National Geographic : 1966 Jun
EKTACHROMESBY WINFIELD PARKS(TOP LEFT), AND JAMES P. BLAIR girls were on the street," says Niall, the door man at a strip club on Old Compton Street. "A lot gayer. It's just a place to work now." "Nothing to do of an evening here," says Joe the Flower Boy, who pushes a cart on Rupert Street. "It's no Chicago, is it? It's the name that draws people here, just the name." And while one talks the traffic rumbles endlessly through the streets: Rolls-Royces, bikes, scooters, junk heaps driven by bearded beatniks, the black motorcycles and discreet unmarked Zodiacs of the police, the taxis and chauffeur-driven Rovers of the tourists. Nearly everyone criticizes London's size and congestion-and has done so for the past 400 years. In 1580 Queen Elizabeth I, aghast that the old warren harbored 140,000 people, forbade construction of additional houses in the walled city or within three miles of its gates. No one took the order very seriously, but King James I later enforced it; he also ordered all noblemen who did not have busi ness in the city to remain at their country homes unless Parliament was in session. The king, and succeeding generations of wishful-thinking town planners, might as well have tried to restrain the tide on the Thames. London continued to grow outward from its ancient Roman center, expanding with the vigor of a mold in an ideal laboratory culture. Today, after engulfing many former subur ban communities, the metropolis covers 620 square miles, if you count only the area ad ministered by the Greater London Council, the 32 boroughs, and the City. More realis tically, the metropolis can be said to encom pass an additional 100 square miles of almost continuous development. This growth has brought London to the boundaries of the Green Belt, a preserve, mostly of natural field and heath, held as soul satisfying elbow room for confined urbanites. Totaling 840 square miles, the preserve now encircles the city like a constrictive girdle. The pinch has been felt. Now, as never before, London is practicing girth control. N.G.S.