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  1. This is a fabulous thought process and visual representation. What is the world’s most densely populated city? What would that look like (thinking you may have to start using the northeast states for your representation.)

    Thanks for the post!

    1. Thanks, George. As for the most densely populated city, Manilla is a frontrunner, and is often cited as the densest city in the world. But I have a hard time believing the density figures given the extensive shanty towns (this made it difficult to get a reliable size estimate to make the map).

      1. Having lived in Manila, I can tell you it is by far the densest city I’ve ever been to. And that includes Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Singapore.
        Wikipedia lists it’s density as 111,574.1/sq.mi., which for 6.9 billion people means it would be 61,842.3093 sq.mi. Much smaller than even Manhattan. That’s approx. Georgia + Rhode Island.

      1. City limits, eh? So that’s why the Houston one is so spread out!! Houston just went out and “incorporated into Houston” all the small villages (where everyone knew everyone else…) and made them into what they call “Greater Houston” . . . . . they did wait to take my home village into GH until AFTER we’d finished paying off our water treatment plant . . . I like your population images!

    1. According to wikipedia Manhattan has a population density of 70,951/sq mi so the world population would fit in 95700 sq miles which is the size of Oregon! (95997 sq mi)

      1. During the day, Manhattan’s population doubles, so it’s population density probably exceeds 140,000/sq mi. Manila’s population density probably doesn’t fluctuate nearly as much due to the lesser availability of transportation options.

    2. The Tokyo 23-ku area isn’t actually all that densely populated by world urban standards, it’s an average of about 36,000/mi^2.

      The secret to Tokyo’s enormous population is more that it maintains a high-ish population density over a very large area.

  2. I’m working now in urban problems in Cantabria, a region of Spain. In special the spread citys problems in a sustainable context.
    Thank you for your dates, I’ll use them.

  3. Would love to see someone pick this up and calculate the cost of infrastructure for each scenario. How many miles of road, rail, sewer, water, electric lines would you need to adequately serve each density. How much would it cost to operate it.

    Each of the scenario cities also has a park density per capita ratio – how many sq. miles of public parks would exist in each scenario vs. how many acres of lawns?

  4. Let’s do it, and give the planet back to Nature!

    I know that will never happen, of course, but I couldn’t help but being struck by the thought that if all the world’s people were concentrated in one area, the rest of the planet could easily be manged to provide all the resources those people need.

    If it was a “clean energy” city, it could all be done without destroying the planet to survive.

    It really underscores how haphazard human civilization really is at this point. We love to think we are an intelligent species, blah, blah, blah, but really, we’re pretty much just mindlessly reproducing and randomly dying off like any other organism.

    1. Yah, but would you really want to live in that city?

      Not to mention that it is really NOT feasible for all of population to live in one dense area, and we would not be able to only occupy that space. The agriculture needed to feed the whole population would probably occupy most of a continent, and likely more than that depending on where the city was located and the efficacy of agriculture used. Note the word “efficacy”. If you wanted to focus on organic/free-range farming, you’d have to have a substantially larger amount of space than what would be most efficacious.

      Preserving the planet is about much more than mere energy use. Do you really think we just harvest fuel from the planet? We’d have to strip the earth just to create the building materials for such a city, not to mention the resources that would have to be used by the medical industry in order to keep people healthy (plastic may be the Big Evil, but it keeps people alive, along with many other “evils”)

      I suppose you could create food that is in itself more efficacious, so you needed less agricultural output. Nutrition pills that some how manage to also fill the stomach. But that’s not what our bodies are designed for, and I doubt it would work very well for health in the long run.

      Of course, having a single city that dense wouldn’t be very good for anyone’s mental or physical healthy anyways so….

      It’s a nice sentiment to think that we could all just congregate in a single couple state-sized city, but it’s just a sentiment.

      1. “It’s a nice sentiment to think that we could all just congregate in a single couple state-sized city, but it’s just a sentiment.” – I think it’s not nice at all. The desire to be managed is downright servile and smacks of pitiful obsequience. It’s one thing to wish for a better world, another to propose some hideous dystopia..

        1. I am simply astonished at the breathtaking level of paranoia and cluelessness some of the responses tot this infographic show!

          People! Get a clue!
          NO ONE is actually proposing this be done – it would be impossible and undesirable for all. IT IS SIMPLY a way of communicating information about the varying levels of density of different places.

          It is men to give an eye-opening comparison of how widely varied settlement density actually is. I find it VERY informative and enlightening.

  5. Nice visual. I like the use of preattentive attributes (color) to draw the audience’s eye. It confirms what I know observationally from living in two of the cities: that SF’s population is quite dense and Houston is sprawling!

  6. I remember reading that Buckminster Fuller believed we could create habitats that allowed us to be comfortable in 700 Sq ft per person. That might have included food production I can’t remember. If my math is correct that would be 2x the density of Singapore. My math indicated that Singapore supports 1 person per 1500 sq ft.

