February 2, 2016

If the population of the entire world lived in one city, how large would that city be?

It depends upon the density of that city, but here's a graphic depiction:



That's just about fitting everyone in a space, not supplying them with water, food, and everything else they'd need.

I ran across that graphic as the result of a search I did after reading the comments to an NPR article, "How China's One-Child Policy Led To Forced Abortions, 30 Million Bachelors." Someone in the comments had said: "The entire world population could theoretically live in Texas. Underpopulation in industrialized nations is the real problem." I thought the necessary space was quite a bit less than Texas. And somebody else said: "No, it 'theoretically' could not. The reason for that is that you have to be able to actually move. And you have to be able to move to the LAND that you are FARMING to grow food. The argument that you could pack people like sardines someplace is completely without any kind of logical merit."

67 comments:

Nichevo said...

It's a worthwhile observation, because people who live in New York, and of course rule the world, are quite comfortable with this population density (and may only wish they could have a little more space, haha). I'm amazed both that Paris is denser than New York and that Singapore is less so.

In any case, the ~8 million people who live in New York couldn't live in New York without massive resources outside being directed to them. A consciousness of this on the part of New Yorkers like me would be worth having. A more elevated form of "turn off the oil and letting the Yankees freeze in the dark."

Crimso said...

"No, it 'theoretically' could not. The reason for that is that you have to be able to actually move. And you have to be able to move to the LAND that you are FARMING to grow food. The argument that you could pack people like sardines someplace is completely without any kind of logical merit."

Hence the observation once by someone that just because the entire population of the Earth could fit into Texas does not mean it would.

eric said...

The thing is, people who live in New York City aren't packed in like sardines. And interestingly enough, you'd have more people per square mile in new York with its current population than you'd have in Texas with all the world.

Another interesting thing is you'd use less power and fuel.

But, you'd almost have to make the entire USA a giant farm to feed everyone.

Anyway, the people who mock the idea that everyone in the world could live in Texas and actually be comfortable are wrong. They could do so and have parks and lawns and other such things, just as they do in New York, and have more elbow room.

Peter said...

Everyone who lives in New York City knows where food comes from: a grocery store.

Where else would one go for food?

gilbar said...

Peter said;
"Everyone who lives in New York City knows where food comes from: a grocery store. Where else would one go for food?"

That's Crazy Talk!
EVERYBODY KNOWS they don't make food in grocery stores,
you go to restaurants: That's where they make food!

Nonapod said...

In some hypothetical Sci-Fi future where there are massive megacities that are multi-layered, cover massive areas, and tower a mile high, you could potentially have a much higher population density too. All agriculture could be done in vast indoor farms that are fully climate controlled for optimum yields. Under such conditions tt might be possible for all humanity, even 20 billion people, to squeeze into North America and leave the rest of the world wild.

Gahrie said...

The point is, that if you did crowd the world's population into Texas, you would have the rest of the world to grow and raise food to feed them. The world is not crowded, there is enough food to feed the world's population, and there will be all the way to the point at which the world's population begins to decline, which is not that far off. Humanity is not some plague that is going to destroy the earth and its ecosystem.

David said...

Is urban density a good thing this year, or is it bad? The correct view keeps changing and I can't keep up.

Anyway it's interesting to see how much land would be needed so that a city with the density of Houston would hold all the people. Houston is the city with no zoning laws. It's interesting what people will come up with when they can actually do what they want.

Gahrie said...

The argument that you could pack people like sardines someplace is completely without any kind of logical merit."

Are the people of New York packed in like sardines?

David said...

"Another interesting thing is you'd use less power and fuel."

Maybe less fuel (assuming you mean transportation fuel), but perhaps not power. There would be huge electrical needs to fund indoor air treatment with such density. Supplying water and dealing with trash and sewer would be a bitch too. Not to mention having to put factories in skyscrapers.

BDNYC said...

New York is great, but I can't imagine having hundreds of miles of that same population density in every direction. I would feel trapped, claustrophobic, etc. I like having within reach suburbia and even the countryside, such as it is, even if I rarely leave the city. Psychologically it's important.

David Begley said...

Let's bring those 30 million men here. Why not? Good for business. Lots of airline flights.

n.n said...

Create a matrix with a virtual environment. Inject nutrients intravenously to sustain the organic parts. It may require some "selection" and/or "planning" to suppress bitter clingers.

rhhardin said...

There'd have to be rent control.

Gahrie said...

