FEATURE6 February 2019

Journey through the urban jungle

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With population densities increasing, the rise of more flexible work and living spaces, and shifting modes of transport, understanding the urban citizen is more complex than ever, as Tim Phillips discovers.


In 1921, the British census started asking people not just where they lived, but also where they worked and about the journey that they took to get there. At the time, London was a city of six million people, three times the size it had been a century before. It was also a very different city, crisscrossed by a haphazard set of underground railway lines, built independently of each other by speculators and ringed by mainline stations, that the census discovered delivered 370, 000 people into the centre of London every day.

The population of the historical City of London – the ‘Square Mile’ at the heart of the capital – had withered from around 130, 000 in 1851 to a tenth of that figure by the time of the 1921 census.

If far-sighted Edwardian administrators (the US census didn’t collect detailed commuting data until 1990 ) thought their statistics on how people went to work might be useful, it’s unlikely ...