In 300 B.C., Carthage was one of the world’s largest cities with up to 700,000 people living within its walls. The Carthaginian republic was a force to be reckoned with, controlling inconceivable amounts of wealth and land all around the Mediterranean.
However, just over a century later in 146 B.C., Carthage was burnt to the ground by the Romans. The destruction of Carthage was so thorough that many things are still not known about their civilization today. Carthage went from being a major power to literally being wiped off of the map.
A few decades after the annihilation of Carthage, it was Rome’s turn to become the world’s largest city for close to 500 years. Of course, Rome itself would fall by 476 A.D. for a variety of reasons.
And so the title of the world’s largest city would transfer again, this time to Constantinople across the Mediterranean.
The World’s Largest Cities Throughout History
In the grand scheme of history, things change quite fast. One cataclysmic choice or event can turn even the greatest empire into a heap of rubble. Sometimes the decline of a world-class city is more gradual – and it is over time that it loses its title to another place in a far and distant land.
The following animated map from KPMG Demographics tracks the world’s largest cities from 4,000 BC to today, and it shows how temporary a city’s rise to prominence can be.
(Keep in mind that there is some disagreement by historians over which cities were the biggest in certain time periods.)
The power of industrialization and technology can be seen here. Up until the 1800s, it was almost unfathomable to have a city of more than a million inhabitants.
Sanitation was a major limiting factor, but other issues like transportation and a lack of density also made it a challenge. The Industrial Revolution changed that, and starting in the 1800s you see cities like London, New York, and Tokyo taking the title in an exponential fashion. It caps off with Delhi in 2050, expected to have a whopping 40 million inhabitants by that time.
However, it’s worth seeing this urban growth through a different lens. Instead of looking at the biggest cities overall, the below map from Max Galka’s Metrocosm blog looks at the founding of major cities to show the progress of urbanization from 3700 B.C. until today.
You can use the sliding bar to adjust the date. The real fireworks begin in the year 1200, with an explosion in cities between 1800 and today.
Here’s one final look at cities and their modern populations, this time an interactive 3d globe also from Metrocosm:
This gives an idea of where the largest concentrations of people live today. The globe also puts into perspective a small subsection of Asia, which holds more of the world’s population within a small circle than outside of it.
Hunger Pandemic: The COVID-19 Effect on Global Food Insecurity
Over 135 million people face acute food insecurity worldwide—but COVID-19 could almost double these numbers. Which regions could be most affected?
How COVID-19 Could Worsen Global Food Insecurity
While COVID-19 is dominating headlines, another kind of emergency is threatening the lives of millions of people around the world—food insecurity.
The two are very much intertwined, however. By the end of 2020, authorities estimate that upwards of 265 million people could be on the brink of starvation globally, almost double the current rate of crisis-level food insecurity.
Today’s visualizations use data from the fourth annual Global Report on Food Crises (GRFC 2020) to demonstrate the growing scale of the current situation, as well as its intense concentration in just 55 countries around the globe.
The report looks at the prevalence of acute food insecurity, which has severe impacts on lives, livelihoods, or both. How does the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) classify the different phases of acute food insecurity?
- Phase 1: Minimal/None
- Phase 2: Stressed
- Phase 3: Crisis
- Phase 4: Emergency
- Phase 5: Catastrophe/Famine
According to the IPC, urgent action must be taken to mitigate these effects from Phase 3 onwards. Already, 135 million people experience critical food insecurity (Phase 3 or higher). Here’s how that breaks down by country:
|Country/ Territory||Total Population Analyzed (Millions)||Population in Crisis (Phase 3+, Millions)||Share of Analyzed Population in Crisis|
(24 communes in 3 provinces)
(Cox's Bazar and host populations)
|Central African Republic¹|
|Democratic Republic of the Congo¹|
(selected areas in 6 regions)
(Arid and Semi-Arid Lands)
(Southern, south-eastern and eastern areas)
(16 states and Federal Capital Territory)
(Balochistan and Sindh drought-affected areas)
(excluding West Darfur)
|Syrian Arab Republic||18.3||6.6||36%|
(Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts, and IDP)
|United Republic of Tanzania¹|
|Total populations||825.1 million||134.99 million|
Source: GRFC 2020, Table 5 – Peak numbers of acutely food-insecure people in countries with food crises, 2019
¹ Include populations classified in Emergency (IPC/CH Phase 4)
² Include populations classified in Emergency (IPC/CH Phase 4) and in Catastrophe (IPC/CH Phase 5)
While starvation is a pressing global issue even at the best of times, the ongoing impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is projected to almost double these numbers by an additional 130 million people—a total of 265 million by the end of 2020.
