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Environment / Climate change

What are the largest urban areas in Britain?

There are a number of other ways of defining city populations, of which perhaps the most obvious is the “urban area” – that is, the continuously built up zone. This, after all, is the thing that feels like a city when you are actually inside it – or, come to that, when you are flying over it in a plane. 

The most up-to-date stats on this measure come from Demographia, a St. Louis-based consultancy, which every year gathers data on every city with a population of 500,000 or more and ranks it in its World Urban Areas Report.

In this year’s edition 13 British cities make that list. Here they are in chart form.

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The dominance of London, though, renders the chart almost unreadable – we really only included it to give you some sense of the numbers we’re talking about here – so from here on in we’ll just present the figures.

Here’s that population data again. The first number is their rank in the hierarchy of British cities; the one in brackets is their rank in the world. 

1 (32) – London – 10,236,000

2 (170) – Manchester – 2,639,000

3 (183) – Birmingham-Wolverhampton – 2,512,000

4 (259) – Leeds-Bradford – 1,893,000

5 (390) – Glasgow – 1,220,000

6 (565) – Southampton-Portsmouth – 883,000

7 (570) – Liverpool – 875,000

8 (619) – Newcastle – 793,000

9 (650) – Nottingham – 755,000

10 (701) – Sheffield – 706,000

11 (776) – Bristol – 646,000

12 (824) – Belfast – 600,000

13 (942) – Leicester – 534,000

So, now you know Leicester residents: you’re the 942nd largest city in the world. 

A number of comments about this data. Firstly, on this definition, Britain’s historic second city Birmingham has been shoved into third place. Poor Birmingham.


Secondly, the only one of the four UK countries without a city of this size is Wales: Cardiff, with 467,000 residents, just misses ranking. 

Perhaps the most unexpected entry here is in sixth place. No one would think of either Southampton or Portsmouth as a major city: considered as a single entity, though, which in terms of sprawl they are, they’re bigger than relative giants such as Liverpool or Newcastle.

Oh, and Sheffield barely makes the top 10, so is definitely not the third largest city in Britain. Just to be clear.

But that isn’t the only way of visualising a city: this is part of a longer article exploring different definitions, and including different rankings.

You can read the whole thing here.
This article is from the CityMetric archive: some formatting and images may not be present.