  7. Great job!
    Thank you!
    I’d like to see this same map, with the ecological ‘footprint’ of the 6.9 Billion, living at that density, shown as a ring of additional area surrounding the city.

    I’d venture a guess that the footprint of everyone living at the Paris density and lifestlye would still fit neatly within the United States – while that of everyone living at the Houston density (and/or lifestyle) would consume several planets.

  8. I think you should add more text, explaining what we’re looking at. I’m so confused. I really have no idea what you’re representing.

    1. I agree with you on this one, they are some very interesting maps and spot on on the quality of the graph but what you are trying to represent… I note quite sure.

      Are you taking the population density of Houston and multiplying it? If you were trying to one shot the map, your almost there, i honestly don’t know the sizes of Paris or Houston.

  9. I guess what I’m trying to say is that you need to think about all different types of people who are looking at this and try to make it so everybody can understand it.

  10. I would be interested to know (and see corresponding maps of) how much agricultural land is required to feed 6.9 billion people at the densities listed above?

  11. Hey, it’s nice to see Houston get a mention. You even used Texas in most of the maps :^)

    Yes, it’s true, Houston is by far not the densest city in the USA (even if we are the 4th largest in America), but there are other things to consider that might make more Houston denser than you think. Living here, I’ve noticed that:

    a) Bayous and parks – Houston is known as the ‘Bayou City’ because we’ve got lots of bayous and resoviors. We also pride ourselves on our many city and county parks, as well as parks from local subdivisions. Those take up a heavy chunk of land I think, and it’s not viable to count that in the calculations since people don’t normally live on those.

    b) Population count – Compared to the other cities on the list, Houston has a large influx of illegal immigrants. I don’t want to draw up a debate, but that’s the reality.You can probably figure out from where. Due to fears that they might get deported (even if US Census doesn’t report them to ICE), many choose not to participate in the census. As a result, you see less people living in a large city.

    c) Cities with land constraints – New York City and San Francisco are mostly island based, while Singapore itself is an island. They couldn’t spread out if they wanted to. Houston can expand as far north, west, and south as much as it’d like. Which comes to another issue.

    d) Age of the cities – Houston is practically the youngest on the list. Before cars, it was very convenient and practical to build dense (See London and Paris). With the coming of the stagecoach and car however,buildings could afford to be less dense. The outlying ‘suburbs’ of Houston became an actual part of the city given the city’s boom period. They weren’t developed as part of the city in advance. If you check out Houston’s history, there has been many times the city has incorporated different communites and towns into the Houston ETJ (extraterritorial jurisdiction). Another reason why we seem so spread out.

    e) Real estate boom – As we all known, Houston is very suburby. It’s not crazy to notice that every house does take up quite a chunk of land, and if you took into account that not every house was occupied, that’d show further concentration.

    I can keep going on and on, but the point being is that we can compare bits of info based on data we have, but to truly know how dense a city is, I think we should have better iinformation on true population counts, and then base it on land that’s actually developed and inhabited.

  12. How about ten supercities per continent? For the US that would be ten cities of 30 million a piece. You would stick them near sources of abundant water (the coasts) and away from farmland. Those on the southern coastlines could get electricity from solar power, while those in the Northeast and Pacific Northwest could use wind and tidal. Rail systems would link the pop centers and new neighborhoods would be built around light rail stations. I would build the super cities on the structure of existing cities and dismantle what cities you didn’t need, especially those in hurricane, drought and earthquake zones. Places like Seattle, Houston, Mobile,Tampa Bay, Savanna, Baltimore, Detroit, Chicago, New York and Boston make sense. All others would not. Cities that large would be run more like states and the mayors resembling governors.

    One problem is that food production in keeping with the low impact philosophy would need to be lots of small organic farms, maximizing their local crops. You couldn’t grow lettuce in the desert anymore. How much land would you need to feed ten supercities of 30 million each if you only used small organic farms? I’m guessing a 5 acre farm could feed 1000 people. So at just under 2400 miles Delaware would do nicely. Of course you couldn’t put this all in the same place as crop requirements differ and you want to minimize food transport costs so I would have a ring of 2400 sq miles around each city to provide food. Alternatively, you could have farming/open space areas within each city. New Jersey could be the garden State again!

    Each supercity would be the size of Connecticut (5,500) – I used NYC’s density, but without any suburbs.

  13. Dear Tim,

    Thanks for such an inspiring contribution!
    I have done something similiar by calculating how much space would it be requiered in four different scenarios; from 1, 10, 100 and 1,000 sq mt (square meters, not miles) per person.

    As it will be understood, alloting the minimun space is quite absurd, but it make some sense when comparing it with other “spatial units”.

