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It is no secret that the United Kingdom’s two financial districts are closely linked. Metaphorically — and physically — by the autonomous Docklands Light Railway. However, while the City of London has been a trading hub for centuries, the UKs second financial district, Canary Wharf, only began to take shape in the 1980s.
From its humble beginnings as derelict docklands, today Canary Wharf is home to some of the world’s biggest banks and financial institutions, as well as a number of newer tech businesses.
As a result of its impressive transformation, Canary Wharf and the City of London have been in friendly competition for nearly 40 years. Each trying to outdo the other with new skyscrapers attracting both tourists, and the latest business ventures.
So, how do these two areas compare?
We’ll take an overview of the latest skyscrapers and the number of people working in the two areas. We’ll also see how many visitors, exactly who lives there, and just how much they contribute to the economy.
Let’s take a closer look at the numbers…
Despite being known as the square mile, the City of London is actually fractionally bigger, covering an actual area of 1.12 square miles (716 acres). Once a walled city, the City of London has kept its small footprint, and as a result is one of the most densely populated business areas in the UK.
Canary Wharf, on the other hand, is much smaller, with the original financial estate covering just 0.15 square miles.
However, built on water, the dockland’s area is slowly growing. Incorporating its newest mixed-use zone, Wood Wharf, takes the current size to 128 acres 0.2 square miles, approximately 1/5th of the size of the City of London.
There are further expansion plans with the development of a new zone to the North known as North Quay, which will see Canary Wharf expand yet again.
However, due to the limited size of the ex-industrial docklands area, Canary Wharf will always remain significantly smaller geographically.
Canary Wharf has had a meteoric rise. Largely derelict, and a net drain on the economy in the early 1980s, a mere 40 years later the area contributes a supersized contribution towards the UK economy, with £2 billion alone provided to London businesses.
Despite this impressive improvement, comparing Canary Wharf vs The City of London, there is one clear winner. The City of London is the UKs largest economic contributor, providing a massive two hundred billion pounds towards the UK’s GDP.
In fact, over 10% of the entire economic output is generated in this one square mile area. Over half a million people commute into the square mile each day, and one in 5 UK finance jobs are based there!
City of London
Our verdict: Even
An interesting side effect to designating Canary Wharf and The City of London as high productivity commercial zones is a number of exceptionally tall buildings. Lesser planning restrictions, originally designed to spur commercial development, and physical space constraints, mean the areas have grown vertically. The two business districts are now a prominent part of the London Skyline.
Comparisons between the two skylines revolve around the age-old debate of quality or quantity. The City of London boasts the second-tallest building in the UK — 22 Bishopsgate — alongside a collection of strikingly designed skyscrapers in its central cluster. The Walkie Talkie, Cheese-grater, Scalpel and the Gherkin are all familiar names due to the buildings’ iconic designs.
In contrast, while Canary Wharf has plenty of tall buildings, only one has truly become “famous” — the striking One Canada Square. However, with an influx of residential skyscrapers, Canary Wharf is rapidly becoming the home of Skyscrapers in the UK.
While the City of London has seen 17 new towers over 20 storeys tall in the last decade, Canary Wharf has seen nearly double this number. And, there are currently 78 tall buildings in the construction pipeline!
Canary Wharf annual visits
Canary Wharf steals the show
City of London annual visits
In the race to attract tourists, it’s Canary Wharf 1, City of London 0. Despite the blend of old and new in the City of London — it houses everything from the Bank of England and Monument to the Walkie Talkie building and towering 22 Bishopsgate — the area sees considerably fewer tourists than you would expect.
It’s still plenty of tourists — around 10 million annual visitors — but in comparison to other London hotspots, it doesn’t feature highly. The British Museum alone registers over 5 million yearly visits.
In contrast, Despite its relatively new age, Canary Wharf continues to succeeded in marketing itself as a tourist destination in its own right. As of 2021, an estimated 49 million visits made each year to Canary Wharf, nearly 5 times the number of annual visitors to the City of London.
In addition, the opening of the Elizabeth Line has increased Canary Wharf’s visits by 25%. With the group desperate to turn the area into a hub in its own right, putting on free shows, hosting ice skating and the popular annual Winter Lights festival, it’s likely Canary Wharf will continue to pull ahead.
One area where there is a clear divide breaking out between the two centres is residential accommodation.
While both zones have claimed to want to target more residential use, arguably Canary Wharf has been considerably more successful.
No article including residential areas in the UK would be complete without a look at house prices! So, how does The City of London vs Canary Wharf stack up?
The City has always been known for its expensive housing, partly due to the lack of residential buildings. As a result, in 2022, The average price of a home in the square mile was £877,705.
In comparison, the average price of a home in Canary Wharf is a more affordable £525,336. Despite the relative affordability, the influx of new ultra-luxury developments has sent Canary Wharf prices skyrocketing.
It remains to be seen whether this residential price discrepancy between the two business hubs will continue.
The answer, it seems, is both. Both districts are constantly growing and evolving.
The City of London may have more financial businesses and be a significantly larger contributor to the UK economy, but Canary Wharf is quickly catching up.
In terms of physical growth rate and future high-rise developments planned, Canary Wharf definitely has the edge. But this is to be expected as a newer area.
As the development slows, and the size constraints on the docklands area begin to impact, the sheer size differences mean that it is unlikely that Canary Wharf will ever have the same economic heft as it’s significantly larger cousin.
Despite its maturity, when looking at the number of new jobs, the City of London still performs exceptionally strongly. City jobs have grown over 20% between 2015 and 2020, adding 100,000 — nearly one entire Canary Wharf’s worth — more jobs.
Ultimately, it appears that the battle between these two financial districts is still very much ongoing, but the districts will slowly begin to edge further apart as they take different paths.
Watch this space!