I would feel trapped, claustrophobic, etc. I like having within reach suburbia and even the countryside, such as it is, even if I rarely leave the city. Psychologically it's important.

There would be hundreds or thousands of Central Park sized open spaces, some of which could even be combined.

Curious George said...

Madison would be a lot smaller than these, as you would need a place for black people to live too.

Hagar said...

Isaac Asimov, "The Caves of Steel" takes everybody underground since all aboveground space is required for agriculture.

Levi Starks said...

Just as I expected, the French are really dense.

eric said...

There would be huge electrical needs to fund indoor air treatment with such density.

When you say such density, remember, we aren't talking hypothetical density. We are talking less dense than New York City. Less people per square mile. You can do the math on this yourself. I have before. Go to Wikipedia, get the size of NYC and its population. Divide. Then get the size of Texas and divide by world population. More people per square mile in NYC.

Anyway, my thought is this.

If you have a bunch of people together you use less electricity because more people per space.

For example, I once lived in an apartment. Alone. And I had the air conditioner running all the time to keep it nice and cold.

How many people would live alone in such a situation? It's gotta be expensive in NY to live alone. Probably cheaper to live with other people. Living with others means more people sharing the same lightbulbs, same air conditioner, same television, etc.

Granted, its an assumption.

I wonder if we could figure out how much electricity is used per person in say, Ames Iowa, vs New York City.

But my guess is, the more densely packed the less energy, per person, is used. A classroom with 40 kids uses less per kid than a classroom with 5, for example.

mikee said...

Could a long-ago immigrant to Texas from NC (via side trips to ID, VT, CO, SC, GA and a decade in hell, err, MD) ask that the population maps be centered on, say, New York City, instead of the Lone Star state? We who got here as soon as we could, and those who were here before us, are about done with recent immigrants from the non-Texas parts of the US, and their non-Texan behaviors, politics, driving and accents.

The rest of the world can start in New York, and if they make it to Texas, good for them, it shows they have common sense, and we'll take 'em gladly.

Bob Ellison said...

People who live in cities have difficulty understanding how vast are the spaces outside of cities, like in Texas, in general in middle America, and elsewhere. It's outside their imagination. They think a tiny quarter-acre cement park is a big place.

Smilin' Jack said...

I'm constantly amazed at the number of apparently intelligent people who profess to "believe" in evolution, yet have no understanding of how natural selection and differential reproduction actually work. Bottom line: the world's population will never stop growing without a massive intervention by the Four Horsemen. For now the Horsemen bide their time, knowing that the longer they wait, the bigger the slaughter.

Nyamujal said...

Drudgereport would call this Obama's latest immigration plan.

BarrySanders20 said...

30 million Chinamen could build one hell of a wall.

Somebody call Trump.

Larry J said...

Smilin' Jack said...
I'm constantly amazed at the number of apparently intelligent people who profess to "believe" in evolution, yet have no understanding of how natural selection and differential reproduction actually work. Bottom line: the world's population will never stop growing without a massive intervention by the Four Horsemen.


In many modern countries (e.g. Japan, Italy), the birthrate has been below the replacement rate for a long time. Just to maintain the current population, each woman would have to give birth to an average of 2.1 children. In quite a few countries, the birthrate is around 1.2-1.6 children per woman. Barring immigration, population in those countries will naturally decline in the coming decades. The average worldwide birthrate has declined a great deal since the 1950s and that shows no sign of changing.

Dude1394 said...

Thank god for Texas... Even our largest cities have elbow room.

Gahrie said...

Bottom line: the world's population will never stop growing without a massive intervention by the Four Horsemen

Tell that to Japan and Greece.

Unknown said...

Can't believe noone has mentioned this XKCD explainer: What would happen if everyone on earth stood as close to each other as they could and jumped, everyone landing on the ground at the same instant?

pm317 said...

Maybe you can't pack people like sardines. But you can let them migrate and redistribute. Let the world be their oyster.

pm317 said...

oh, and don't vote for Trump, if that is your view.

Gahrie said...

Bottom line: the world's population will never stop growing without a massive intervention by the Four Horsemen. For now the Horsemen bide their time, knowing that the longer they wait, the bigger the slaughter.

Paging Paul Ehrlich, paging Paul Ehrlich.....

Guildofcannonballs said...

"...completely without any kind of logical merit."

Nonsense. Like me responding to the quote above, lack of logic can be used as a teaching moment, hence has merit.

Its own merit that was at some point loved and adored, just like any other merit more, merity I guess. You know what I mean.

