Animation: The Most Populous Cities, Over 500 Years
What do Beijing, Tokyo, Istanbul, London, and New York City all have in common?
Not only are they all world-class cities that still serve as global hubs of commerce, but these cities also share a relatively rare and important historical designation.
At specific points in history, each of these cities outranked all others on the planet in terms of population, granting them the exclusive title as the single most populated city globally.
Ranking the World’s Most Populous Cities
Today’s animation comes to us from John Burn-Murdoch with the Financial Times, and it visualizes cities ranked by population in a bar chart race over the course of a 500-year timeframe.
Beijing starts in the lead in the year 1500, with a population of 672,000:
|Rank||City||Population in Year 1500|
In the 16th century, which is where the animation starts, cities in China and India were dominant in terms of population.
In China, the cities of Beijing, Hangzhou, Guangzhou, and Nanjing all made the top 10 list, while India itself held two of the most populous cities at the time, Vijayanagar and Gauda.
If the latter two names sound unfamiliar, that’s because they were key historical locations in the Vijayanagara and Bengal Empires respectively, but neither are the sites of modern-day cities.
The 1 Million Mark
For the first minute of animation—and up until the late 18th century—not a single city was able to eclipse the 1 million person mark.
However, thanks to the Industrial Revolution, the floodgates opened up. With more efficient agricultural practices, better sanitation, and other technological improvements, cities were able to support bigger populations.
Here’s a look at the biggest cities in the year 1895:
|Rank||City||Population in Year 1895|
|#2||🇺🇸 New York||3,712,000|
|#6||🇷🇺 St. Petersburg||1,286,000|
In the span of roughly a century, all of the world’s biggest cities were able to pass the 1 million mark, making it no longer a particularly exclusive milestone.
Modern City Populations
Finally, let’s look at the modern list of the top 10 most populous cities, and see how it compares to rankings from previous years:
|Rank||City||Population in Year 2018|
|#6||🇧🇷 Sao Paulo||21,698,000|
|#7||🇲🇽 Mexico City||21,520,000|
|#10||🇺🇸 New York City||18,713,000|
Interestingly, the modern list appears to be a blend of both previous rankings from the years 1500 and 1895, listed above.
In 2018, cities from China and India feature prominently, but New York City and Tokyo are also included. Meanwhile, Latin America has entered the fold with entries from Mexico and Brazil.
The Future of Megacities
If you think the modern list of the most populous cities is impressive, check out how the world’s megacities are expected to develop as we move towards the end of the 21st century.
Mapped: The World’s Top 10 Cities in 2035
Cities are heavy hitters in the global economy. Where will the top 10 cities be in 2035—based on GDP, population, and annual growth?
Mapped: Where Will The Top 10 Cities Be in 2035?
Cities are the engines of the modern economy. Over half of the world now lives in urban areas, and urbanization continues to shape the trajectory of global growth in unprecedented ways.
However, the most important cities of today may be quite different than those leading the charge in the future. This week’s chart looks forward to 2035, using a report by Oxford Economics to forecast the top 10 cities by measures of economic size, population, and GDP growth rate.
Each map is categorized by one of these metrics—and depending on which one you look at, the leaders vary greatly.
Top 10 Cities by Projected GDP
The top 10 cities by gross domestic product (GDP) in 2035 will be fairly widespread. Three cities are expected to be in the U.S.—New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. The Big Apple’s forecasted $2.5 trillion GDP likely stems from its strong banking and finance sectors.
|#1||New York||🇺🇸 United States||$2.5T|
|#3||Los Angeles||🇺🇸 United States||$1.5T|
|#4||London||🇬🇧 United Kingdom||$1.3T|
|#8||Chicago||🇺🇸 United States||$1.0T|
Four cities will be found in China, while London, Paris, and Tokyo are set to round out the last three. Interestingly, Tokyo is the #1 city today, with an estimated $1.6 trillion GDP in 2019.
Altogether, these top 10 cities will contribute an impressive $13.5 trillion in GDP by 2035. Clusters of such metropolitan areas are typically considered megaregions—which account for a large share of global economic activity.
Top 10 Cities by Future Population
Next, it’s clear that top cities by population will follow a distinct global distribution. By 2035, the most highly-populated cities will shift towards the East, with seven cities located in Asia.
|#1||Jakarta||🇮🇩 Indonesia||38 million|
|#2||Tokyo||🇯🇵 Japan||37.8 million|
|#3||Chongqing||🇨🇳 China||32.2 million|
|#4||Dhaka||🇧🇩 Bangladesh||31.2 million|
|#5||Shanghai||🇨🇳 China||25.3 million|
|#6||Karachi||🇵🇰 Pakistan||24.8 million|
|#7||Kinshasa||🇨🇩 DR Congo||24.7 million|
|#8||Lagos||🇳🇬 Nigeria||24.2 million|
|#9||Mexico City||🇲🇽 Mexico||23.5 million|
|#10||Mumbai||🇮🇳 India||23.1 million|
While Jakarta’s 38 million-strong population is expected to emerge in first place, the city may not retain its status as Indonesia’s capital for much longer. Rising sea levels and poor water infrastructure management mean that Jakarta is rapidly sinking—and the government now plans to pivot the capital to Borneo island.
On the African continent, Kinshasa and Lagos are already among the world’s largest megacities (home to over 10 million people), and will hold top spots by the turn of the century.
Population and demographics can be major assets to a country’s growth. For example, India’s burgeoning working-age demographics will present a unique advantage—and the country is projected to contain several of the fastest growing cities in the coming years.
Top 10 Cities By Estimated Annual GDP Growth
When comparing cities based on their pace of economic growth, there are some clear standouts. Average annual GDP growth across cities is 2.6%, but the top 10 surpass this by a fair amount.
The kicker? All of 2035’s major players will be found in Asia: four of the fastest-growing cities will be in mainland China, another four in India, and the last two in Southeast Asia.
At #1 by 2035 is Bangalore with an expected 8.5% annual growth forecast—its high-quality talent pool makes the city a breeding ground for tech startups. Jakarta makes another appearance, with its projected 5.2% growth at double the city average.
Shanghai finds its way onto all three lists. The commercial capital hosts the world’s busiest port, and one of China’s two major stock exchanges. These sectors could help boost Shanghai’s annual GDP growth to 5% in 2035.
Looking to the Future
Of course, any number of variables could impact these 2035 projections, from financial recessions and political uncertainty, to rapid urbanization and technological advances.
But one thing’s certain—in the coming decades, cities are where many of these factors will converge and play out.
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.
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.
|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:
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 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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