London’s organic urban form covers an area of 1,572 square kilometres – double the size of New York City, but with a similar population of 7.5 million inhabitants. Its irregularity reflects many aspects of its history: these include Britain’s island status, which meant London needed no defensive barriers; the presence of many urban villages; the destruction caused by Second World War bombings and, more recently, the fragmented nature of its local government.

Compared to any other global mega-city, a very large amount of London’s surface is given over to domestic gardens, parks and open areas, making it a relatively low density city. London’s central and western zones are denser and more continuous while its eastern fringes are more fragmented and open as the river Thames approaches the North Sea. As the mercantile hub of the historic British Empire, London’s port stretched eastwards along the Thames to the open sea, remaining active until the 1970s. This means much of the city’s available land, derelict for decades, is concentrated in East London, host to some of the city’s most disadvantaged communities and now the site for new transport and housing projects, including the London 2012 Olympics.

Also ripe for development are London’s existing transport interchanges – King’s Cross, Paddington Station, Stratford – and redundant industrial sites – Battersea Power Station, White City, Greenwich Peninsula and the Lower Lea Valley. These are being developed by the private sector in response to demand for new housing and commercial facilities. Since 2000, after 15 years without metropolitan governance, London has had an elected Mayor and assembly to discuss citywide issues and to set metropolitan policy. The Greater London Authority improves coordination between the city’s 33 boroughs, focusing on economic growth, housing, social inclusion and upgrading urban and natural environments.