Infographic: The World's Largest Megaprojects Under Construction
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The World’s Largest Megaprojects

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Before a megaproject gets the nod to go ahead, a very unique set of circumstances must first be considered.

There is no blueprint or shortcut for building a world-changing megaproject. In fact, each one must be designed and built from the ground up, often amidst considerable amounts of red tape and criticism. Builders of megaprojects embrace the unknown, even when faced with incredible amounts of risk and massive cost overruns.

At the same time, successful megaprojects can accomplish things that have never been done before. They can be pinnacles of human achievement, and spectacles such as the International Space Station and the U.S. Interstate Highway System have already changed the world.

The World’s Largest Megaprojects

This infographic from Futurism details nine of the world’s largest megaprojects currently in construction.

They range from giant $64 billion theme parks (Dubailand) to massive canals that will take 48 years to build (South-North Water Transfer Project in China).

The World's Largest Megaprojects

Here are the nine largest megaprojects in construction right now, in order from most to least expensive:

1. International Space Station – $150 billion (as of 2010)
The most expensive single item ever built. Expansions beyond 2020 are estimated to eventually cost $1 trillion.

2. Al Maktoum International Airport – $82 billion
This airport in Dubai will be fully operational by 2018. It will be the world’s largest in terms of size and passenger volume – so big that four jets will be able to land simultaneously.

3. South-to-North Water Transfer Project – $78 billion (as of 2014)
Thought the Three Gorges Dam was massive? This other Chinese megaproject is already nearly three times as expensive – it aims to divert water from the Yangtze River using three huge canals to bring it to the north of the country.

4. California High-Speed Rail – $70 billion
Spanning 1,300 km (808 mi), this will link San Francisco to Los Angeles.

5. Dubailand – $64 billion
This mega theme park project will open in 2025 in Dubai. It will also have the world’s largest hotel (6,500 rooms), sports venues, eco-tourism, science attractions, and a giant mall.

6. London Crossrail Project – $23 billion
London is expanding its underground system, with 42 km (26 mi) of new tunnels to connect 40 stations. Everything will be complete by 2020.

7. Beijing Daxing International Airport – $13 billion
Opening in 2025, this airport megaproject will have seven runways and the largest terminal in the world. It will help ease the load on nearby Beijing Capital International Airport.

8. Jubail II – $11 billion
The second phase of development of the Jubail Industrial City in Saudi Arabia will add 100 industrial plants, an oil refinery, and one of the bigger desalination plants in the world.

9. Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge – $10.6 billion
A series of bridges and undersea tunnels to link the three major cities on the Pearl River Delta in China. Ultimately, it will be 50 km (31 mi) of links, opening sometime beyond 2021.

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Demographics

Visualizing Population Density Patterns in Six Countries

These maps show the population density of several countries, using 3D spikes to denote where more people live.

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beautifully rendered population density maps of six major countries

As of 2022, Earth has 8 billion humans. By 2050, the population is projected to grow to 10 billion.

In the last 100 years, the global population more than quadrupled. But none of this growth has been evenly spread out, including within countries.

This series of 3D maps from Terence Teo, an associate professor at Seton Hall University, renders the population density of six countries using open-source data from Kontur Population. He used popular programming language R and a path-tracing package, Rayshader, to create the maps.

France and Germany: Population Density Spikes and Troughs

Let’s take a look at how the population spreads out in different countries around the world. Click the images to explore higher-resolution versions.

This image shows a map of France and its population spread.

France is the world’s 7th largest economy and second-most-populous country in the EU with 65 million people. But a staggering one-fifth of the French population lives in Paris and its surrounding metro—the most populous urban area in Europe.

Many residents in the Paris metropolitan area are employed in the service sector, which makes up one-third of France’s $2.78 trillion gross domestic product.

This image shows a map of Germany and its population spread.

Unlike France, Germany has many dense cities and regions, with Berlin, Munich, Stuttgart, and Cologne all having over a million residents. Berlin is the most populated at 3.5 million residents in the city proper, and 6 million in the wider urban area.

That said, the relatively recent reunification of West and East Germany in 1991 meant that post-WWII growth was mostly concentrated in West Germany (and West Berlin).

Italy and Chile: Coast to Coast

In Italy, another phenomenon affects population density and urban development—a sprawling coastline.

This image shows a map of Italy and its population spread.

Despite having a large population of 59 million and large metropolitan areas throughout, Italy’s population spikes are closer to the water.

The port cities of Genoa, Napoli, and Palermo all have large spikes relative to the rest of the country, as does the capital, Rome. Despite its city center located 15 miles inland from the sea, it extends to the shore through the district of Ostia, where the ancient port of Rome existed.

This image shows a map of Chile and its population spread.

Meanwhile in Chile, stuck between the Andes to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west, population spikes corroborate with its many port towns and cities.

However, the country is more concentrated than Italy, with 40% of its residents congregating around the capital of Santiago.

Turkey and Canada: Marred by Mountains and Climes

Though Chile has difficulties with terrain, it is relatively consistent. Other countries have to attempt to settle many different climes—regions defined by their climates.

This image shows a map of Türkiye and its population spread.

Mountains to the south and east, a large, semi-arid plateau, and even a small desert leave few centers of urban growth in Türkiye.

Predictably, further west, as the elevation comes down to the Aegean and Mediterranean Seas, population spikes begin to heighten. The largest of course is the economic and cultural hub of Istanbul, though the capital Ankara is also prominent with more than 5 million residents.

This image shows a map of Canada and its population spread.

In Canada, the Rocky Mountains to the west and freezing cold temperatures in the center and north account for the large country’s relative emptiness.

Though population spikes in Western Canada are growing rapidly, highly populous urban centers are noticeably concentrated along the St. Lawrence River, with the Greater Toronto Area accounting for more than one-sixth of the country’s 39 million people.

Increasing Urbanization

According to the World Bank, more than half of the world’s population currently lives in cities, and that trend is only growing.

By 2050, 7 out of 10 people are projected to live in cities. This congregation makes cities a beehive of productivity and innovation—with more than 80% of the world’s GDP being generated at these population centers.

It’s in this context that mapping and studying urban development becomes all the more important, particularly as policymakers try their hand at sustainable urban planning.

As Teo puts it:

“By showing where people are (and are not), they show us where political and economic power is concentrated, and perhaps where and who our governments represent.”

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