Where does London end?

Epsom racecourse: not in London, probably should be. Image: Getty.

"Where London ends" is one of those topics that can keep Londoners arguing happily with each other for hours. Is Romford in London? (Technically yes, despite being the most Essex place in the universe.) Watford? (Nope, despite being on the tube.) Epsom? (We paid good money to live in leafy Surrey – are you mad?)

Officially the city limits lie at the Greater London boundary, but outside the realm of politics this is a pretty meaningless distinction. In places, that boundary runs down the middle of suburban streets. In others, it's a good two or three miles out into open countryside.

More importantly though, it's arguable whether continuous urban build up is really the best measure of a city. Picture an area whose residents work in London, use its transport, and rely on its services. Should its relationship to the city really be defined purely by whether or not you can walk from there to Charing Cross without catching sight of a field?

Barney Stringer is a regeneration expert at Quod, who writes a blog about these sort of issues. A few days back, he wrote a post headlined, "Is London too small?”, which includes this rather lovely map:

What's clear is that there's an inner ring of satellite suburbs that are, in economic terms, basically dependent on the metropolis: towns that would, in the US version of the jargon, be referred to as “exurbs”. They include contiguous Surrey suburbs like Epsom, Esher and Weybridge; dormitory towns like Sevenoaks, Beaconsfield and Potters Bar; and the entire set of The Only Way is Essex, most of which is either on the Central Line or will soon be on Crossrail.

Beyond that, the size of the commuter population gradually falls away. The areas with the strongest ties to London are clearly spread out along major transport links. Look:

Stringer asks whether, given these tight economic links, it's time to look at extending the GLA boundary. He writes:

More than 1.3 million people live in the area marked blue. Every day, many of them decant into London. Their council tax does not contribute towards the services they use there during the working week, nor do they get a vote on how those services should be provided.

Is it time redraw London’s boundaries once again, to embrace these areas that already function as part of the city? Or are there other ways to integrate London’s hinterland, perhaps by giving the Mayor of London greater powers over transport and housing beyond London’s boundaries?

The idea of redrawing London’s boundaries is not as unlikely as it might sound. Twice before – in 1889 and 1965 – the national government has redrawn the city's boundaries to better reflect its physical limits. In the round of revision that happened in the 1960s, some areas (Epsom, Banstead, Cheshunt, Chigwell) were excluded after kicking up a fuss. Others (Romford, Purley, Barnet) were included despite it. Many districts, if told they were going to be included in a new and larger Greater London, would no doubt kick up a fuss all over again.

But today’s Conservative party, at least, might have a very good incentive to extend the boundary once again all the same. London leans towards Labour but, with a few exceptions, those areas just beyond the outskirts are overwelmingly Tory. A bigger London could boost the party’s chances in its mayoral elections for a generation. With Boris plotting his triumphant return to Westminster, this might start to look like a pretty sweet deal.


CityMetric is now City Monitor! Come see us at our new home

City Monitor is now live in beta at citymonitor.ai.

CityMetric is now City Monitor, a name that reflects both a ramping up of our ambitions as well as our membership in a network of like-minded publications from New Statesman Media Group. Our new site is now live in beta, so please visit us there going forward. Here’s what CityMetric readers should know about this exciting transition.  

Regular CityMetric readers may have already noticed a few changes around here since the spring. CityMetric’s beloved founding editor, Jonn Elledge, has moved on to some new adventures, and a new team has formed to take the site into the future. It’s led by yours truly – I’m Sommer Mathis, the editor-in-chief of City Monitor. Hello!

My background includes having served as the founding editor of CityLab, editor-in-chief of Atlas Obscura, and editor-in-chief of DCist, a local news publication in the District of Columbia. I’ve been reporting on and writing about cities in one way or another for the past 15 years. To me, there is no more important story in the world right now than how cities are changing and adapting to an increasingly challenging global landscape. The majority of the world’s population lives in cities, and if we’re ever going to be able to tackle the most pressing issues currently facing our planet – the climate emergency, rising inequality, the Covid-19 pandemic ­­­– cities are going to have to lead the way.

That’s why City Monitor is now a global publication dedicated to the future of cities everywhere – not just in the UK (nor for that matter just in the US, where I live). Our mission is to help our readers, many of whom are in leadership positions around the globe, navigate how cities are changing and discover what’s next in the world of urban policy. We’ll do that through original reporting, expert opinion and most crucially, a data-driven approach that emphasises evidence and rigorous analysis. We want to arm local decision-makers and those they work in concert with – whether that’s elected officials, bureaucratic leaders, policy advocates, neighbourhood activists, academics and researchers, entrepreneurs, or plain-old engaged citizens – with real insights and potential answers to tough problems. Subjects we cover include transportation, infrastructure, housing, urban design, public safety, the environment, the economy, and much more.

The City Monitor team is made up of some of the most experienced urban policy journalists in the world. Our managing editor is Adam Sneed, also a CityLab alum where he served as a senior associate editor. Before that he was a technology reporter at Politico. Allison Arieff is City Monitor’s senior editor. She was previously editorial director of the urban planning and policy think tank SPUR, as well as a contributing columnist for The New York Times. Staff writer Jake Blumgart most recently covered development, housing and politics for WHYY, the local public radio station in Philadelphia. And our data reporter is Alexandra Kanik, whose previous roles include data reporting for Louisville Public Media in Kentucky and PublicSource in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Our team will continue to grow in the coming weeks, and we’ll also be collaborating closely with our editorial colleagues across New Statesman Media Group. In fact, we’re launching a whole network of new publications, covering topics such as the clean energy transition, foreign direct investment, technology, banks and more. Many of these sectors will frequently overlap with our cities coverage, and a key part of our plan is make the most of the expertise that all of these newsrooms combined will bring to bear on our journalism.

Please visit citymonitor.ai going forward, where you can also sign up for our free email newsletter.

As for CityMetric, some of its archives have already been moved over to the new website, and the rest will follow not long after. If you’re looking for a favourite piece from CityMetric’s past, for a time you’ll still be able to find it here, but before long the whole archive will move over to City Monitor.

On behalf of the City Monitor team, I’m thrilled to invite you to come along for the ride at our new digs. You can follow City Monitor on LinkedIn and on Twitter. If you’re interested in learning more about the potential for a commercial partnership with City Monitor, please get in touch with our director of partnerships, Joe Maughan.

I want to thank and congratulate Jonn Elledge on a brilliant run. Everything we do from here on out will be building on the legacy of his work, and the community that he built here at CityMetric. Cheers, Jonn!

To our readers, on behalf of the City Monitor team, thank you from all of us for being such loyal CityMetric fans. We couldn’t have done any of this without you.

Sommer Mathis is editor-in-chief of City Monitor.