest borough is 12.5 times the size of the smallest.

That’s a big gap. By way of contrast, in New York, the ratio between the smallest borough (Manhattan) and the largest (Queens) is a relatively sensible five. In Paris the ratio between the largest (15th) and smallest (2nd) arondissements is about 8.5 (so long as you exclude the Bois de Vincennes and Bois de Boulogne, but let’s not get into that here).

Anyway: the point is you could fit 12 Kensington & Chelseas into Bromley and still have land to spare. Incidentally, there are 325,000 people in Bromley, and about half that, 158,000, in Kensington & Chelsea. That means that the latter is six times more densely populated than the former.

We should really be talking about building more houses in Bromley, is what I’m getting at.

And that’s without even thinking about the City

Aw, look at the dinky little thing:

Southwark is basically the same shape as Lambeth, only upside down and melting

Weird.

Some of the boroughs are sensibly square

Or at least, polygonal:

But Kingston looks like a wooden leg

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

Some of them have really stupid boundaries...

Look at Hounslow:

It’s 16km long but, at its narrowest point, less than 1km wide. Like I said: stupid.

...for which you can sometimes blame the river

FFS, Richmond.

Barking can’t even blame that

What the hell is this pointy bit up the top for? Couldn’t they put Chadwell Heath in Redbridge or Havering instead?

Talking of which:

Redbridge is clearly a saddle

Look:

Havering looks like Hackney’s dad

“Don’t you ever come near me or my son again.”

Hillingdon is really, really long

I think probably the longest you can walk in a straight line without leaving the same borough is to go from the Springwell Lake, in the northwest corner of Hillingdon, down to its southern tip beyond Heathrow.

That’s around 20km: walk that far from Trafalgar Square, and you can be out of Greater London altogether:

 

(It also works with Chigwell and Borehamwood, by the way.)


Anyway, that’s me done. You can buy the poster here.

And if I’ve forgotten to mock your borough, please do feel free to write in.

Update: Ed Povey from Place in Print - clearly a man who recognises an untapped market when he sees one - has been in touch. He's offered a 20 per cent discount to anyone who buys this print, or others on his site, when they use the code "CITYMETRIC".

So: there you go.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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All diagrams courtesy of Place in Print, and maps courtesy of Google.

 
 
 
 

The Delhi Metro: How do you build a transport system for 26m people?

Indraprastha station in 2006. Image: Getty.

“Thou hath not played rugby until thou hath tried to get onto a Delhi Metro in rush hour,” a wise Yogi once said.

If you’ve never been on New Delhi’s Metro, your mind might conjure up the the conventional image of Indian trains: tawdry carriages, buckets of sweat, people hanging out of windows and the odd holy cow wandering around for good measure.

Well, no. The Delhi Metro is actually one of the most marvellously sophisticated, affordable, timely, and practical public transportation systems out there. On a 45C day in the Indian summer, many a traveller has shed tears of joy on entering the spacious, air-conditioned carriages.

Above ground, Delhi is a sprawling metropolis of the scariest kind: 26m people, three times the population of London, churn and grind through Delhi itself.

The National Capital Region, an area which includes Delhi and its surrounding satellite cities – now victim of its never-ending urban sprawl – has an estimated population of almost 50m. So how do you tie such a huge population together?

The map; click to expand. Image: Delhi Metro Rail.

Motorised vehicles won’t do it alone. For one, air pollution is a horrific problem in Delhi, as it is across India. Last November, the government declared a state of emergency when the Indian capital was engulfed by a toxic, choking fog so thick that you could barely see several metres in front of you, drawing allusions to the great Victorian fogs in London.

Then there’s Delhi’s famous traffic. Twenty-five years ago, the travel writer William Dalrymple observed that you could reduce the Delhi’s road laws to one simple idea: the largest vehicle always had the right of way. The traffic has tamed somewhat in the 21st century, but the number of vehicles has multiplied again and again, and it’s not uncommon for people to be stuck in four-hour traffic jams when they try to traverse the mighty city.

Enter the Delhi Metro – a huge network of 164 over- and underground stations – and by any account, a titan of civil engineering and administration.

The numbers are simply colossal. Every day the metro serves on average almost 3m people. Annually, it carries around 1bn.

In a country where intercity trains still turn up a day late, the Delhi Metro is extraordinarily timely. On the major lines, trains will come every several minutes. The trains are extraordinary speedy, and you’ll reach your destination in a fraction of the time it would take for you to drive the distance.

The minimum fare is 10 rupees (12p); the maximum fare, to and from the airport, is 50 (60p).

The evolution of the metro. Image: Terramorphus/Wikimedia Commons.

Construction of the metro system began in 1998, with the first section completed in late 2002. Keen to avoid the catastrophic corruption and bureaucratic mismanagement which plagued eastern city of the Kolkata Metro, developers took advice from Hong Kong’s high-tech system There have been several stages of development to add extra lines; more is planned. By 2020, it is hoped that the 135 miles of line will have increased to over 300.  

One thing quite striking about the metro is its women’s only carriages at the rear and the front of the train, marked by pink signs. Sexual assault and harassment has been a horrific problem on Delhi’s transport systems. Women can of course go anywhere on the train – but men who violate the carriage system will have to deal with the scathing anger of the entire pink carriage.


One of the under-discussed impacts of widespread and well-used public transportation systems is their propensity to break down social and class barriers over time. As the London Tube began to be used more and more in early 20th century London, people from completely different walks of life and classes began to brush shoulders and share the same air.

The story is similar in Delhi. The necessity of the metro helps to break down old caste and class divisions. Of course, many elite Delhiites would not be seen dead on the metro, and choose their private chauffeur over brushing shoulders with the common man. But slowly and surely, the times are a changing.

What’s more, the Delhi Metro system is one of the greenest around. Six years ago, the Metro was the first railway system in the world to be awarded carbon credits from the United Nations for helping to reduce pollution in the capital by an estimated 640,000 tonnes every year.  

All praises sung and said, however, at peak times it’s less mind the gap and more mind your ribs – as a fifth of humanity seems to try to get on and off the train at once.

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