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Ranking the World’s Most Populous Cities, Over 500 Years of History

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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:

RankCityPopulation in Year 1500
#1๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ณ Beijing672,000
#2๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ณ Vijayanagar500,000
#3๐Ÿ‡ช๐Ÿ‡ฌ Cairo400,000
#4๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ณ Hangzhou250,000
#5๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ท Tabriz250,000
#6๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ณ Gauda200,000
#7๐Ÿ‡น๐Ÿ‡ท Istanbul200,000
#8๐Ÿ‡ซ๐Ÿ‡ท Paris185,000
#9๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ณ Guangzhou150,000
#10๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ณ Nanjing147,000

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 animationโ€”and up until the late 18th centuryโ€”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:

RankCityPopulation in Year 1895
#1๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ง London5,974,000
#2๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ New York3,712,000
#3๐Ÿ‡ซ๐Ÿ‡ท Paris3,086,000
#4๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ Chicago1,420,000
#5๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ต Tokyo1,335,000
#6๐Ÿ‡ท๐Ÿ‡บ St. Petersburg1,286,000
#7๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ง Manchester1,244,000
#8๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ง Birmingham1,074,000
#9๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ณ Beijing1,055,000
#10๐Ÿ‡ท๐Ÿ‡บ Moscow1,002,000

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:

RankCityPopulation in Year 2018
#1๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ต Tokyo38,194,000
#2๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ณ Delhi27,890,000
#3๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ณ Shanghai25,779,000
#4๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ณ Beijing22,674,000
#5๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ณ Mumbai22,120,000
#6๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ท Sao Paulo21,698,000
#7๐Ÿ‡ฒ๐Ÿ‡ฝ Mexico City21,520,000
#8๐Ÿ‡ช๐Ÿ‡ฌ Cairo19,850,000
#9๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ฉ Dhaka19,633,000
#10๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ New York City18,713,000

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.

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Chart of the Week

Global Shutdown: Visualizing Commuter Activity in the World’s Cities

Amid the COVID-19 crisis, cities are dramatically slowing down. Today’s chart demonstrates the impact of lockdowns on commuter activity worldwide.

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Staying Put: The COVID-19 Commuter Decline

Every day, millions of people worldwide rely on public transport networks to get around. But in times of crisis, bustling cities with high volumes of commuter traffic can come to a dramatic halt.

Today’s chart breaks down daily data from Citymapperโ€™s Mobility Index, according to trips planned on the transport app across 41 select cities.

The results paint a unique picture of how social distancing and lockdown measures are impacting commuter and economic activity in major urban hubs.

Cities With the Biggest Drops in Activity

As the government response to the COVID-19 pandemic intensifies and people are urged to stay home, transit activity is dropping everywhere.

However, some areas are seeing more of a reduction in activity than others. Where has activity declined the most over the month?

RankCityCountry04-Mar11-Mar18-Mar25-MarTotal Change (%)
#1Vienna๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡น Austria128%92%9%6%-122%
#2Lisbon๐Ÿ‡ต๐Ÿ‡น Portugal128%108%24%12%-116%
#3Istanbul๐Ÿ‡น๐Ÿ‡ท Turkey117%103%20%10%-107%
#4Barcelona๐Ÿ‡ช๐Ÿ‡ธ Spain105%86%6%4%-101%
#5Brussels๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ช Belgium107%96%15%7%-100%
#6Sรฃo Paolo๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ท Brazil112%113%33%12%-100%
#7New York City๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ USA104%85%17%7%-97%
#8Madrid๐Ÿ‡ช๐Ÿ‡ธ Spain100%65%5%4%-96%
#9Los Angeles๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ USA108%81%23%13%-95%
#10Melbourne๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡บ Australia113%110%53%20%-93%

*Note: Data measures the % of city moving compared to 100% baseline.

Overall, Vienna and Lisbon are the cities with the biggest average drop in commuter activity over the past few weeks. This decline in mobility is correlated with a spike in the proportion of COVID-19 cases in the population:

  • Austria
    March 4: 2.6 per million
    March 25: 586 per million
  • Portugal
    March 4: 0.4 per million
    March 25: 232 per million

That said, not every city is seeing a precipitous decline in activity โ€” let’s look at those next.

Standing Still, or On Guard

Cities that saw lower decreases in commuter activity over recent weeks can generally be slotted into three categories:

  1. Cities that were already on or near shutdown (Seoul, Milan)
  2. Cities that have so far avoided major impacts from the virus (St. Petersburg)
  3. Cities that successfully mitigated spread (Singapore)

Here are the 10 cities on the list that saw the lowest changes in activity:

