How did the cities we love to explore get to the gargantuan size that they are today? That’s what we wanted to find out.
We dove deep into the archives to find some of the oldest maps around and brought them to life to show the growth of five of the biggest cities in the world.
When people think of England, many tourists of course picture visiting London, exploring its rich heritage and globally-renowned social scene. Latest estimates put London’s population at 9.1 million, a huge leap from the 1.1 million in 1801 when the first census was undertaken. The following map shows the growth from 1746 to now and the scale of London’s growth, particularly how the city spreads further away from the river Thames.
In 1906, there were an estimated 6 million people living in ‘The Big Smoke’, but the true population boom is thought to be from 1988 when it fell to the lowest population post-war (6.7m) and has not stopped climbing since then.
Historic records show that Dubai was first seen as a small fishing village in the early 1880s, but British trading opened it up further a couple of decades later. With trading came growth and it continued to grow slowly until 1966 when the region found oil.
At the start of this boom period is where our map picks up Dubai in 1984, where the city had a population of around 325,000, compared to the 2.9 million estimated in 2021. Watch how the city unfolds into the metropolis we know now below.
Estimates place over 10.7 million people in Bangkok today, at the start of the 1950s, the city was home to just 1.36 million, and less than 50,000 in 1822. The city’s explosion is thought to start from the 1930s onwards and historic maps show the later explosion from the 60s onwards.
Now over 65 million people fly into Bangkok every year to visit Thailand’s exotic natural beauty and culinary delights, as well as using it as an international gateway to Southeast Asia.
The French capital has a wealth of history and fortunately some well-kept maps in archives allowing us to look at the city in the 1600s, where an estimated 415,000 would have lived. In the 1860s, census records show around 1.8m Parisians living in the city, growing to 2.7m in 1901, and more recently 2.18 million in 2020.
Watch ‘The City of Love’ grow in our maps below starting in 1652.
The final city we looked at in our research, Singapore, was technically established in 1965, but the region dates back to the early 14th century with settlers. The island is a hub for metropolitan life and has the second-highest GDP per-capita in the world.
The earliest Singaporean census in 1824 showed that there were around 10,000 people living there, by the 1950s this had grown to over 1 million, and currently stands at 5.45 million. In the 1990s, the Singaporean government put in place the ‘Development Guide Plans’ for the region designed to address future needs of residents and encouraged continued urban growth. Watch the growth of the Republic of Singapore below to see how the population expands outwards across the island.
We took various historic maps of the five cities to decipher where the city boundaries were over time. Where this wasn’t stated we opted for another year/decade/century. Our maps were based on publicly accessible historic maps of the cities, and Google Earth satellite imagery for more recent (1980s onwards) maps. We also used Google Earth’s ‘Historical Maps Around the World’ feature to find older maps. All maps were cross-referenced with public records to get the most accurate city boundaries we could find.