The 10 Most Populous U.S. Cities, Every Decade Since 1790
View the high resolution version of today’s infographic by clicking here
There are only two cities that have had the distinction of being named the most populous city in the United States.
The first city to hold the title was Philadelphia, as the City of Brotherly Love was estimated to be the biggest city in the country at the time of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
However, by the time of the first U.S. Census in 1790, New York City had surpassed Philadelphia by a few thousand residents – and the Big Apple has stayed the largest in the country ever since.
From Then to Now
Today’s infographic comes to us from Liberty Cruise, and it ranks the 10 most populous cities in the United States for every decade since 1790.
To start, let’s take a look at what the list looked just after the first U.S. Census in 1790:
|#1||New York City, NY||33,131|
|#6||Northern Liberties Township, PA||9,913|
It’s pretty surreal to think that some of the biggest cities in the late 18th century hosted no more than 6,000 residents.
It also may be a surprise to many that Rhode Island – a state that ranks 50th in size and 44th in population today – held two of the largest towns in the nation at the time: Newport and Providence.
The Modern List
Jump forward over 200 years, and New York City has not lost its top spot.
It helped that NYC was able to absorb Brooklyn – one of the country’s other largest cities – into its boundaries in 1898. Other major cities saw similar merges happen over the years, with Philadelphia absorbing Northern Liberties Township, for example.
Here is a list of the most populous U.S. cities in 2017 (est.):
|Rank||City||Population (Est. 2017)||Population (2010 Census)||Change|
|#1||New York City, NY||8,622,698||8,175,133||+5.47%|
|#2||Los Angeles, CA||3,999,759||3,792,621||+5.46%|
|#7||San Antonio, TX||1,511,946||1,327,407||+13.90%|
|#8||San Diego, CA||1,419,516||1,307,402||+8.58%|
|#10||San Jose, CA||1,035,317||945,942||+9.45%|
In contrast to the NYC of today, the 1790 population looks more like a Long Island suburb.
This rapid urbanization is mainly thanks to Industrial Revolution, which triggered a massive migration to cities, allowing New York to grow 26,000% in total population.
Here’s how the population distribution of New York City’s five boroughs has changed over time:
Interested in learning more about the country’s largest cities?
Ranked: The Most Populous Cities in the World
Where are the world’s largest cities in terms of population? This graphic looks at the top 20 most populous cities in the world.
Ranked: The Most Populous Cities in the World
More than half of the world’s population currently lives in cities—and as time goes on, it’s clear that more urban dwellers will find themselves living in megacities.
Megacities are defined as urban areas with a population of more than 10 million people. This means that the world’s top 20 most populous cities are all megacities.
This visualization, using data from Macrotrends, shows the 20 most populous cities in the world.
Today, more than 80% of people in higher income countries find themselves living in urban areas, and in upper-middle income countries the number lies between 50-80%.
Rural-to-urban migration is an increasingly relevant trend in the 21st century. Prospects of better job opportunities and higher wages, along with shifts from agrarian to industrial and service-based economies, are causing mass movement to cities.
How much have the world’s five most populous cities grown in just the last decade?
|Rank||City||2010 Population||2020 Population||Percentage Change|
|#4||🇧🇷 São Paulo||19,660,000||22,043,000||+12.1%|
|#5||🇲🇽 Mexico City||20,132,000||21,782,000||+8.2%|
While Tokyo only gained 559,000 people between 2010 and 2020, Delhi gained over 8 million people in the same time frame.
Shanghai grew by over 7 million people. Meanwhile, São Paulo grew by more than 2 million, and Mexico City gained just over 1.6 million people.
Interestingly, Mexico City placed third on the top largest cities list in 2010, but has since experienced slower growth compared to its competitors, Shanghai and São Paulo.
The Most Populous Cities Today
While Tokyo is the world’s most populous city with 37,393,000 people, this number is leveling out due to declining birth rates and an aging population.
Indian and Chinese cities, on the other hand, will continue to grow rapidly in the coming years. In fact, it’s expected that Delhi’s population could surpass Tokyo’s by 2028.
