If All The World Were A City…

October 13, 2011 |  by  |  Possible City  |  , ,

photo: Ikonos-2/ESA

In so many ways in the urban world, density is destiny.

When, in 1930, one-third of Americans lived in the largest 10 cities in the nation, those cities were crowded places. Today, some 8 percent of us live in the top ten cities, and they are, on the whole, far less dense (think 1930 Pittsburgh versus 2010 San Jose).

There are far-reaching political and cultural effects of this broad de-densification and decentralization, including that it is generally very difficult to amass broad political protest, for protest needs place to become powerful.

I like to compare cities–when I am in one, I am thinking of another, and when I am in that one I am thinking of a third. Yet urban comparisons are slippery because its hard to really grasp scale, and particularly, density. But density itself is hard to figure; high density certainly doesn’t produce uniformly good urban form.

credit: Per Square Mile

This week, I came across a couple of visual indicators of urban density. The first was created by the California urbanist Tim De Chant, creator of the city-observing blog Per Square Mile. To graphically illustrate comparative urban density, De Chant shows how much land all the people in the world would occupy if they lived in New York, Paris, San Francisco, London, Houston, and Singapore. He uses a map of the US as a basis, so that if all the world lived at New York’s density they would fit into Texas, at Singapore’s density Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana, at Paris’ Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi.

There’s another new view on density, at least for a few of the world’s cities. In a gallery of Nasa and European Space Agency photos, there is a wonderful shot of Venice (#7 and above), the dense cluster of cities in northern Pakistan and India (#2), and New York (#12), so thickly built from afar it appears to be a glacier.

About the author

Hidden City co-editor Nathaniel Popkin’s latest book is the novel Lion and Leopard (The Head and The Hand Press). He is also the author of Song of the City (Four Walls Eight Windows/Basic Books) and The Possible City (Camino Books). He is senior writer and script editor of the Emmy-winning documentary series “Philadelphia: The Great Experiment” and the fiction review editor of Cleaver Magazine. Popkin's literary criticism appears in the Wall Street Journal, Public Books, The Kenyon Review, and The Millions. He is writer-in-residence of the Athenaeum of Philadelphia.



Leave a Reply

Comment moderation is enabled, no need to resubmit any comments posted.

Recent Posts
The Gallery: Finally The Destination Ed Bacon Hoped For?

The Gallery: Finally The Destination Ed Bacon Hoped For?

March 23, 2017  |  Vantage

PREIT's transformation of The Gallery into an upscale shopping outlet promises to be the suburban-minded downtown destination that the first mall failed to deliver. Contributor Chris Giuliano takes a look at the redevelopment of East Market and Edmond Bacon's original plan. > more

New Life For An Old Coal Country Outpost In Society Hill

New Life For An Old Coal Country Outpost In Society Hill

March 20, 2017  |  The Shadow Knows

The Shadow takes a stroll down to Society Hill where business is stirring at an old 19th century coal company headquarters after 12 years of vacancy > more

New Exhibition Gives Movement To The Philadelphia School

New Exhibition Gives Movement To The Philadelphia School

March 17, 2017  |  Buzz

Two fans of Modernism re-evaluate architectural history with the exhibition, "What Was the Philadelphia School?" > more

Tracking The Evolution Of Industry At 34th And Grays Ferry

Tracking The Evolution Of Industry At 34th And Grays Ferry

March 16, 2017  |  Vantage

The site of Penn's new riverside research campus has a long, decorated history of industrial enterprise. Contributor Madeline Helmer dives deep into the backstory > more

Emergency Excavation In Old City Reveals Lack Of Oversight

Emergency Excavation In Old City Reveals Lack Of Oversight

March 15, 2017  |  News

The last-minute salvage excavation of First Baptist Church Burial Ground in Old City has the archaeological community up in arms. Is the City or the developer to blame? John Henry Scott reports > more

Ode To Old Philadelphia

Ode To Old Philadelphia

March 10, 2017  |  Buzz

Inspired by photographs from Hidden City's 2016 calendar, aging Philadelphians share their thoughts and memories of the city through poetry. Ann de Forest has the backstory > more