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

Nathaniel Popkin is co-editor of the Hidden City Daily and author of three books of non-fiction, including the forthcoming Philadelphia: Finding the Hidden City (Temple Press) and a novel, Lion and Leopard (The Head and the Hand Press). He is the senior writer of the film documentary "Philadelphia: The Great Experiment."



Leave a Reply

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

Recent Posts
Reaching For The Heavens At Cret's Tower Of Chimes

Reaching For The Heavens At Cret’s Tower Of Chimes

May 26, 2017  |  Vantage

Turn a corner in Philadelphia and you will eventually run into a building or bridge designed by Paul Phillipe Cret. Celebrated for his broad, arched infrastructure and Neoclassical landmarks, not much is discussed of his cemetery architecture. Contributor Brian Horne takes a trip out to Montgomery County where a 172-foot tower designed by Cret sends a memorial park reaching towards the sky > more

Rediscovering The Dead Fleet Of The Delaware River

Rediscovering The Dead Fleet Of The Delaware River

May 23, 2017  |  Vantage

The ships of the "Dead Fleet" at Pier 78 rise at low tide from their watery graves in the Delaware River. It's a curious sight, recalling a time when the riverbanks thrummed with a booming maritime industry. Philadelphia shipping historian Robert McNulty takes us on a salty voyage to uncover the backstory of South Philadelphia's ghost ship graveyard > more

Building A Better Future With Bright Common

Building A Better Future With Bright Common

May 19, 2017  |  Vantage

Hidden City editor Michael Bixler catches up with sustainable architect Jeremy Avellino to talk climate change, deep energy retrofits, and the power of passive house building. > more

Restoration Project Gives New Life To Ben Franklin's Grave

Restoration Project Gives New Life To Ben Franklin’s Grave

May 17, 2017  |  News

Benjamin Franklin's tombstone gets some desperately needed TLC. Tyler Horst has the story > more

Summoning The Spirit Of A Victorian Masterpiece

Summoning The Spirit Of A Victorian Masterpiece

May 15, 2017  |  The Shadow Knows

Gone, but not forgotten. The Shadow channels the ghost of the Henry J. Morton Guild House, a beautiful Victorian hall designed by famed Philadelphia architects Wilson Brothers & Company > more

The Making (And Marketing) Of The Modern Gayborhood

The Making (And Marketing) Of The Modern Gayborhood

May 12, 2017  |  Vantage

Contributor Kelson Northeimer takes a look at the history of the Gayborhood and its cultural transformation through lifestyle marketing and gentrification > more