If the world lived in a single city

July 27, 2011  |  Mapping

Concentrated world population

World population is estimated to be 6.9 billion people, and while that is a lot of people, it suddenly doesn't seem like that much in these maps by Tim De Chant of Per Square Mile. Simply imagine that the world lived with the same density of a real city, and see how much area they take up. If we all lived like they do in San Francisco (space-wise), we'd take up just under 398k square miles, or rather, only four states. Same density as New York? We'd all fit in Texas.

[Per Square Mile]

58 Comments

  • Would love to see Tokyo or Mexico City :)

  • Sweet visual data. Can you add more cities, like the above poster mentioned, Tokyo, Mexico City, New Delhi, Taipei and the ultimate sprawl, Los Angeles!

    • If you “put 6.9 billion people into Tokyo”, you’d need a little bit more than the area of California — if I used Wikipedia and my calculator correctly;-) (478402 square kilometers)

  • It is my understanding that Los Angeles is actually more dense than Houston. It would be great to see LA above, though. I would also like to see Seoul and Beijing.

  • Cool, these graphs are the sequel to John Brunner’s 1968 opus “Stand on Zanzibar”, whose title poses almost exactly this question.

  • Now how much land to get all these people to eat a balanced diet :-) And send to host industries required to have the same life style as the richest country… World might not look that big… Or maybe I am wrong…

  • Steve Doig July 27, 2011 at 6:30 pm

    Another density fact: If the entire world was standing in a crowd where each person was arm’s length from those around him or her, they’d all fit into Miami-Dade County in the tip of Florida.

    • That’s about a million people per square mile, and Dade County is only (according to Wikipedia) 1,946 –you’d need about 3.5 Dade Counties.

      • Sorry, you’re right –I was assuming people would be standing fingertip to fingertip. At half that distance, that’s 4 times the density.

  • Gary Plazyk July 28, 2011 at 2:56 am

    I liked the idea behind this visualization! But I would have added each sample city’s density value (people per square mile or kilometer) under each display. And wouldn’t it have been helpful to have one of the highest density cities like Shanghai, Sao Paulo, or Tokyo rather than Paris, as the first city mentioned? Maybe a supplemental horizontal bar chart of the population density of the top cities would add a little more impact to the display. A source for the data would help too, as there are varying definitions of “city”: urban metropolitan area, or merely city legal boundary (I referred to http://www.citymayors.com/statistics/largest-cities-area-125.html for my density values).

    • what a surprise, anonymous internet person has a problem with it. Go fucking do one yourself then whiner.

  • I thought about this since long time, and congratulations for this work! What do you think to make a map with more data, like land used to feed all 7 billion, And mining, industry and all related spaces to maintain all Earth´s population?

    • Yeah, I’d like to see how much agricultural land would be needed to support this new city. BUT, i’d like to see 2 maps; 1 of the agricultural land needed to support a normal american diet, and 1 of the agricultural land needed to support a mostly vegetarian diet. : )

  • Richard Bell July 29, 2011 at 5:56 am

    These density maps are dangerously misleading. The argument that the planet has space for many more human beings is one you often hear from those opposed to family planning, or from those who say we need not worry about the ever-expanding human population (like the late Julian Simon). However, what matters is not the density of the population but the demands of that population. Studies of the “ecological footprint” of humanity shows that our demands already far exceed the ability of the planet’s ecosystems to supply those demands on a sustainable basis, from fresh water to ocean fisheries. I doubt that the people who worked on these density graphs were ill-intentioned, but presenting these maps without warnings is irresponsible.

    • Fresh water can be converted from salt water (at the moment its costly). UAE gets 40% of its water from this process I believe. But if the great minds give some time to the desalination process and you’ll find they could cut the cost. The problem isn’t the resource it’s our “throw away consumer mentality” and “the greed of those who want it all” that is irresponsible. Go back 100 years when things weren’t just thrown away and people were driven by necessity – not by credit and wants (which has led to the great financial collapse)…
      A great graph and it underlines a great point!!!