RankCityCountry04-Mar11-Mar18-Mar25-MarTotal Change (%)
#1Seoul ๐Ÿ‡ฐ๐Ÿ‡ท South Korea48%43%41%37%-11%
#2Hong Kong๐Ÿ‡ญ๐Ÿ‡ฐ China (SAR)50%52%48%37%-13%
#3Singapore๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ฌ Singapore90%88%79%62%-28%
#4Milan๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡น Italy43%10%5%3%-40%
#5Tokyo๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ต Japan63%54%42%21%-42%
#6St Petersburg๐Ÿ‡ท๐Ÿ‡บ Russia114%114%85%69%-45%
#7Moscow๐Ÿ‡ท๐Ÿ‡บ Russia112%113%75%54%-58%
#8Rhine-Ruhr๐Ÿ‡ฉ๐Ÿ‡ช Germany75%72%28%15%-60%
#9Stockholm๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ช Sweden97%83%34%32%-65%
#10Lyon๐Ÿ‡ซ๐Ÿ‡ท France75%97%6%4%-71%

*Note: Data measures the % of city moving compared to 100% baseline.

St. Petersburg is still seeing commuter activity at 69% of normal levels as of March 25th, as the proportion of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Russia remains low, at roughly 3.4 per million.

Milan has the lowest activity of any city at 3%, and has been in shutdown for most of the month.

Although Singaporeโ€™s total COVID-19 cases grew from 18.8 to 95.4 per million, it still has 62% commuter activity. Interestingly, Singapore is one of the few countries that has been able to properly control and manage its COVID-19 outbreak.

Biggest Weekly Declines

As the month progressed, various cities showed stark one-week declines in commuter activity based on official healthcare recommendations and growing case numbers.

After a government lockdown announced on March 9, Rome experienced the sharpest decline of -75% commuter activity in the week from March 4 to March 11. Currently, there is only 5% activity compared to usual, similar to Milan.

In the second week of March, COVID-19 cases in France jumped fourfold, from 27.3 per million to 118.4 per million people. As a result, Lyon saw a whopping -91% drop in commuter activityโ€”going from 97% on March 11 to 6% on March 18.

Over the past week, as cases in Australia reached 95 per million, Sydney and Melbourne exhibited the highest average declines at -36% and -33% in commuter activity respectively.

Full List of 41 Cities

Here’s the full list of cities, courtesy of Citymapper.

City, CountryMarch 4March 11March 18March 25Total Change (%)
Vienna, Austria128%92%9%6%-122%
Lisbon, Portugal128%108%24%12%-116%
Istanbul, Turkey117%103%20%10%-107%
Barcelona, Spain105%86%6%4%-101%
Brussels, Belgium107%96%15%7%-100%
Sรฃo Paulo, Brazil112%113%33%12%-100%
New York City, U.S.104%85%17%7%-97%
Madrid, Spain100%65%5%4%-96%
Los Angeles, U.S.108%81%23%13%-95%
Melbourne, Australia113%110%53%20%-93%
Amsterdam, Netherlands98%86%13%6%-92%
Washington DC, U.S.97%82%15%6%-91%
San Francisco, U.S.96%65%9%6%-90%
Boston, U.S.97%77%16%7%-90%
Chicago, U.S.97%92%16%7%-90%
Montrรฉal, Canada103%104%31%14%-89%
Paris, France95%89%8%6%-89%
London, UK100%91%36%12%-88%
Manchester, UK100%91%42%13%-87%
Sydney, Australia106%99%56%20%-86%
Mexico City, Mexico109%110%53%23%-86%
Rome, Italy91%16%6%5%-86%
Copenhagen, Denmark97%80%11%11%-86%
Berlin, Germany93%86%26%12%-81%
Birmingham, UK99%91%45%18%-81%
Toronto, Canada97%91%32%19%-78%
Vancouver, Canada94%89%38%16%-78%
Philadelphia, U.S.89%85%22%13%-76%
Monaco, Monaco81%50%12%7%-74%
Hamburg, Germany85%72%20%12%-73%
Seattle, U.S.80%51%19%8%-72%
Lyon, France75%97%6%4%-71%
Stockholm, Sweden97%83%34%32%-65%
Rhine-Ruhr, Germany75%72%28%15%-60%
Moscow, Russia112%113%75%54%-58%
St Petersburg, Russia114%114%85%69%-45%
Tokyo, Japan63%54%42%21%-42%
Milan, Italy43%10%5%3%-40%
Singapore, Singapore90%88%79%62%-28%
Hong Kong, Hong Kong50%52%48%37%-13%
Seoul, South Korea48%43%41%37%-11%

*Note: Data measures the % of city moving compared to 100% baseline.

The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting everything from the stock market to the environment. With cities actively working to keep populations in isolation and healthy during this time, it may take a while before commuter activity returns to normal.

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Business

Flying High: The Top Ten Airline Routes by Revenue

This visualization tracks the high-value routes that generate the most revenue for airlines โ€“ primarily links between the world’s financial centers

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Flying High: The Top 10 Airline Routes by Revenue

The airline industry is a tough business. Profit margins are narrow, airplanes are expensive to run and maintain, and government regulation and taxation can be onerous and unpredictable.

In addition, demand can stall by the outbreak of disease, recession, war, or terrorism. So when a company has a winning airline route, it makes all the difference to a company’s bottom line.

