The world’s population may be at record levels but everyone could fit in New York City if they all stood really close together:
Urban’s core assumption is that 10 humans can fit in a square meter. If you watch this video of nine journalists squeezing themselves into a square meter, you can see that while this would be cozy, it’s definitely possible. This especially true given that about a quarter of the world’s population is under 15.
At 10 people per square meter, that means we can fit 1,000 people in a 10-by-10-meter square. 54,000 people can fit in an American football field, and 26 million people – about the population of Scandinavia – can fit into one square mile, Urban writes. Central Park, which is 1.3 square miles or 3.4 square kilometers, could hold the population of Australia or Saudi Arabia. All 320 million Americans could huddle together into a square that is 3.5 miles or 5.7 kilometers on each side.
And what if we found a piece of land for everyone on Earth – all 7.3 billion of the world’s people? Urban calculates that we would need a square that is 27 km, or 16.8 miles, on each side – an area smaller than Bahrain and, yes, New York City.
Urban calculates that we could fit 590 million people in Manhattan — that takes care of North America. We could fit 1.38 billion people in Brooklyn, equivalent to the population of Africa, South America and Oceania. Queens could hold 2.83 billion — roughly the equivalent of India + China + Japan. 1.09 billion could fit in the Bronx, taking care of Europe, while 1.51 billion could fit Staten Island, making room for the rest of Asia ex-China, Japan and India.
Of course, this isn’t a long-term possibility. But, it does lead me to a few thoughts:
1. This suggests there is a lot of land where few people live. Some of this land is simply uninhabitable. But, there still must be more land where population densities are really low.
2. This reminds me of the sorts of calculations done by those who observe rallies and protests. Calculations of crowds on the National Mall utilize estimates of how close people can stand together for such events.
3. A more abstract question is what is the highest level of population density that can still support decent lives? If technology allowed people to live closer together in the future, would people choose this?