To put that into perspective, that’s roughly equal to the population of every city and town in the United States combined.
A Continent in Crisis
Food insecurity impacts populations around the world, but Africa faces bigger hurdles than any other continent. The below map provides a deeper dive:
Over half of populations analyzed by the report – 73 million people – are found in Sub-Saharan Africa. Main drivers of acute food insecurity found all over the continent include:
Examples: Interstate conflicts, internal violence, regional/global instability, or political crises.
In many instances, these result in people being displaced as refugees.
- Weather extremes
Examples: Droughts and floods
- Economic shocks
Macroeconomic examples: Hyperinflation and currency depreciation
Microeconomic examples: Rising food prices, reduced purchasing power
Examples: Desert locusts, armyworms
- Health shocks
Examples: Disease outbreaks, which can be worsened by poor quality of water, sanitation, or air
A major side-effect of conflict, food insecurity, and weather shocks.
One severely impacted country is the Democratic Republic of Congo, where over 15 million people are experiencing acute food insecurity. DRC’s eastern region is experiencing intense armed conflict, and as of March 2020, the country is also at high risk of Ebola re-emergence.
Meanwhile, in Eastern Africa, a new generation of locusts has descended on croplands, wiping out vital food supplies for millions of people. Weather conditions have pushed this growing swarm of trillions of locusts into countries that aren’t normally accustomed to dealing with the pest. Swarms have the potential to grow exponentially in just a few months, so this could continue to cause big problems in the region in 2020.
Insecurity in Middle East and Asia
In the Middle East, 43 million more people are dealing with similar challenges. Yemen is the most food-insecure country in the world, with 15.9 million (53% of its analyzed population) in crisis. It’s also the only area where food insecurity is at a Catastrophe (IPC/CH Phase 5) level, a result of almost three years of civil war.
Another troubled spot in the Middle East is Afghanistan, where 11.3 million people find themselves in a critical state of acute food insecurity. Over 138,000 refugees returned to the country from Iran and Pakistan between January-March 2020, putting a strain on food resources.
Over half (51%) of the analyzed population of Pakistan also faces acute food insecurity, the highest in all of Asia. These numbers have been worsened by extreme weather conditions such as below-average monsoon rains.
An Incomplete Analysis
As COVID-19 deteriorates economic conditions, it could also result in funding cuts to major humanitarian organizations. Upwards of 300,000 people could die every day if this happens, according to the World Food Program’s executive director.
The GRFC report also warns that these projections are still inadequate, due to major data gaps and ongoing challenges. 16 countries, such as Iran or the Philippines have not been included in the analysis due to insufficient data available.
More work needs to be done to understand the true severity of global food insecurity, but what is clear is that an ongoing pandemic will not do these regions any favors. By the time the dust settles, the food insecurity problem could be compounded significantly.
Visualizing the Footprint of Highways in American Cities
Highways improved mobility for the average American, ingraining the automobile into the urban fabric of American cities, for better and worse.
Visualizing the Footprint of Highways in American Cities
Driving on the open road is a defining feature of the American experience, made possible by coast-to-coast highways. It defined a generation of life and ingrained the automobile into the urban fabric of American cities, for better and worse.
Today’s animations show how highways reshaped the downtown cores of six American cities and created new patterns of urban life. But first, some background information on the creation of the interstate system.