    The first one is a 1 sq mt/per, just enough to stand alone, while 10 sq mt is just enough as a vital space for basic living. (sleep, cook and shower). A 100 sq mt spatial-unit might be more representative while including enough space for a vegetable garden and minimun public space (United States and Curitiba´s urban green space is about 50 sq mt/per) The last one includes industrial, natural and infrastructural land requiered to produce large scale goods.

    Based on my own region and country geographic size just for comparison resons, some of my students end very surprised. Anyhow, I would like to keep looking on this figures.

    Regarding footprint estimations, I have found it very difficult to calculate in urban scale, while it is more easy in regional / national scales. Still, a nice research challenge for us.

    Nice to hear comments from Saskia Sassen.

    1. The built up part of Singapore may be denser than Paris, but there are a number of nature reserves that lower the overall density. I drew on figures for legal boundaries for each city to have a common set of criteria for each.

  14. Interesting. But doesn’t really say a lot about how much land is required with existing technology to feed clothe and shelter these people.

    It’s just like saying ‘If all the residents of a city stood really close together they could all fit in one football stadium”. That’s true. But if they all were crammed into the stadium and you took away the rest of the city, they wouldn’t last long.

    The most interesting thing for me is that Paris is the most dense city used for the comparison.

  15. Wonderful representation
    Paris (where I live) is very dense, but because the administrative area of Paris is very small. 80% of the population lives in the suburbs with a much lower density.
    It would be interesting to see a very different way of urbain organization, like asian or african cities.

  16. If the world population would move to one city then the city will become a hell. There will be shortage of everything – food, water, housing, energy, and everything.

  17. If everyone had only 1 sq foot to stand in, the 7 billion would fit in a square thats only like 15 sq miles. Standing room only, for sure, and its quite a crowd, but a good concert gets you squished into that space! (or the subway!)

  18. I love this. I read once that everybody in the world could be fit into typical suburban homes in Texas it’s been a while so I don’t remember the parameters but this illustrates the point. There would be plenty of the earth left for growing air, food and allowing healthy natural habitats for all creatures. Since we are part of nature I don’t agree with the more trendy view that we are villians set upon destroying the earth, if it weren’t for humans it’s true there wouldn’t be certain problems but I do believe there would be other different ones. Our nature as humans is to congregate and live in communities and to (try) to govern ourselves, and to create, invent and develop. We can do it all and be responsible stewards of the planet.

  19. This seems a bit utopian for my tastes and neglects little things like the space for needed infrastructure (sewage treatment, roads, water treatment, etc., etc, etc.) I mean 6 billion people would generate a significant amount of poop if nothing else. Even if you had general public transportation, someone has to transport the food to feed all these people and if there was a fire, fire equipment has to have the way to get to the fire. And you would need room for the transportation system itself.What about schools? They take room. Do we do away with theatres, swimming pools, grocery stores, department stores, etc. etc. etc. This all takes additional room. None of this is to mention the room needed to manufacture even the most meager of clothing, eating implements, etc. etc. etc.

    One other note: to the person who said that a five acre organic farm would feed 1000 people. You obviously have never tried to feed 1000 people for a year. I would suggest that at the end of an entire growing season a five acre organic farm could possibly feed 1000 people for a few days; maybe even a few weeks. This of course assumes that you had the finest soil and perfect weather. It would get mighty hungry after that.

    While this whole exercise might be “Fun with Math,” it is about as useful as figuring how many angels could fit on the head of a pin.

  20. I’ve just spent the last week or so reading your blog. It’s wonderful! I started on this article when it was showcased in one of my regularly visited blogs and just continued reading until the very beginning.
    I just want to thank you for a wonderful, educational, and interesting blog! I hope you continue to write as I will continue to read!

  21. I know many people commented on other cities, with higher population density than those represented in the maps, but I guess citing cities that are known to be hectic, or surrounded by slums, doesn’t precisely appeals that much.
    I think new york and paris are admired places, and well, if you convince people that sprawl is better than concentrated populations you end up with cultures as dependent on gasoline such as, mmm like within the USA ?

    1. Chicago is nearly the same as London, so I had to pick one. I chose London because there were already quite a few US cities on the map. (Incidentally, I lived in Chicago when I made this, so it was no prejudice against the city.)

  22. The thought of living in one city is crazy, and amazing to see the size using other density levels. Would love to see some Australian cities used to compare the size.

  23. It’s funny how no one likes to mention or use Houston unless it’s to try and demonstrate something negative. You do realize that the density of the media-loved Austin is even lower? Dallas may even be as well.

  24. These #’s are WAY off. According to the smallest one, each human would occupy .09 square feet. According to the largest, we would get 1.35 square foot each. Not even close to possible.

  25. It seems your calculation and site name [PerSquareMile] is not the main point of your discussion. I found it strange that I didn’t see the equation for the whole worlds population density.

