Infographic: If 7 Billion People Lived In One City, How Big Would It Be?

Tim De Chant's smart visualization puts world population growth into urban perspective.

Today the world population reached 7 billion (more or less). The media and interwebs are abuzz about what it all means. Designer/writer/researcher Tim De Chant has a more interesting take: What does it all look like? Specifically: If all those people lived in one enormous city, how big would that city be?

The question raises interesting sub-questions about urban design and density, which De Chant’s design incorporates: He doesn’t just map the vaunted 7 billion onto some city at random, or onto some imaginary "average" city, but onto six famous metropolises across the world with wildly different ages, nationalities, and cultural histories. And De Chant uses the lower 48 United States as a scale reference. That might not mean much to non-American readers, but if Yankees comprise the bulk of De Chant’s own audience on his must-read blog, it’s a clever piece of visual communication.

So, the results: Apparently, a city with 7 billion inhabitants—and the population density of Paris—could fit comfortably into a space the size of Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. The same population spread into a uber-megalopolis based on Houston, however, would require everything from the Rockies to the Appalachians. Which means that De Chant’s infographic isn’t just a piece of pretty statistical linkbait—it’s actually a brilliant work of urban-design criticism, with an implicit argument about how smart cities can help stave off the woes of overpopulation.

"Density begets efficiency," De Chant tells Co.Design. "Cramming everyone into one city would be untenable, of course, but living denser, even in smaller towns, would probably make life more enjoyable for everyone. Cities would be more pedestrian- and kid-friendly, and getting out of town and into some open space wouldn’t necessarily be a big ordeal." According to USA Today, half the world’s population already lives in cities, a figure that could increase to 69% by 2050. Designing smarter cities that can pack people in without crushing their souls is going to be one of the great challenges of our century, and kudos to Tim De Chant for making such an elegant visual argument for it.

[The World’s Population, Concentrated]

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  • frynella

    I realize I'm late to the party here, but smaller human footprint with denser cities? Hardly. This infographic makes the same error people always make: that the space we humans consume is limited to the space we park our houses on. Show me the graphic with the space all those people will need for agriculture, mining, livestock housing and manufacturing infrastructure THEN tell me where the open spaces will be and what a lovely jaunt we will have traveling to reach them.

  • Simon

    Interesting article. Denser cities, not suburban developments, are definitely the way forward. Obviously we need cleaner vehicles, cheaper housing and better parklands. There are obstacles in the way, but they are certainly not insurmountable. I'm sure that better sound insulation and double/triple glazed windows, amongst other measures, would make dense city living more comfortable.

  • eddie

    Density will unavoidably lead to an awful quality of life. Ivy makes a great point, I'm from Singapore too and can't wait to live somewhere as 'dreadfully empty' as US. Think of noise pollution (no escape even at your own house) persistent everywhere. Think of packed trains and the perfect environment for viral infections to spread on them. Think of not having space for your own pursuits after work. To say that life in denser cities is 'enjoyable' is a huge mistake.

  • guest

    "and getting out of town and into some open space wouldn't necessarily be a big ordeal."....look at the map, you'd have to drive halfway across Texas to get to the open space!

  • Simon

    I believe the visuals were to give an impression of how small our physical footprint could be globally if we all lived at those densities. He even goes on to specifically say that one megacity would be untenable..

  • Ivy

    Wow, Tim must have probably never been to Singapore before. We have 5 million people on a tiny island and it is definitely not what anyone would call 'enjoyable'. We're packed like sardines in our trains and buses, there are a never ending queues in our malls' toilets, and most of us live in extremely tiny apartments the size of a living room of a suburban home in the US but cost as much as a downtown NYC apartment. 

  • Alex

    Allow me some minor editing to rephrase some silliness I just read 'De Chant tells Co.Design. "Cramming everyone into ... denser... towns, would probably make life more enjoyable for everyone"'.

    Um... nope. Having a backyard is 'inefficient' but awesome. I have lived in Seoul and now State College, PA. For my money, State College is the way to go. My wife from Anshan, China agrees. In our case, there is nothing that trumps better air quality and personal space.