Here’s a closer look at the top 20 most populous cities.
|4||🇧🇷 São Paulo||22,043,000|
|5||🇲🇽 Mexico City||21,782,000|
|11||🇺🇸 New York City||18,804,000|
|15||🇦🇷 Buenos Aires||15,154,000|
By 2035, two new cities are expected to crack the top 20 list. Specifically, it’s projected that Bangalore (India) and Lahore (Pakistan) will boot out Tianjin and Buenos Aires. In addition, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and Chennai are all expected to meet the megacity definition by 2035.
Urban growth will continue mainly in Asia and Africa, as some cities in regions such as Europe actually begin to shrink in population due to aging citizens and declining birth rates. Since 2012, deaths in the EU have actually been outpacing births—and in 2019, there were 4.7 million deaths compared to 4.2 million births, though net migration kept population numbers from falling.
Life in the City
While there are certainly downsides to mass urbanization, like pollution and overcrowding, the upsides clearly outweigh the negatives for most people. Convenience, better jobs, easier access to social services, and higher wages are among the many reasons people are likely to continue to move to cities, even in the post-COVID era.
With the emergence of smart and green cities, the quality of life for many urban dwellers will likely continue to improve, and more large urban areas will morph into megacities.
Mapped: The Top Surveillance Cities Worldwide
Which cities have the most CCTV cameras? This map reveals the top surveillance cities worldwide in terms of the prevalence of CCTV cameras.
The Top Surveillance Cities Worldwide
Since the world’s first CCTV camera was installed in Germany in 1942, the number of surveillance cameras around the world has grown immensely. In fact, it only took us 79 years to go from one camera to nearly one billion of these devices.
In the above interactive graphic, Surfshark maps out how prevalent CCTV surveillance cameras are in the world’s 130 most populous cities.
Big Brother is Watching
So how many of us are being watched? China and India are the countries with the highest densities of CCTV surveillance cameras in urban areas. Chennai, India has 657 cameras per square kilometer, making it the number one city in the world in terms of surveillance.
Here’s a closer look at the world’s top 10 cities by CCTV density.
|Rank||City||CCTVs per square km||CCTVs per 1,000 people|
|#1||🇮🇳 Chennai, India||657||25.5|
|#2||🇮🇳 Hyderabad, India||480||30.0|
|#3||🇨🇳 Harbin, China||411||39.1|
|#4||🇬🇧 London, England||399||67.5|
|#5||🇨🇳 Xiamen, China||385||40.3|
|#6||🇨🇳 Chengdu, China||350||33.9|
|#7||🇨🇳 Taiyuan, China||319||119.6|
|#8||🇮🇳 Delhi, India||289||14.2|
|#9||🇨🇳 Kunming, China||281||45.0|
|#10||🇨🇳 Beijing, China||278||56.2|
London is the only non-Asian city to crack the list with 399 CCTV cameras per square kilometer.
Beijing ranks in tenth place. The Chinese capital has the highest number of CCTV cameras in total, at just over 1.1 million installed in the city.
Although CCTV cameras have become extremely prevalent in cities around the world, this does not mean these cameras are seeing and recognizing our every move. In most instances, cameras are in a fixed position—and some of the more invasive aspects of CCTV, like accompanying facial recognition technology, are not universal yet.
The Need for CCTV
The ubiquity of surveillance cameras can be unnerving to some, as they represent diminishing privacy. However, there are also those that feel the presence of cameras creates added safety.
While governments like China’s claim that having high amounts of surveillance cameras helps reduce crime, the actual data gets messy. For example, the Chinese city of Taiyuan has roughly 120 cameras per every thousand people and yet the city has a higher crime index than most.
Freedom vs. Security
As surveillance networks become more sophisticated and granular, there is increasing concern about breaches to personal freedoms.
China is doubling down with surveillance in its cities by pioneering the usage and exportation of facial recognition technology. This technology is integral to China’s proposed social points system. With a database of 1.3 billion pictures that can be matched to a face on a CCTV camera in seconds, troublemaking citizens can easily be identified.
In India, on the other hand, the amount of cameras can be attributed to mass urbanization, rising crime, and scarcity of urban resources. Overall, there is a rising middle class that wishes to protect itself with the use of CCTV cameras.
As we close in on one billion CCTV surveillance cameras globally by the end of 2021, we will undoubtedly continue to be monitored well into the future.
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