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A London Milestone

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London Reaches New Population Peak For the First Time in 75 Years

LondonAccording to the forecasts of the Greater London Authority (GLA) this week London’s population will finally caught up with it’s 1939 peak levels. This is an extraordinary milestone not only because it took 75 years, but because no other city has managed to compensate the loss of two and a quarter million people.

What happened?

Somewhere in the 18th century London overtook Constantinople (or modern-day Istanbul) and became the most populated city in the World. By 1939 it was surpassed by New York, but it was still #2 and a home to around 8.6 million. We can blame mainly WWII for the drastic decrease. Many were drafted in the army, many left to the countryside and many died during the bombings. But the facts are London’s population continued it’s shrinkage even after the war. By the 1990s the city said goodbye to quarter of it’s population. For a comparison, that’s everybody living in Edinburgh, Belfast, Birmingham and Cardiff put together.

To understand why, we must go back a bit. By 1920s UK citizens were flooding London in great numbers and it was seen as a problem. Rural England was suffering from this and London started to become overpopulated. That’s why in 1938 Sir Anderson Barlow began his Commission into the redistribution of the Industrial Population. By his words “The continued drift of population to London and the Home Counties constitutes a social, economic and strategic problem which demands immediate attention”. This was followed by a deliberate policy of constraint and disperse that lead to the reverse growth of London.

Then and Now

crowd of peopleBut the city finally gained it’s former population and according to GLA, in some busy maternity ward this week the 8,615,246th Londoner would be born. Of course the many immigrants contribute as well. Back in 1939 only 2.7% were born abroad compared to the 37% today. But the biggest source of growth continues to be child birth and the improved health conditions. There was no NHS back in the days, there were fewer green areas and the city’s air was filled with smog.

The place Londoners live has changed as well. Before, most of the population was concentrated in the inner boroughs. But by the end of the Second World War, the city had started building houses rapidly, thus starting the shape of today’s suburban London. Now the populace is much more decentralised.

Of course, reaching the old heights means London will have to face the old problems as well. The city is suffering from enormous population growth and house prices are bouncing unstoppably. Would another policy of population reduction will be necessary or will GLA solve the issues in another way is yet to be found.

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