Mapped: The Anatomy of Land Use in America
The United States is not just an economic and political giant on the global stage—the country also has one of the largest land masses at its disposal.
Altogether, the country spans 3.8 million square miles (9.8 million km²)—making it the third largest country in the world. Even without factoring Alaska and Hawaii into the calculations, the contiguous U.S. land mass can fit up to 30 European countries within it.
With this much ground to work with, it raises the natural question of how land actually gets used by America’s economy. For example, what percentage of land is taken up by urban areas, and how much farmland and forests exist in comparison?
Today’s maps from the McHarg Center put America’s wide variety of land uses into perspective.
The Components of U.S. Land Use
As the U.S. prepares to add 100 million more people this century, the “2100 Project: An Atlas for the Green New Deal” provides a snapshot of U.S. land use (as of 2017), aimed at managing resources to support this future.
According to this data, here is a snapshot of land use in the Lower 48 States:
|Land type||Land use (%)||Land area|
|Grasslands and Pasture||17%||530,400 mi²|
|Open Space||3%||93,600 mi²|
|Urban Areas||2%||63,400 mi²|
Let’s dive into the specifics of three types of land: urban areas, forests, and agriculture.
Editor’s note: click on any map below to see a large, high-resolution version, which will open in a new window.
Small But Mighty: U.S. Urban Areas
It’s clear that even a little space goes a long way. Although urban areas take up only 2% of land, an overwhelming majority of Americans call cities their home. As of 2018, urbanites made up over 82% of the U.S. population.
Where people go, productivity often follows. In 2018, it’s estimated that 31 county economies made up a whopping 32% of national GDP. Most of these counties were located in and around major cities, such as Los Angeles or New York.
Although urban areas are a small part of the overall land they’re built on, they’re integral to the nation’s continued growth. According to research by the McKinsey Global Institute, it’s estimated that by 2030, 60% of job growth could come from just 25 hubs.
Seeing Green: America’s Vast Forests
On the flipside, forests account for over a quarter of land in the U.S., divided almost evenly between deciduous and evergreen trees. Many protected national and state parks can also be found in and around forests.
On the mainland, California and Oregon are the states with the most forested land—unfortunately, they have also been plagued by wildfires in recent, dry summer months.
Wetlands are also included in the map above, particularly around the southern tip of Florida, where Everglades National Park is located. Over the years, many wetlands were drained to make way for agriculture, particularly in the Great Lakes megaregion. As a result, it’s estimated that their area today is only half of what they once used to be.
Home Grown: Agriculture in the U.S.
Last but not least, the final set of maps show where America grows its food. Agricultural, food, and related industries contributed $1.05 trillion (5.4%) to U.S. GDP in 2017.
Wheat, corn, and soybeans are the major crops grown in the U.S.—and cotton also makes the cut as a profitable non-food crop. Much of these crops feed not only Americans, but other parts of the world too. Soybeans, corn, and wheat are exported across the Pacific mainly to China and Japan.
Corn, in particular, is a unique crop with a myriad of uses, from food to fuels. Up to 40% of U.S. corn is turned into livestock feed, with cows consuming over half (56%) of this amount.
Although fewer American consumers are opting for meat in their diets, production has remained at high rates. Further, as incomes continues to increase worldwide, the global appetite for meat is set to rise along with it.
Future Land Use
The U.S. population is set to grow by 100 million more people over the coming decades, raising the pressure on limited U.S. land and natural resources. This pressure will be felt everywhere, from dense urban land to agricultural farmland.
How the land gets utilized will shape the country’s future for years to come.
Visualizing the Global Coffee Trade by Country
Which countries export, and import, the most coffee? This visual highlights the global coffee trade by export flows in 2019.
Visualizing the Global Coffee Trade by Country
From drip coffees to decadent lattes, every cup of coffee begins its journey from the humble coffee bean. A massive global coffee trade moves these beans from farms in one country to cafes in another.
In this piece, Airi Ryu uses data from Chatham House’s resourcetrade.earth to track the global trade of unroasted and non-decaffeinated coffee beans in 2019, highlighting the world’s top coffee exporters and importers.
The Biggest Exporters in the Global Coffee Trade
Close to 84% of the world’s coffee bean exports come from just 10 countries.
All these countries are found in the “Bean Belt” between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn where coffee grows best. These top coffee-producing nations include Brazil, Vietnam, and Colombia.
Here are the top coffee exporting nations in 2019:
|Rank||Country||Coffee Exports (Tonnes)||Share of Total|
|n/a||🌍 Others (re-export)||0.40M||5.2%|
The South American nations of Brazil, Colombia, and Peru export nearly 42% of the global coffee beans. Brazil exported over 2.2 million tonnes in 2019 alone, more than a quarter of the global coffee trade.
Across the Pacific, Vietnam and Indonesia together exported 23.4% of the world’s coffee beans in 2019. Other major exporters include the Central American nations of Honduras and Guatemala, which combined for 8.7% of global coffee bean exports, and the African nations Uganda and Ethiopia with 6.7% combined.
Biggest Coffee Bean Importers, By Country
On the other side of the global coffee trade are nations with high demand for coffee dominating import shares. Many of these importing nations also re-export coffee beans to other parts of the world under their own local brands.
Here are the top coffee importing nations in 2019:
|Rank||Country||Coffee Imports (Tonnes)||Share of Total|
|9||🇬🇧 United Kingdom||0.18M||2.4%|
|10||🇷🇺 Russian Federation||0.18M||2.4%|
The U.S. is the largest importer of coffee beans in the world, bringing in 1.5 million tonnes of unroasted coffee beans in 2019, equivalent to 19.3% of all exports that year. While Brazil and Colombia are its biggest sources of coffee, beans imported from Asia and Central America also thrive thanks to a strong specialty coffee culture.
Europe is also a massive destination for coffee bean exports. Germany led the way with 14.2% of global coffee imports, while Italy accounted for 8.3%.
A brewing coffee culture in Japan has made the country a major player in the global coffee trade. In 2019, Japan was the fourth-largest coffee bean importer in the world and far and away the leading importer in Asia.
As the desire for coffee continues to permeate throughout the world, and as climate change puts a strain on coffee production (and vice versa), the flows of coffee beans are sure to change in the coming decades.
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