The Interstate Highway System
The U.S. Interstate System was created on June 29, 1956, when Dwight Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act. It would eventually run 46,876 miles, cost $521 billion and take 36 years to complete.
From San Diego to Bangor, the interstate highway system connected Americans and opened up the country to commerce and geographic mobility like never before, but for all its benefits, this new transportation network ripped through established patterns of urban and town life, creating a new era of urban development.
The Legacy of Highways: The Suburbs and Inner Cities
The vast geography of continental America helped to entrench personal mobility and freedom into American society. Highways and automobiles accelerated this lifestyle and even changed the shape of entire cities.
According to Prof. Nathaniel Baum-Snow of the University of Toronto, between 1950 and 1990, the population of central cities in the U.S. declined by 17% despite a population growth of 72% in larger metropolitan areas during the same period. Baum-Snow posits that, had the interstate highway system not been built, central cities’ populations would have increased 8%.
Firms followed the workers to the suburbs, but the highways system also created additional benefits for these firms. Cross-country road access freed manufacturing from ports and downtown rail hubs, while allowing economies to operate across larger distances, altering the dynamics of typical urban economies.
Faced with this new reality, inner cities struggled in years to come.
The introduction of highways created an increase in the supply of land for development through faster commutes to outlying areas. In 1950, half of all jobs were located in central cities. By 1990, less than one-third of urban jobs were located in the core of American cities.
“Not TV or illegal drugs but the automobile has been the chief destroyer of American communities.” Jane Jacobs, Author The Death and Life of Great American Cities
Benefits of new development accrued to the outer areas while the construction of the highways in inner cities displaced largely low-income communities, segregated neighborhoods, increased the amount of air and noise pollution, devalued surrounding properties, and removed access to jobs for those without a car, further concentrating poverty.
Before and After: Six American Cities
A bird’s eye view of six American cities reveals what was and what is now. By overlaying existing highways over the neighborhoods they replaced, it becomes clear how much interstate construction drastically altered America’s urban landscape.
Public opposition to the construction of I-980 was so strong that developers abandoned the project in 1971, only to complete it over a decade later.
The I-95 carved through Miami’s largely black Overtown neighborhood. The construction of a single highway cloverleaf resulted in 20 square blocks being demolished, displacing over 10,000 people in that community.
The I-95 comprised unconnected segments between 1957 and 1965 through the densest urban areas in a deliberate effort to prevent premature suburbanization and to revitalize the downtown core.
The I-71 cuts downtown Cincinnati off from its waterfront and a massive freeway interchange forced the destruction of dozens of blocks west of downtown.
Freeway construction transformed Detroit between 1951 and 2010. Previously, its downtown had been surrounded by a high-density street grid. Today, it’s totally encircled by freeways.
Rochester is one of many cities opting to undertake freeway removal projects.
As the dotted line above shows, the “moat” surrounding downtown is slowly being removed. The city used reclaimed land from the Inner Loop freeway to construct three mixed-use developments that include below-market-rate units.
The Future of Urban Living: Do Highways Matter?
A new era of living is reconsidering the impacts of these highways on urban centers. As property values rise and existing housing stock is pressured, there are growing concerns over the environmental impacts of suburban life. As a result, urban planners and residents are looking to revitalize city cores and re-purpose land occupied by burdensome slabs of highway concrete.
Since 1987, there have been more than 20 urban highway segments removed from downtown cores, neighborhoods and waterfronts, mostly in North America. The pace of removals has picked up significantly and an additional 10 highways are now planned for removal in the United States.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, American cities have seen their traffic plummet. Rush-hour trips into cities are taking nearly half the time while some are not even commuting at all.
While this situation is likely temporary, it is offering a moment for reflection of how cities operate and whether the car should be at the center of urban planning.
*Hat tip to Shane Hampton, whose 60 Years of Urban Change compilation served as inspiration for this article. Visit that page for many more examples of highway impact on cities.
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