Gahrie said...

China and India's next several generations will be significantly smaller because each country is missing millions of women that were aborted in the 70's, 80's and 90's. Add to that the trend of lower birthrates as the standard of living rises.

Bruce Hayden said...

What is scary to me is that the Obama HUD is apparently trying to squash more and more of us together, increasing population density in the big cities. Some sort of leftist Utopia I guess. One that most Americans really don't want. At my age (a year older than Ann), I am interested in a smaller yard, but not a smaller house. Probably a larger one, so that we can have guests more easily (and give them some privacy). What I really want though is enough land that I wouldn't have to worry about handgun rounds shot on my land crossing into the next guy's land. Friend was complaining about that, and he had maybe 80 acres, so I am thinking maybe a half a section or so. Maybe even a quarter section. Nice thing there is that if you own more than an acre or so, you don't have to keep the lawn mowed, etc.

Guildofcannonballs said...

Look I don't agree with this crap but...

The benefit of not drilling baby drill is having the reserves.

In some aspects, likewise, the onerous bullshit regulation of cowshit etc. could be a potential asset when they get thrown out after The Correction along with the literal shit that will indeedly continue to do because farmers need to eat, yes, but also attract mates to have babies hence a reason to continue to sell to the highest bidder the products varied.

So, a bunch of death, but also new bonds of life formed by producers and consumers who value a consumer who produces more than otherwise-situated persons, in terms of trust in a barter-style post-apocalyptic scenario.

While true things that can't last forever will somehow last forever if we wish it so hard enough, it is also true many folks never have to worry about The Correction as it will happen after their lifetime, hence their attitude, with 20/20 hindsight, would have to be considered reasonable even to a "prepper" mindset type individual.

And then the realization that patients get lots of infections at the hospital, judges fuck lawyers and their clients, rapes are heard and cannot be stopped because of suicide-encouraging Rules of Enquaqmirement, Hillary!, earthquakes, locusts, exposure, The Plaque, and the lightning strike/snake bite victims and it all kinda makes a certain-type sense after all.

God Bless the USA!

Bruce Hayden said...

I think that the answer for all the excess Chinese and Indian males is to send them into the Middle East to fight all the excess Muslim men. Both countries have a Muslim problem, and absent fighting them, they most likely would fight each other (though if the Russian nuclear arsenal gets old enough, I expect to see the Chinese make a grab at Siberia). The Muzzies' problem is more likely due to a combination of polygamy and honor killings, instead of abortions. Right now, a very large percentage of their emigrant population is young adult males, and getting the Chinese and Indians to concentrate on the Middle East and their Muslim problem, would likely cause many of these young male adult Muslims to return home to protect their families.

The Godfather said...

I did an exercise like this when I was in college (first half of the 1960's) and reached the same conclusion: There's plenty of room on Earth for more people. In those days, everyone (that is, all the "thoughtful" people) were worried about overpopulation. No one imagined that China would run out of women, or Japan would run out of people, or Germany would have to import Arabs to support its welfare state. Now the Wise Ones are telling us that soon robots will be doing all the work, so what the Hell are the humans supposed to do?

My advice (I'm old, male, and white-privileged, so I can do that) is all you young folks fuck like rabbits, throw away the condoms and birth control pills, and SAVE THE WORLD!

(If you need help, I'm an experienced baby-sitter. But don't wait too long.)

Fritz said...

Stand on Zanzibar, one of my favorite books by John Brunner:

The primary engine of the novel's story is overpopulation and its projected consequences, and the title refers to an early twentieth-century claim that the world's population could fit onto the Isle of Wight – which has an area of 381 square kilometres (147 sq mi) – if they were all standing upright. Brunner remarked that the growing world population now required a larger island; the 3.5 billion people living in 1968 could stand together on the Isle of Man (area 572 square kilometres (221 sq mi)), while the 7 billion people who he (correctly) projected would be alive in 2010 would need to stand on Zanzibar (area 1,554 square kilometres (600 sq mi)). Throughout the book, the image of the entire human race standing shoulder-to-shoulder on a small island is a metaphor for a crowded world.

Bruce Hayden said...

@Guildofcannonballs - the answer to your problems is to buy ammo. A lot of ammo. And, maybe some more firearms to shoot the ammo with. But, it would probably be best to stick with the most popular calibers (e.g. 9mm, .223, maybe .45 or .40, etc)

SJ said...

@unknown,

I'm also surprised that it took that long for someone to mention XKCD.

