City of Edinburgh Council

City of Edinburgh Council have used results from the 2011 Census of Population to analyse population distribution and local variations in population density across Edinburgh. Their work looks at changes in population distribution since previous censuses, as far back as 1971. It also compares peak population densities in Edinburgh with those in other cities in Scotland and the rest of the UK.

The analytical approach is based on continuous geographical ‘surface mapping’ – a technique which employs the most detailed population data from the census but is independent of defined boundaries for census ‘output areas’. The resulting maps show the number of people who live within an 800 metre radius of each and every point in the city, 800 metres being adopted as a proxy for easy walking distance. Varying concentrations of population are shown by contours.

This approach effectively irons out anomalies caused by vastly differing shapes and sizes of census ‘output areas’, which in some cases may include large areas of open space or non-residential uses. It produces a picture of population density which is generalised but still shows important local variations. It also makes it possible to identify changes over time even when boundaries have changed between censuses.

Key findings

In common with many other cities, population densities in Edinburgh are highest in inner suburban areas surrounding the commercial core of the city centre, notably in the Leith Walk, Fountainbridge and South Side areas. The location with the highest population density in Edinburgh is the Leith Walk area, with a peak of nearly 26,000 people resident within an 800 metre radius (equivalent to a density of 12,900 persons per This is a higher local population density than anywhere else in Scotland, including Glasgow.

Indeed further investigation reveals that Edinburgh contains some of the highest population densities in the UK outside London, exceeded only by Brighton and Portsmouth, and slightly ahead of Leicester.

Since 2001 there has been a very significant growth of population in the areas surrounding Leith Walk (up to 30% increase), as a result of new house building on brownfield land, together with refurbishment of existing properties. Other areas of significant growth include Dalry, Fountainbridge, Tollcross, South Side, Granton, Newhaven and (to a lesser extent) Craigmillar.

These findings highlight that Edinburgh remains a relatively compact city, where redundant inner city land has been effectively ‘recycled’ for residential use and more people are living in and close to the city centre. In fact 55% of the city’s population now live within 4 km. of the centre of Edinburgh, compared with just 48% in 1981. In many inner areas the population has recovered to (or even exceeded) levels previously prevailing in the 1960s / 1970s.

However, the post-war edge-of-city housing estates at Muirhouse / Pilton and Craigmillar / Niddrie now have populations well below their previous levels.

Local changes in the concentration of population have important implications for service planning in the public, private and voluntary sectors. Large numbers of people living in close proximity may help to sustain both public and commercial services and provide a conducive setting for enterprise and growth. Although high densities may exert pressure on urban infrastructure, the potential economies of scale may also justify investment in innovative, sustainable solutions such as high capacity public transport systems which would not be viable elsewhere.

Example map:

2011 resident population within 0.8km. radius (approx ½ mile) : Edinburgh

2011 resident population within 0.8km. radius (approx ½ mile) : Edinburgh