      • @LClovis – The population problem isn’t simply one of consumption rate. We can’t have exponential population growth in a finite resource world forever. Becoming more resource efficient is worthwhile because it delays the day when the exponentially growing population fully outstrips the finite resources, *but* it doesn’t remove that day’s inevitability. The only humane way to stay within the carrying capacity of the earth’s renewable resources is through family planning. When women are given the opportunity to control their reproductivity, they almost always choose to have fewer children (which usually means the children are healthier as well because the family’s resources are divided fewer ways). Unfortunately, there is still a lot of resistance to providing family planning knowledge and technologies to women – both in developed and developing countries. (It is even more important in developed countries because the high consumption rates per capita in those countries accelerate us towards the day of reckoning with the earth’s finite resource capacity.) A lot of that resistance is cultural and religious, but, I think, that those positions are only tenable because of the delusion that there is plenty of space and resources left on the earth. Therefore, while the charts above are interesting to think about, I have to agree with Richard Bell in saying that these charts are dangerously misleading because they reinforce that delusion.

      • L Clovis: Fundamentally, desalination is costly because it’s energy intensive. Just like when breaking aluminum or iron out of their ores, or splitting water to get the hydrogen and oxygen, you have to add energy to the system to make it happen. It’s all about the energy states of atoms – you’re going from a lower energy state to higher, so that energy has to come from somewhere. Current processes (forced reverse osmosis) are already approaching the thermodynamic limit – which is independent of the process chosen – so don’t look for it to get much cheaper, especially as energy costs rise.

      • @ Sam

        “We can’t have exponential population growth in a finite resource world forever”

        While this is technically true, I disagree with the spirit of what you are saying.

        There are a few things you should think about before framing the problem in such a simplified way. The various predictions of “carrying capacity” for our planet have been disproved by experience many times since Malthus, mainly because the people making the predictions were stuck in the particular mindset of their times, and couldn’t imagine or envisage the solutions and innovations that saved the day.

        There’s a few things to consider

        1) The idea that we have discovered all forms of “resource” is an assumption, one which has been disproved a thousand times throughout history. A resource is designated so only by its use within another process, and human progress continuously invents new processes. The development of nuclear fission turned uranium into a “resource”, for example.
        2) The idea that we have discovered the most efficient way to collect, process or use any particular resource is also an assumption.
        3) Considering points 1 and 2 together, the idea that we are near the end of *all* our resources is therefore quite an assumption. “Peak oil” and “peak all” are quite different things

        More topically, there are two more things to consider:

        4) Sunlight, the energy resource that powers it all from the bottom up, is in practical human terms an infinite resource. It is the original source hiding behind every power creation technique ever developed by humans and we hardly use it all – see point 2 and 3 above
        5) So far, 1% of the water on this planet has sufficed to support 6 billion humans. The other 99% is currently termed unusable – but see point 2

        In conclusion, yes there are plenty of resources left on earth. We just insist on using particular types too much and in a really inefficient way (e.g. oil and coal).

    • Sustainable basis August 31, 2011 at 8:45 pm

      Human demands on an ecological footprint,isn’t near as much as whats really being overlooked,in nature itself.
      How considering that a single insect called a Termite,has a population that equals to one ton per person on the planet,how much of an effect do they pose to the larger picture?
      That’s just a single insect,to date,humans have identified about 30,000 insect species,among those species they only account for about 3 percent I believe it is,of all the species to yet be identified.
      Now imagine running those numbers,and comparing their effects on ecology and it’s footprint.
      Now I am in no way saying,that those plastic containers that span around the globe several times a year just from use in the United States alone,isn’t a risk,because it is.
      But we do need to realise that humans,have every right to exist and provide for their needs,(not wants)as any other species.

