There are now more than 7 billion people living on this planet. If everyone was willing to spread out evenly, we’d have quite a bit of space, but a lot of people would live in pretty unpleasant conditions. If we decided to all squish together in a city with the density of New York, we could fit in a massive metropolis the size of the state of Texas, leaving the rest of the world as a pristine nature preserve.
Instead, we congregate in cities and slowly spread out from their edges, while leaving deserts and jungles largely uninhabited. The Dencity project, from Fathom, shows just where they’re all cramming together with a bit of counterintuitive graphic thinking. Where there are fewer people the circles are larger, and where there are more, they get very small indeed. So Karachi, Pakistan (population 15 million) is a tiny red dot, while the Sahara is large chunks of big purple and grey. This makes some sense: In Karachi, there isn’t much space at all. In the Sahara, you’ve really got some elbow room.
Looking at the East Coast of the United States is sobering. We tend to think of the megalopolis that extends from Boston to D.C. as a dense and bustling urban corridor. It is, for America, but remember that New York is the only American city in the top 20 largest global cities. Compare its surrounding area to China’s East Coast, where the dots (and, thus, the people) are crammed together as far as the eye can see, and little clumps of red—signifying the densest cities—abound.
It’s just another reminder that while we fret about things like suburban sprawl, congestion, and pollution, solutions to these problems can’t just be focused on the West. Most of the people are on the other side of the world.