The WhatIf question doesn't specify how everyone got into Rhode Island, but it does answer how hard it would be to send everyone home within a reasonable time frame.

Which is related to the problem of feeding/housing 7 billion people inside Texas.

Gabriel said...

Bangladesh has the same population density as Fremont, California. Per capita income in Fremont is $31,000 vs $3200 in Bangladesh.

Now of course it's true that California is blessed with productive agriculture and abundant resources--and so is Bangladesh, because where did that 160 million people come from?

And Hong Kong, which has to import water, is not only six times denser than Bangladesh and Fremont but its per capita income is $55,000.

Achilles said...

"The argument that you could pack people like sardines someplace is completely without any kind of logical merit."

That doesn't stop any other progressive arguments. Progressives want to pack us into cities. Therefor it has to happen.

Unknown said...

Actually, if you packed them like sardines, the entire population of the world could be fitted within the confines of Fort Lauderdale, FL.

Guildofcannonballs said...

Even as a youngster laddy boy using notquiteunbuckley as my name, I knew certain scores' score.

Steven said...

"The argument that you could pack people like sardines someplace is completely without any kind of logical merit."

Ah, someone without the power to visualize things.

To fit 7 billion people into a city the size of Texas (268,820 mi²), you need an average population density of 40 people an acre. A regulation US football field, from goal line to goal line, is 1.10 acres. 44 people in that much space is not "packed like sardines". (Please note that the density is New York City, not Midtown Manhattan.)

Rhythm and Balls said...

It's a worthwhile observation, because people who live in New York, and of course rule the world, are quite comfortable with this population density (and may only wish they could have a little more space, haha). I'm amazed both that Paris is denser than New York and that Singapore is less so.

I was surprised too, but then rationalized it on the basis of how spacious all four outer boroughs are - especially Staten Island. Combine that with the fact that most of Manhattan's high rises are uninhabited office space and most of Brooklyn's brownstones top out at three or four stories.

By contrast, six-story or even seven-storey residential structures seem to be the norm in Paris, IIRC. With nicely patina'ed blue and grey metallic rooftops.

rsbsail said...

This analysis does not include other human activities that require land, such as manufacturing plants. There is a reason, for example, that aircraft plants locate in Kansas, Texas, and Washington. Cheap, plentiful land.

Gabriel said...

@rsbsail:Washington. Cheap, plentiful land.

Are you thinking of Boeing? Most certainly not true. The land where Boeing is, is neither cheap nor plentiful.

But 40 people per acre is still a hell of a lot of room for manufacturing plants if you need to locate them within the city. Because hundreds of people can live in an acre. Even Hong Kong has room for manufacturing plants.

Fritz said...

The Feds should confiscate Manhattan Island as ill gotten gains, and then lease it back to it's current inhabitants.

rsbsail said...

@Gabriel

I worked in the chemical and refining business. I can assure you that you can't fit a refinery or an ethylene plant in a city such as San Francisco or New York.

Freeman Hunt said...

I choose the Houston one.

cubanbob said...

What if space aliens were to bombard the earth? If we were all in one city that would make targeting a lot easier for them. Just as a precaution we should keep spread out. And put a big X with a sign saying bomb here in space over Arabia. Just incase.

Jon said...

You folks are all nuts, if you think the planet is crowded. Do you realize that there are about FIVE ACRES for every human? And that is land, not including ocean.
Do the math. Even if it is hard. Dopes.

Gabriel said...

@rsbsail: I can assure you that you can't fit a refinery or an ethylene plant in a city such as San Francisco or New York.

How many acres do you need? Guarantee there is room for one.

@Jon:You folks are all nuts, if you think the planet is crowded.

Crowdedness is a function not only of density but of wealth. 1 hunter-gatherer per acre is crowded well beyond the point of starvation.

Mark Caplan said...

At a density of 1 person per acre, you'd need an area 3 times larger than the contiguous 48 states of America.

Steven said...

To go along with my previous bit . . . the Empire State Building has a footprint of 1.82 acres.

So, let's house the people in our One City in exact copies of the Empire State Building. If we go with an average of four people to a floor (everybody gets their own corner apartment!), that's 408 people in 1.82 acres, or 224 people/acre. For seven billion people, that leaves more than 80% of the land area of our Texas-sized city available for all purposes other than residential housing. While, remember, leaving the entire rest of the Earth for all non-urban purposes.

