Comparative Population Density of 49 Cities


Comparative Population Density of 49 Cities

To what extent does the US’s lack of density just indicate that we’ve got so much damned space?

It’s curious, as well, how very spread out Africa is in the statistics, compared to all the other areas.

Via Ezra, who writes “The problem for folks worried about global warming is that our energy intensive lifestyle had a very long time to evolve, but a more conservatory approach has to be implemented pretty quickly.”

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12 Responses to Comparative Population Density of 49 Cities

  1. 1
    Silenced is foo says:

    This might not necessarily be fair, since we don’t know how other countries handle governing their outlying suburbia (if any). I mean, I live in an incredibly dense city, but a large amount of rural and suburban sprawl was amalgamated into the governance of the downtown area, so the population went up a bit but the density went way, way down.

    London is no different, really – people commute from the surrounding bedroom communities (on the train where possible), just like Chicago or Toronto.

    Not that I disagree with the conclusion – North America’s low-density suburban planning will be its undoing as the gas crunch progresses. I just don’t know that the little bar-graph contains any real information.

  2. 2
    Stentor says:

    Silenced is foo: The chart is of metropolitan areas, not the cities themselves, so it includes those outlying areas regardless of where the municipal boundaries fall.

  3. 3
    Robert says:

    Wealth + history. Europe is nearly as rich (more so in terms of infrastructure value I would think) as the US, but its cities are older and thus not laid out to take advantage of high-energy-use commuting patterns. The rich cities are spread out, because when people get a little cash together one of the first things they want to do is get the hell away from their neighbors crowding in.

    Bet you a dollar that if you throw out the outlier (Hong Kong, which is a special geographic-historical case) and do a per-cap-wealth computation on each of those cities and correlate that to the density, you’ll find an r value of more than 0.3. (You do the math, though. It isn’t worth it for a lousy dollar.)

  4. 4
    Silenced is foo says:

    @Stentor – every definition I’ve seen of what constitutes a “metropolitan area” is based on population density, so I think we might have some weird recursion there.

  5. 5
    Sailorman says:

    Expansion requires technology (speed of transport, ability to get water/sewer/electricity outside cities.)

    It also requires a certain stability (they built cities within walls for a reason, way back when)

    It also requires good building sites (more of an issue in mountainous terrain or areas where there are few good sites to expand.)

    It also requires a change in values (if you value being in walking distance of town center, it’s difficult to expand. if you value living in proximity to your entire extended and martial family, likewise.)

    But generally, many of the really supercrowded cities are OLD. People don’t like change. And people don’t want to change their cities (or their behavior, often enough) to accommodate differences in lifestyle.

    In any case, this chart is best viewed with the additional aid of actual city size (though it’s unclear if they’re using the same population numbers) like this:

  6. 6
    lizriz says:

    Man, I can’t imagine. I live in L.A., and the population density drives me batty!

  7. 7
    sadfhu says:

    Are these 49 metro areas also the largest 49, or were they chosen arbitrarily? How different would this graph look if it plotted the top 10 of each region?

  8. 8
    paul says:

    This seems like an odd list of cities/metro areas to have chosen. One of the things that struck me was the counterintuitive relatively high density (for the US) of LA, which suggests that no matter how many apartment blocks you build, they’re going to be swamped by a few suburbs with 1-4 acre zoning. (You might also have to take a look at how the calculation handles greenbelts and parks, which are nominally a good thing, and in combination with good transit not particularly energy-squandering.)

  9. 9
    hc says:

    These statistics are misleading. New York City ‘metropolitan area’ for example includes parts of new jersey and long island and even a portion of pennsylvania. Also, these include bodies of water where there is 0 density. So this all seems kind of useless though the point might be interesting.

  10. 10
    Charles S says:

    It is a weird list. Where’s Lagos?

    The old cities argument completely fails when it comes to the Chinese mega cities. While most of the Chinese mega-cities are nominally old, they have all been nearly completely rebuilt. It isn’t the old tightly packed 2-4 story buildings that make Shanghai so incredibly dense, it is the new 18 story apartment blocks that were build in place of the old city.

    If Shanghai were all old city, it would probably be about as dense as Barcelona, not many times more dense.

    The wealth metric Robert proposes also fails for China. The Chinese mega-cities are not poorer than Lagos.

  11. 11
    sylphhead says:

    I’d say that the US is more the special case. It is an unusually large temperate landmass to be lumped in as a single country, owing to its unique history. (If the US had been densely settled for ages, it’s guaranteed that today in its stead would be bazillions of smaller nations.) This allows considerable more license to urban sprawl that are closed off for most other countries. And with perhaps a couple of exceptions in New England, American cities also lack any historical roots to preserve that may get in the way of sprawl.

    And finally, city revitalization or re-gentrification projects are considerably more difficult in the US, again owing to its political history. Don’t worry, I’m not talking about white flight – every country has undesirable minorities that the middle class tries to escape if they can – but that the US has not known country-wide poverty for so long means it can afford to oppose the sort of massive government projects that wholesale construction of world cities entails. In places such as East Asia, gargantuan state investment was required to build cities like Shanghai, Seoul, and Tokyo. It was by no means a pretty process (and during several instances was reminiscent of the enclosure movement) but it was necessary to build an international hub and centre of finance, to link to the international community.

    And anyways, events in the near future may require denser living conditions.

    hc, parts of New Jersey, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania do fulfill the criteria to be lumped onto the New York metropolitan area. All they need to be is to reasonably integrated in terms of geography, culture, and economy.

  12. 12
    Radfem says:

    Man, I can’t imagine. I live in L.A., and the population density drives me batty!

    I think it depends where you are too. It’s mostly seen as sprawling by many people and it is, but there are some areas which are very dense population wise.

    I think the most population dense city I’ve ever been to is Seoul.It was quite different, because it’s hard to find cities in the United States that are nearly as populous as Seoul, Tokyo and other cities. I wish I could have spent more time there.