We investigate the growth dynamics of Greater London defined by the administrative boundary of the Greater London Authority, based on the evolution of its street network during the last two centuries. This is done by employing a unique dataset, consisting of the planar graph representation of nine time slices of Greater London's road network spanning 224 years, from 1786 to 2010. Within this time-frame, we address the concept of the metropolitan area or city in physical terms, in that urban evolution reveals observable transitions in the distribution of relevant geometrical properties. Given that London has a hard boundary enforced by its long standing green belt, we show that its street network dynamics can be described as a fractal space-filling phenomena up to a capacitated limit, whence its growth can be predicted with a striking level of accuracy. This observation is confirmed by the analytical calculation of key topological properties of the planar graph, such as the topological growth of the network and its average connectivity. This study thus represents an example of a strong violation of Gibrat's law. In particular, we are able to show analytically how London evolves from a more loop-like structure, typical of planned cities, toward a more tree-like structure, typical of self-organized cities. These observations are relevant to the discourse on sustainable urban planning with respect to the control of urban sprawl in many large cities which have developed under the conditions of spatial constraints imposed by green belts and hard urban boundaries.
Masucci AP, Stanilov K, Batty M (2013) Limited Urban Growth: London's Street Network Dynamics since the 18th Century. PLoS ONE 8(8): e69469. http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0069469