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A 3D Look at Shifting Urban Populations

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Cities are constantly evolving, and urban populations respond to a number of push–pull factors, including economic opportunity, lifestyle trends, land values, and natural disasters.

Beyond the headlines and raw census numbers, it can be difficult to take population patterns into perspective. The talented team over at The Pudding has created an amazing, granular map that shows these patterns as 3D stacks.

Our focus today will be on growth between 1990 and 2015, as urban settlement patterns across Canada and the U.S. shifted dramatically over this relatively short timeframe. Let’s take a look.

Growing Cities

One of the most dramatic examples of robust growth is Toronto.

Canada’s largest city nearly doubled its population since 1990, and growth was distributed throughout the region. This city is a rare example of both extra-urban and downtown residential growth.

toronto map high growth

vancouver seattle high growth map

Vancouver is another Canadian city with a swelling urban population base. The city’s recent population growth has been heavily concentrated along transit lines and the downtown core, resulting in a “spiky” visualization which resembles the condo towers now dotting the city’s skyline.

Nearby, Seattle has added over a million people to its population since 1990. With one of the strongest economies in the country, it’s unlikely that momentum will slow any time soon.

Growing Suburbs

Only recently have some cities begun to see urban residential construction. For much of the ’90s and ’00s, America’s growth was in peripheral suburbs, where land was plentiful and cheap.

dallas fort worth growth map
atlanta population map

This sprawl effect is particularly easy to spot in the Texas Triangle – which encompasses the cities of San Antonio, Austin, Dallas–Fort Worth, and Houston – and Atlanta.

los angeles orange county growth

While Los Angeles did see a modest amount of growth over the past 25 years, it was the Inland Empire – anchored by San Bernardino and Riverside – that saw the most dramatic population growth in the region. The construction boom is only intensifying. The region added 50,000 new residents between 2016 and 2017.

Boomtowns

fort mac gillette map growth

In general, smaller towns either lost population or remained relatively static. The exception is in places where resource extraction caused a growth spurt. Two prime examples are in Gillette, Wyoming, and Fort McMurray, Alberta. In the latter town, oil sands extraction added tens of thousands of new residents in a short amount of time.

Mixed growth and Static Cities

Chicago experienced one of the most striking growth patterns over the past 25 years. The contrast between urban decline and growth in the exurbs is clearly revealed in this visualization.

chicago mixed growth map

Contrast is also clear when looking at divergent patterns of Washington D.C. and Baltimore. The nation’s capital and surrounding areas have been growing steadily in recent years, whereas the neighboring city’s population is declining towards a 100-year low.

washington dc growth baltimore decline

Static Cities

While a number of urban areas experienced dramatic shifts in the last couple of decades, some cities sidestepped wild population swings. For example, much of Philadelphia’s population pattern remains similar to what it was in 1990.

philly static population map
scranton springfield static population

Scranton, Pennsylvania, and Springfield, Massachusetts, are examples of smaller cities that remained in stasis.

Decline and Disaster

A number of cities in America’s “Rust Belt” experienced declining populations. The visualizations of cities like Cleveland and Detroit show just how pronounced the exodus was.

cleveland population decline map
Detroit population decline map

The shrinking tax base and glut of vacant homes is causing a number of problems in the two cities, and with mixed economic prospects, it’s unclear what the next 25 years will bring in terms of population changes.

Often, population declines are the result of economic reasons such as a decline in manufacturing or general stagnation. On occasion though, the raw power of nature changes the course of a city’s history. This is the case in New Orleans, were Hurricane Katrina’s legacy is clearly seen in this visualization.

new orleans population map

New Orleans did recover in the years after the hurricane. However, as of 2015, the city was still far below its pre-Katrina population. Resettlement has been patchy as well, which is reflected in the towering red peaks of the population map.

To explore your city or other parts of the world, visit The Pudding’s interactive map.

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Cities

Form and Function: Visualizing the Shape of Cities and Economies

Economies create distinct spatial patterns. This week’s chart visualizes the relationships businesses and industry imprint on the urban environment.

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Visualizing the Shape of Cities and Economies

The Industrial Revolution changed the form and function of cities. New patterns of work resulted in massive wealth and distinct advantages for certain regions. Urbanization emerged as a defining characteristic of this age.

During the latter part of the Industrial Revolution, Cambridge School economist Alfred Marshall looked at a particular question: why did certain industries concentrate in specific places?

Marshall argued that the local concentration of industry created powerful economies promoting technical dynamism and innovation.

This Chart of the Week highlights the spatial patterns and business relationships created at the urban scale. Marshall’s insights from the past help us understand present-day tech and media economies and the massive growth of urban regions.

The Logic of Concentration

Marshall observed that industrial concentration led to long-term tendencies such as increasing returns on capital and compounding regional advantages.