The only serious question on matters of population density is production of enough calories to feed whatever population you're talking about. The super-crowded skyscraper cities of bad science fiction are nonsense, because land requirements beyond those for food production are basically trivial. If your future Earth is so on the edge of starvation that it can't give up 0.1% of its worst-for-agriculture land to make for reasonably spacious housing, it's going to have regular mass starvation caused by sunspot cycles/current oscillations/etc. anyway.

Brando said...

"The super-crowded skyscraper cities of bad science fiction are nonsense, because land requirements beyond those for food production are basically trivial. If your future Earth is so on the edge of starvation that it can't give up 0.1% of its worst-for-agriculture land to make for reasonably spacious housing, it's going to have regular mass starvation caused by sunspot cycles/current oscillations/etc. anyway."

Maybe they were just crowded because demand to be as close as possible to a given point justified such building. Of course, the way technology is moving more towards doing things from remote locations I figure we'd be more spread out, not crowded in.

Greg Hlatky said...

How many acres do you need? Guarantee there is room for one.

Dow's new ethylene cracker in Freeport is about 35 acres.

LyondellBasell's petrochemical complex in Channelview is 3,900 acres.

Phillips 66's Sweeny refinery is 14,000 acres.

virgil xenophon said...

IIRC abut 25 yrs ago and a billion fewer people the entire world's pop could fit inside Texas on the horizontal--no hi rises--and give each person 2500 sq ft of living space

Gabriel said...

@Greg Hlatky:Dow's new ethylene cracker in Freeport is about 35 acres.

Fits in Central Park (843 acres) or the Presidio (1480 acres).

@Steven: If we go with an average of four people to a floor (everybody gets their own corner apartment!), that's 408 people in 1.82 acres, or 224 people/acre. For seven billion people, that leaves more than 80% of the land area of our Texas-sized city available for all purposes other than residential housing. While, remember, leaving the entire rest of the Earth for all non-urban purposes.

Seconded.

The super-crowded skyscraper cities of bad science fiction are nonsense, because land requirements beyond those for food production are basically trivial.

I suspect they just didn't work through the calculations that carefully. Asimov's Caves of Steel was written in the 50s, and he thought 8 billion was a lot of people. This is pre-Green Revolution, so maybe it was.

JimT said...

If the world population were composed of four-person families, and each family required a third of an acre for its dwelling and the streets serving it, it would require about 3 1/2 time the area of Texas to hold them all. Or, you could put them up in a four-story apartment building covering Texas alone.

That would leave the rest of the US for farming, manufacturing, and recreation. If they had as much space as Alaska, each family could have a quarter of an acre for a single-family home, and still have most of the US left over.

And farmers in Canada and the US could feed them all.

JimT said...

PS: I live comfortably with my family on 0.2 acres.

Sammy Finkelman said...

When they say live in a city, they mean their homes

If the population density was like anyof these cities, how large would a city have to be to contain the whole world's population?

Remember, cities may contain large parks, landfills, waterways, and cemeteries, and even wide open unbuilt-up spaces.

Now also, some cities have a lot of single family houses and some have a lot of apartment buildings. So it is different for different cities.

Cities don't grow their own food, so actually, you'd need more land to support these people, but they wouldn't be bumpong up against each other, although the trains, and the hgighways might be pretty crowded at rush hour, if people were trying to go from one end to the other. Mumbai (Bombay) is impossible. Even riding first to the outer end of the line doesn't guarantee you a seat and people are getting killed all the time. Mumbai doesn't have the infastructure.

Sammy Finkelman said...

The Rhode Island everybody jump answer starts on page 43 of the book "What If: Serious and Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions" by Randall Munroe (Houghton Mifflin Company, 2014)

Sammy Finkelman said...

ISBN 978-0-544-27299-6

$24 list price hardcover

But the price could go down to approximately $4.00, including shipping.

You can read and scan it much faster in a book.

Steven said...

I suspect they just didn't work through the calculations that carefully.

For the people who didn't run the calculations while claiming to be doing science fiction (not fantasy), their failure to run the calculations on their atmospherics is their sin. But it is a venal one; that (e.g.) Trantor was ludicrously overurbanized was sloppy, but not of moment after Asimov admitted the mistake.

But I read some Zero Population Growth crowded cities propaganda back when I was in late elementary school, and those authors, well, the Steven Inquisition plans to burn at the stake. As soon as it catches them.

rsbsail said...

@Gabriel

My point is that NYC doesn't have a refinery or petrochemical plant to support the needs of 20,000,000 people in that metropolitan area. Everything from fuel to plastics to bleach.