  • saurabh gupta July 30, 2011 at 8:59 pm

    i really like the point Richard Bell made above. for a moment this data misled me to think only resource human kind needs is housing land – which is of course is not true.. but good Infographic

  • I also agree with Richard Bell and sam here. My suggestion is that besides showing how much space we’d take up if we all lived in city conditions, is how much space is also required to feed, clothe, and generate energy for that many people. So, for example, you’d have a city the size of Texas but a farm the size of the entire USA, Canada and Mexico combined to feed them. This would convey in a better light the unsustainability and impact of an ever-increasing population.

  • why dont you have LA on there?

  • jeffrey button August 1, 2011 at 9:57 pm

    would love to see tokyo, osaka, or some other equally dense area

  • It’s a bit difficult because a lot depends on what the local authorities have chosen to define as “the city” versus “its suburbs”. There are parts of London that would never qualify as London itself by Parisian standards. I think it might have been interesting to look at satellite images of where the city’s buildings actually give way to countryside, and to compare it to the official city boundaries. But overall it does the job really well! One more great graphic :)

  • This visual blew me away. What a great way to combine density with population in an eye-popping quick hit (for Americans anyway). Wow.

  • It’s not the room the people take up but the land and sea necessary to keep them alive.

    • did anyone say that wasn’t the case? We all know that already, but since it’s irrelevant, we all kept our traps shut. And you?

  • Why should we have to footnote everything? There is nothing irresponsible about presenting the data like this. This is simply a graphical depiction of population density. If you have a different point to make, then make it graphically and stop complaining.

    “without warnings” – give me a break. Apparently, we are all so stupid that we think a farm in the space of Rhode Island could feed all those people.

  • cp johnson August 3, 2011 at 8:00 am

    The comments about resources necessary to sustain this population are well taken, but these data speaks more directly about how we use land for cities, and by inference, something about their livability and quality of life. Obviously “Houston” takes up a lot more good farmland than “Paris,” and the real Paris is a city that people love for its beauty, cultural treasures, walkability, charm and public transportation. I would like to see some other comments regarding wise use of land–including of cities.

  • I’ve heard things like this used to O.K. huge population growth- a thing which is sought by some very scary capitalists. In fact it is what’s happening. Can you imagine what that many people living at American standards of living would do to resources? I’m not advocating poverty, but the population needs to be controlled. Take care of the people already living- don’t advocate more population- most of which will be poor and uncared for.

  • P.S. I live in Houston- it’s a greedy mess that no other city should try to copy.

  • Mother nature corrects her mistakes. Humans are one of those mistakes. Don’t worry about over-population, she’ll take care of that one too. Enjoy your time on earth as a human. It’s about over. She’s going to take care of us too. The cure? Drug-resistant bacteria.

    Didn’t see that one coming?

    Night night…human beings. Sleep well. And dream the dreams of the cosmic unconsciousness. Again. Evolution (Mama nature’s lieutenant) will set it right soon. Our ‘surrogate mom’ (the sun) will put us to bed and sing us a sweet hot lullaby. Hope you like a ‘dry heat’.

    Pretty little people. So cute. Too bad we had to kill just about everything else. It will all end in a puff of smoke.

    The upside? The strongest will survive…for a little while.

    The downside? It ain’t us.

    Whisper

    • Well, what else have you predicted correctly, that you have documentation of? Someone is always telling me what is about to happen next, and someone is ALWAYS predicting how it will all end. If you are good at predicting the future, I think you would have something better to do than sit here and post. In the 70′s THEY said we were in a new ice age. In the 80′s, THEY said it was global warming. Now they use the ambiguous “climate change.” They said that things would be different, by now, than they are. The sea level was supposed to be at my porch by now. Hardly anyone said that everyone would carry a cell phone and use a computer, for entertainment. We were supposed to be out of oil by now, too. YOU and those like you may be some mistake of nature, but I am not.

    • lets hope she starts with you.

  • Fascinating! I had imagined the population density of SF and NY to be roughly similar (especially given SF’s 7×7 geographical limitations, as it’s on a peninsula). Even though I know Houston’s sprawl, I’m still a little surprised by the result for that city’s density. A great way to show comparative data for those who have a sense of the scale of America’s geography.