The heart of this observation is that knowledge resides within the companies that make up a particular industry. Over time, these companies can accumulate even more information and direct the flow of new and innovative ideas. This creates local specialization and increasing profits, while also concentrating success, knowledge, and wealth into one key locale.

He defined this pattern as a Marshallian Industrial District.

An Evolving Landscape: Four Patterns

Marshall’s work would later influence the work of Ann Markusen, who created a typology of three additional industrial patterns. The patterns identify what makes a city attractive or repellent to income-generating activities.

District Type: Description: Example:
Marshallian Industrial District This is a clustering of firms in a similar industry, operating within a certain geographic area. Social media marketing companies in San Francisco
Satellite Platform District A set of unconnected branches with links beyond regional boundaries, each part of its own globally oriented supply chain. Suburban neighborhoods
Hub and Spoke District An industrial sector with suppliers clustering around one, or several, dominant firms. Airplane manufacturer Boeing and the region of Seattle.
State-anchored District Industrial activities are anchored to a region by a public or non-profit entity, such as a military base, a university, or a concentration of public laboratories or government offices. Madison, WI and Columbus, OH are examples of university towns, as are many cities with large defense installations such as Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.


There are both benefits and problems—called “externalities”—associated with the spatial agglomeration of physical capital, companies, consumers, and workers:

Advantages Disadvantages
  • Low transport costs
  • A great local market
  • A large supply of labor
  • Increased chance of supply and demand for labor
  • Lower search costs and fast matching of products and labor
  • Knowledge spillovers between firms
  • Strong environmental pressures
  • High land prices
  • Bottlenecks in public goods (e.g. poor/overburdened infrastructure)
  • Corruption
  • High competitive pressure
  • Economic inequality

Clusters for a Digital Age

In the past, the physical constraints of an area defined the structure of cities. Now that so many companies are free from the shackles of producing physical goods, does geography still matter?

Researcher Marlen Komorowski re-examined the concept of clustering with this question in mind. Here are five types of media clusters identified in her research.

The Shape of Media Clusters

District Type: Description: Example:
The Creative Region A metropolitan region that provides advantages due to readily available infrastructures and institutions, and encourages the development of face-to-face interaction and collaboration networks. Berlin, Singapore, Amsterdam
The Giant Anchor A location defined by the activities of one or several large media institutions, which attract complementary firms to agglomerate. Similar to the hub-and-spoke cluster model. Seattle, (Microsoft, Amazon), and Cambridge (Harvard, MIT)
The Specialized Area A media cluster that is located either in a neighborhood within a big metropolitan area or in a small urbanized area. The Specialized Area is marked by a readily available, large pool of employees from a specialized field. Soho (London), Silicon Valley
The Attracting Enabler Determined by the location of certain facilities or resources that can be shared that enable media activities. Movie studios are a prime example. Los Angeles, Vancouver
The Real Estate This type of cluster is centered around office space, sometimes purpose-built for media and creative companies. This space can also include incubators / accelerators. Dubai Media City, Dublin’s Digital Hub


Four rationales drive these patterns: agglomeration, urbanization, localization economies. and artificial formation.

The Shadow of the Industrial Revolution

Alfred Marshall made the argument that local concentration of industry can offer powerful economies and technical dynamism and innovation.

We now see this pattern with the emergence of megacities that accrue the majority of the financial and knowledge returns. These megaregions set the perfect stage for dynamic economic exchanges between skilled labor, technology, and networks.

What does your city look like?

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Ranked: The Megaregions Driving the Global Economy

Today’s stunning map ranks the world’s most powerful megaregions — together, they contribute a whopping $28 trillion to the global economy.

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Ranked: The Megaregions Driving the Global Economy

If you’ve ever flown cross-country in a window seat, chances are, the bright lights at night have caught your eye. From above, the world tells its own story—as concentrated pockets of bright light keep the world’s economy thriving.

Today’s visualization relies on data compiled by CityLab researchers to identify the world’s largest megaregions. The team defines megaregions as:

  • Areas of continuous light, based on the latest night satellite imagery
  • Capturing metro areas or networks of metro areas, with a combined population of 5 million or higher
  • Generating economic output (GDP) of over $300 billion, on a PPP basis

The satellite imagery comes from the NOAA, while the base data for economic output is calculated from Oxford Economics via Brookings’ Global Metro Monitor 2018.

It’s worth pointing out that each megaregion may not be connected by specific trade relationships. Rather, satellite data highlights the proximity between these rough but useful regional estimates contributing to the global economy—and supercities are at the heart of it.

