Central London

From Academic Kids

Central London is a much-used but unofficial and vaguely defined term for the area within London known for its tourism. It has generally positive connotations —in contrast with Inner London.

With the exception of the tiny City of London, the local government districts of London (the London boroughs) all include some districts which would not be considered to be part of "central London" by everyone, and some of the boroughs which are at least partially in "central London" stretch far into the suburbs, so political boundaries are not generally used to define "central London". In order to calculate distances from London the most central point is taken as being Charing Cross.



As a starting point in considering what "central London" means, it is important to recognise that London does not consist of a small high rise core surrounded by a belt of very low density districts. The situation is much more complex than that. The section of London which is of an urban as opposed to a suburban character is very extensive, encompassing most of the districts built before 1914. Up to this point most London housing, including most of that in the most expensive districts, was terraced. Low density suburbs were first built in the early 19th century, but did not become prevalent for another hundred years after that.

In the 20th century, and especially in the decades after the Second World War, the size of the fashionable central area of London shrank considerably, as the old aristocratic London elite faded away, and many of the middle classes moved further out. In the 1970s the population of Greater London was at its lowest level since the 1920s, and "central London" might have included:

These three districts all contain dense concentrations of characteristically metropolitan activities: major corporate offices; government buildlings; universities; department stores; museums and so on. They also have a large amount of housing, most of that in the private sector being among the most expensive in the world.

Since 1970s there has been long term trend for the number of districts in London which can credibly be considered part of "central London" to increase. Some non-residential land uses in London, such as offices and hotels, have become more widely distributed, but these new candidate districts for "central London" status tend to be more residential than the three core districts listed above. The expansion of "central London" is strongly associated with gentrification as swathes of Victorian London which became shabby in the post-war decades are revived by well-to-do buyers. Thus there are a great many districts which are considered central by some, especially by their own middle class residents, but not necessarily accepted as such by everyone else. Areas which have passed through this "centralisation" include Fulham in the 1980s, Camden Town in the 1990s, Shoreditch more recently, and many others.

East London

Although much of the East End of London is completely urban in character, it is traditionally the poor side of the city, and thus was not considered part of "central London". With the development of the London Docklands since the early 1980s, both prestigious new commercial developments of an urban character (for example Canary Wharf), and a large amount of desirable private housing have been built in parts of the East End and the adjacent districts to the south of the Thames, giving these parts a claim to "central London" status for the first time. However these newly developed districts are still surrounded by large stretches of poor Inner London, so their "central London" status remains debatable.

Other areas

London began on the north bank of the Thames, and its centre of gravity is still strongly on that side of the river, but a wide range of major buildings and facilities have been built south of the river in recent decades. The South Bank and Bankside areas are now generally accepted as being part of "central London", and some people would include other districts on this side of the river as well.

To the west and north west of the three core districts listed above there is a ring of fashionable mainly Victorian and primarily residential districts around all four sides of Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, such as Holland Park and Notting Hill. Some people consider all of these districts to be part of "central London". Similar claims would also be made by many for the fashionable north western districts as far out as Hampstead.

Other definitions

Other definitions of "central London" include:

  • The Central Activities Zone (CAZ): This is a term used in the London Plan. It covers only those areas with a very high concentration of metropolitan activities. This results in a small and extremely irregularly shaped area.
  • The area inside the Circle Line of the London Underground. This is a fairly wide definition in the western areas, but ignores the recent expansion of central activities to part of the East End, with the development of Docklands. Thus it is probably not used as much as it was some years ago.
  • Ticketing Zone 1 in the public transport system, which is a little more generous, taking in some areas to the south of the Thames
  • The congestion charging zone.

Central London versus Inner London

The terms Central London and Inner London are used in very different ways. Inner London tends to be used to indicate an area affected by inner-city poverty, crime, and social problems, while Central London has more prestigious connotations and is used in terms of business, entertainment, tourism, desirable housing etc. However, it is important to note that unlike in some major cities in the United States and elsewhere, these two faces of urban life are intermingled. There is social housing in almost all of the prestigious central London districts, even Mayfair, and nowadays expensive private housing is often built in poor neighbourhoods where most of the existing occupants live in social housing without these poorer occupants being moved elsewhere. All sorts of people live cheek by jowl in London, though often without having much contact with people outside of their own group.

Inner London probably covers a wider geographical area than "central London", and it encloses "central London", yet a district which is thought of as being in "central London", is treated almost as if it is not really in Inner London.Template:Maprequest


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