  • Richard Bell August 4, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    One way to think about the relationship between population size and resource use is through a concept called the “ecological footprint.” The basis of this concept is in the common sense observation that a person born into a wealthy country like the U.S. will consume many more resources in his or her lifetime than a person born into a very poor country. See the Wikipedia entry for the history of the development of this concept, which is credited to work in the early 1990s by William Rees and Mathis Wackernagel.
    https://secure.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/wiki/Ecological_footprint

    • Ecological footprint = claiming to measure the unmeasurable “moral” cost to every decision… To measure morality, now THAT requires hilarious hubris – any random “greenie” is a happy to comply… LOL!

  • Totally useless info.The world has more people than it can sustain.Zero population growth now morons or suffer the consequences…

  • This is probably our future. Gigantic city states that never seem to end!

  • How big would it be if it was as dense as Isla Vista? The college neighborhood of UCSB, the most densely populated area west of the Mississippi.

  • Gary Plazyk August 5, 2011 at 6:36 am

    How about adding an interactive sliding scale along the bottom, showing population density (people per square mile or square kilometer), with key cities marked at their appropriate values? Then, as you move a slider along the scale, the appropriate area is shown on the map. You may need to invisibly subdivide the map into counties to improve the resolution – state-level areas would be too grainy.

  • Jason Adão August 5, 2011 at 7:16 am

    I want to see this done for the city of São Paulo, Brasil.

  • I am the law in Mega City One

  • Can we give the world Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi and start over?

  • Uh… Some of you guys need a vacation to rediscover what it means to be human, because you’ve lost all sense of your own nature. Zero population growth? We need to control the population? ..Because of poverty? Here’s a novel idea… Why don’t we expand? We know we can leave the confines of earth, why don’t we colonize? We know we can do that as well. You death culture types really need to do yourself or ourselves a favor, and do unto yourself what you’re want someone else to do unto other people. If you really want to control the population, why don’t you do it to yourself first? Abortion and Euthanasia is not the answer. Common sense, responsibility and freedom are.

    • @Will I totally agree. When I was in college, I went through a freak out about population growth, a housemate of mine jokingly said, “well, if it’s that important, why not set yourself as an example and commit suicide?” and it totally made me realize that the whole population argument is elitist, zenophobic, and generally racist as well. When the term zero population growth is thrown about, the image is usually of brown people with large families.
      If we all lived in a dense city, we would all naturally limit our families because the cost of living is so much higher, particularly housing. Most families I know in dense cities have 1 or at most 2 kids.

  • Gary Plazyk August 7, 2011 at 7:20 pm

    Gee, this discussion is really surprising. I thought the issue was a novel visual display of quantitative information – population density – in an easy-to-understand format. I’m sure the map designer did not intend to suggest that everybody on the planet would be moved to North America!

  • Having grown up in Texas these info graphics are mind blowing. I can’t believe that at NYC density we’d still take up the entire state of Texas!

  • Wow very impressive and challenging that antihuman idea that the world is overpopulated.

  • Why do so few people believe that if allowed natural growth, the human race would stop expanding at some point? After all, many things reproduce much faster than people, yet they never completely “cover” the earth. There is Always, a natural limit. A loving God will limit the population correctly. Not abortion, eugenics or pogroms, which some love so much.

    • Kelly, I hope you do realize that the reason other things don’t cover the earth is because their populations are controlled — naturally — by disease and predators. If you get too many of a certain animal in a small area, you can count on some kind of sickness spreading through them and dropping their numbers. Is that what you want for human beings? I don’t! There is no need to look to abortion, eugenics or anything so horrible. We have modern birth control of many different kinds, and every sexually active person should use it and try their best to avoid having too many children. People should have the good morals to voluntarily refrain from bringing large families into the world. For those few who still don’t believe in using birth control, they can use natural family planning (done stringently it is effective) or simply refrain from sexual relations.

  • I need my space to sleep.How would we do that ? Our world as it is cannot get along.Could we count on peace ? And I like to dance.

  • I think now I know what hell would be like.

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