From Megalopolis to Megaregion

Throughout history, academics have described vast, interlinked urban regions as a ‘megalopolis’, or ‘megapolis’. Economic geographer Jean Gottman popularized the Greek term, referring to the booming and unprecedented urbanization in Bos-Wash—the northeast stretch from Boston and New York down to Washington, D.C.:

This region has indeed a “personality” of its own […] Every city in this region spreads out far and wide around its original nucleus.

Gottmann, Megalopolis (1961)

By looking at adjacent metropolitan areas rather than country-level data, it can help provide an entirely new perspective on the global distribution of economic activity.

Where in the world are the most powerful urban economic clusters today?

The Largest Megaregions Today

The world’s economy is a sum of its parts. Each megaregion contributes significantly to the global growth engine, but arguably, certain areas pull more weight than others.

MegaregionCitiesRegionPopulationEconomic Output (EO)EO per Capita
Total602.2M$28,135B$46,720
1. Bos-WashNew York, Washington, D.C., BostonNorth America 47.6M$3,650B$76,681
2. Par-Am-MunParis, Amsterdam, Brussels, MunichEurope43.5M$2,505B$57,586
3. Chi-PittsChicago, Detroit, Cleveland, PittsburghNorth America32.9M$2,130B$64,742
4. Greater TokyoTokyoAsia39.1M$1,800B$46,036
5. SoCalLos Angeles, San DiegoNorth America22M$1,424B$64,727
6. Seoul-SanSeoul, BusanAsia35.5M$1,325B$37,324
7. Texas TriangleDallas, Houston, San Antonio, AustinNorth America18.4M$1,227B$66,685
8. BeijingBeijing, TianjinAsia37.4M$1,226B$32,781
9. Lon-Leed-ChesterLondon, Leeds, ManchesterEurope22.6M$1,177B$52,080
10. Hong-ShenHong Kong, ShenzhenAsia19.5M$1,043B$53,487
11. NorCalSan Francisco, San JoseNorth America 10.8M$925B$85,648
12. ShanghaiShanghai, HangzhouAsia 24.2M$892B$36,860
13. TaipeiTaipeiAsia16.7M$827B$49,521
14. São PaoloSão PaoloSouth America33.5M$780B$23,284
15. Char-LantaCharlotte, AtlantaNorth America 10.5M$656B$62,476
16. CascadiaSeattle, PortlandNorth America8.8M$627B$71,250
17. Ista-BursIstanbul, BursaMENA14.8M$626B$42,297
18. Vienna-BudapestVienna, BudapestEurope12.8M$555B$43,359
19. Mexico CityMexico CityNorth America24.5M$524B$21,388
20. Rome-Mil-TurRome, Milan, TurinEurope13.8M$513B$37,174
21. Singa-LumpurSingapore, Kuala LumpurAsia12.7M$493B$38,819
22. Cairo-AvivCairo, Tel AvivMENA19.8M$472B$23,838
23. So-FloMiami, TampaNorth America 9.1M$470B$51,648
24. Abu-DubaiAbu Dhabi, DubaiMENA5M$431B$86,200
25. Osaka-Nagoya (tied)Osaka, NagoyaAsia9.1M$424B$46,593
25. Tor-Buff-Chester (tied)Toronto, Buffalo, RochesterNorth America8.5M$424B$49,882
27. Delhi-LahoreNew Delhi, LahoreAsia27.9M$417B$14,946
28. Barcelona-LyonBarcelona, LyonEurope7M$323B$46,143
29. ShandongJinan, Zibo, DongyingAsia14.2M$249B$17,535

Altogether, these powerhouses bring in over $28 trillion in economic output.

Unsurprisingly, Bos-Wash reigns supreme even today, with $3.6 trillion in economic output, over 13% of the total. The corridor hosts some of the highest-paying sectors: information technology, finance, and professional services.

The largest city in Brazil, São Paulo, is the only city in the Southern Hemisphere to make the list. The city was once heavily reliant on manufacturing and trade, but the $780 billion city economy is now embracing its role as a nascent financial hub.

On the other side of the world, the cluster of Asian megaregions combines for $8.7 trillion in total economic output. Of these, Greater Tokyo in Japan is the largest, while Shandong might be a name that fewer people are familiar with. Sandwiched between Beijing and Shanghai, the coastal province houses multiple high-tech industrial and export processing zones.

The data is even more interesting when broken down into economic output per capita—Abu-Dubai churns out an impressive $86,200 per person. Meanwhile, Delhi-Lahore is lowest on the per-capita list, at $14,946 per person across nearly 28 million people.

Where To Next?

This trend shows no sign of slowing down, as megacities are on the rise in the coming decade. Eventually, more Indian and African megaregions will make its way onto this list, led by cities like Lagos and Chennai.

Stay tuned to Visual Capitalist for a North America-specific outlook coming soon, and a deep dive into the biggest factors contributing to the growth of these megaregions.

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