    6.9 Billion People live on 57,308,738 total Square Miles of Land = 120.4 People per square Mile.

    You then could calculate a density ratio from this current world base.
    NY City (Manhatten) with a population desity of 70,951 people / square mile
    would have a Ratio of 589:1 (589 times more dense than the world)

    I thought I would look at this from the opposite side of the your discussion of how large would a 1 city world be. I asked how big would the world have to be if it was the same density as …. How about North Dakota.

    North Dakota’s population density is at 9.14 people / square Mile
    It’s density ratio would be .076 or 1:13 (13 times less populated than the world)

    The world would have to have a land area of 754,830,840 Square miles to house all 6.9 billion people if they all were living as sparsely as the people in North Dakota. In other words, the world would need 13 times more land (See the correlation to the ratio!)

    Yes, the world could be only 97,250 square miles if it were as dense as Manhatten. This would be 589 times smalles than the total land area of the earth. (Once again, see the ratio correlation.)

    I also calculated North Dakota’s largest city, Fargo. It has a ratio of 15.4 It is interesting to note that if I looked at Fargo from your 1 city perspecitve, it would need to be a city almost the size of Europe!

    Great Discussions on your site.

  26. I have to admit being suspicious about the conclusions here. Where are the data that back this up? In addition, space is probably a minor consideration in the earth’s carrying capacity, anyway. Food production, water and other resources are bigger obstacles to much greater growth. Greater population density should help some with food production, but our lifestyles, especially in the developed world will have to change dramatically just to reach 10-12 billion.

    1. Most estimates that I’ve seen say that current global food production can support 10 billion people. We just have too many people eating too much of it, and too many more throwing it away or letting it go bad.
      At this point, supporting 10-12 billion isn’t about the production, it’s about the logistics of distribution.

  27. Tim – I love this map, and would love a copy – it would help explain so much to some of the people I worked with in economic development…I don’t mean to sound crass, but is it available for purchase as a poster/print?

  28. I’d be curious to see how much land is needed to grow food for all those people. Obviously the diet makes a difference (i.e. do you eat steak every night?), so you could produce several maps (vegetarian diet, pescatarian, U.S. average). I’d also like to see and indication of the amount of fresh water needed, or the sewage treatment area needed. Stuff like that.

    Just because you can cram 6.9 billion people in the the U.S. doesn’t mean the U.S. can sustain 6.9 billion people.

    Great chart, though!

  29. I remember at school in the 80′s we were fascinated calculating the, at that time, 5 billion people standing up as in elevators (4 people per sq. meter) would fit in the island of Majorca, Balearic, Spain

  30. I’m a bit confused about the New York one. I had assumed it meant all five boroughs, but reading the comments, it might just mean Manhattan? Surely the other boroughs are much less dense and more populated than Manhattan?

  31. Is the map saying Paris is denser than NYC, which is denser than SF, which is denser than London, etc, etc…

    I’m not understanding the map. Can someone please explain?

  32. I have heard that if the population of the world, (some 7 billion + in 2012), were spread out like they are in a picture theatre or sports stadium, they would cover a space equivalent to Singapore, or New Zealand’s Lake Taupo. To see a photo of Taupo, one realises just how enormous it is, and how incredably numerous the human race is, to cover it. However if one looks at a world map it is equally amazing to see how tiny both Singapore and Taupo are!
    Has anyone worked out the accuracy of these numbers to verify these figures: Lake Taupo is something like 604 sq. kms.

    Adrian Muller, Bay of Plenty, N

  33. I had to use this for a school project and it was really helpful!! I am in fifth grade and had to do a country study and I stumbled upon this site!! I was fun to look at and really interesting. Thanks!

  34. How much space would the world’s population take up if everyone were to be squished into the density of a concert? (2 sq. ft. per person- hypothetically without obstacles such as buildings).

  35. Over the years I have heard people say “if the world’s population were spread out evenly we would all have a square mile to ourselves”, except if you do the math this doesn’t add up, even when using the total surface area of the planet (including oceans.) Then when you take into account inhospitable areas like Antarctica, or the Sahara and Himalayas you get even less room. Crunching those numbers it comes to a few hundred people per square mile, roughly the same as a nice American suburb, except as pleasant as this might sound it does not take into account land needed for farming, industry, transportation, or recreation (goodbye national and state parks.)

    So rather than think about numbers, we should be asking ourselves quality of life questions: do you want your nice suburb to be as densely populated as Hong Kong?

  36. Hi, I’ve just seen your graphic “if the world’s population lived in one city”. Its very helpful, and I was wondering if you have compared any other US cities since originally publishing this page. Specifically, id be interested in seeing if you have done Los Angeles, New Orleans, Detroit, and something in the southwest like Tucson or Sante Fe.