Commuters make London ‘a supernova city’

The journeys of commuters in London and the south east of England have been transformed into something truly stellar by a Faculty academic.

Alasdair Rae, Senior Lecturer in Urban Studies and Planning in the Department of Town and Regional Planning, has created a series of stunning visualisations that make the daily grind of London’s commuters look like images captured by a deep space telescope.

The images are based on commuting data released by the Office for National Statistics earlier this year and show the commuting links between London and different cities in the south east.

Commuting to the City of London (one dot = 25 or more people).

Data source: Census, 2011.

London Supernova

Dr Rae said: “Seen in this way, we might think of London as a city that acts a little bit like an exploding star every evening: a kind of 'supernova city' perhaps. I use this analogy with tongue firmly in cheek but when you look at the images below - animated and static - it's clear that that the interstellar references retain some relevance.

“The point here is that, seen in this way, London is very much the 'mega city' depicted by the late urbanist Sir Peter Hall in his study of urban mega city regions of Europe. The other point is that the drudgery of the daily commute actually results in some quite striking images.”

According to figures released by the London DataStore, the capital’s population surges to over 10 million each weekday compared to the 8.6 million who call London home.

Dr Rae said: “Westminster's daytime population swells to over one million, including tourists, in contrast to its resident population of around 225,000 people. This equates to roughly the entire population of Birmingham, but in less than a tenth of the area.

“The City of London, on the other hand, has a very small resident population of around 8,000, but a total daytime population of over 600,000 - more than 75 times as many. The challenges this daily shift in population presents are all too evident, and this emphasises the important role urban planning and infrastructure provision have to play as our towns and cities continue to grow.”

While London may be the brightest star, it is by no means alone in its galaxy. Dr Rae also produced images showing the journeys of commuters around the south east of England when London is excluded.

London excluded

Dr Rae adds: “For me, it comes down to three things. First, it's not all about London or, indeed, the south east of England, but about understanding how our constellation of cities and towns depend upon each other.

“Second, the kinds of images presented here can help illustrate important stories about our world and about our daily lives, but they can never tell us what to do about it. Finally, the importance of urban planning - at the right scale - is critical.”