Todayโ€™s visualization uses data from OAG Aviation Worldwide, which tracked the airline routes that generated the most revenue from April 2018 to March 2019.

Top 10 Highest Revenue Routes by Airline

North American routes dominate the global rankings. However, it is the connections from the U.S Northeast and Europe that generate the most revenue and often the most delays.

Only one route breaks the billion dollar barrier: British Airways’ service between London Heathrow Airport (LHR) and New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport (JFK).

AirlineAirport PairCountriesTotal Revenue US$ 2018/19
British AirwaysJFK-LHR๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ง$1,159,126,794
Qantas AirlinesMEL-SYD๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡บ$849,260,322
EmiratesLHR-DXB๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡ช$796,201,645
Singapore AirlinesLHR-SIN๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ฌ$735,597,614
United AirlinesSFO-EWR๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ$689,371,368
American AirlinesLAX-JFK๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ$661,739,368
Qatar AirwaysLHR-DOH๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ถ๐Ÿ‡ฆ$639,122,609
Cathay Pacific AirwaysHKG-LHR๐Ÿ‡ญ๐Ÿ‡ฐ๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ง$604,595,063
Singapore AirlinesSYD-SIN๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ฌ$549,711,946
Air CanadaYVR-YYZ๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ฆ$541,122,509

Air Canadaโ€™s route between Vancouver and Toronto bottoms out the list with $541 million of revenue in 2019. Low population density, high infrastructure costs, and an aviation industry that is essentially an oligopoly, are all factors driving up ticket costs in Canada.

North America, Top 10 Highest Revenue Routes by Airline

Here’s a look at only the top-grossing routes connected to North America, including the prior ones that made the global list.

AirlineAirport PairCountriesTotal Revenue US$ 2018/19
British AirwaysJFK-LHR๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ง$1,159,126,794
United AirlinesSFO-EWR๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ$689,371,368
American AirlinesLAX-JFK๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ$661,739,788
Air CanadaYVR-YYZ๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ฆ$541,122,509
British AirwaysBOS-LHR๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ง$523,527,241
Air FranceJFK-CDG๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ซ๐Ÿ‡ท$486,378,698
United AirlinesLAX-EWR๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ$479,908,312
Cathay Pacific AirwaysJFK-HKG๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ญ๐Ÿ‡ฐ$475,514,451
Delta Air LinesLAX-JFK๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ$465,130,366
British AirwaysLAX-LHR๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ง$452,136,502

Transcontinental routes dominate the domestic market with LAXโ€“JFK appearing twice in the ranking for both American and Delta Air Lines.

Asia, Top 10 Highest Revenue Routes by Airline

Despite Asiaโ€™s rise as an economic superpower, there are no routes that break the billion dollar barrier. Singapore Airlinesโ€™ Singapore (SIN) to Londonโ€™s Heathrow (LHR) tops the list, generating $736 million in 2019.

AirlineAirport PairCountriesTotal Revenue US$ 2018/19
Singapore AirlinesSIN-LHR๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ง$735,597,614
Cathay Pacific AirlinesHKG-LHR๐Ÿ‡ญ๐Ÿ‡ฐ๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ง$604,595,063
Singapore AirlinesSIN-SYD๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡บ$549,711,946
Vietnam AirlinesSGN-HAN๐Ÿ‡ป๐Ÿ‡ณ$488,487,259
Cathay Pacific AirlinesHKG-JFK๐Ÿ‡ญ๐Ÿ‡ฐ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ธ$475,514,451
Japan AirlinesOKA-HND๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ต$447,224,346
Singapore AirlinesCGK-SIN๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ฉ๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ฌ$436,905,694
Japan AirlinesFUK-HND๐Ÿ‡ฏ๐Ÿ‡ต$431,457,469
Singapore AirlinesSIN-MEL๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡บ$414,276,407
Cathay Pacific AirlinesHKG-SIN๐Ÿ‡ญ๐Ÿ‡ฐ๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ฌ$389,910,239

The routes that dominate Asia connect the financial hubs of London, New York, Singapore, and Hong Kong. There are also two domestic routes in Japan, connecting both Fukuoka (FUK) and Okinawa (OKA) to Tokyoโ€™s Haneda (HND) airport.

Africa, Top 10 Highest Revenue Routes by Airline

At the top of the ranking in Africa is Johannesburg (JNB) to Dubai International Airport (DXB) with revenues of $315 million. Dubai has become an important hub for high value flights arriving and departing Africa, a position that may prove profitable as air traffic on the continent increases in coming years.

AirlineAirport PairCountriesTotal Revenue US$ 2018/19
EmiratesJNB-DXB๐Ÿ‡ฟ๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡ช$315,678,326
British AirwaysJNB-LHR๐Ÿ‡ฟ๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ง$295,167,492
Saudi Arabian AirlinesCAI-JED๐Ÿ‡ช๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ฆ$242,155,949
TAAG Angola AirlinesLAD-LIS๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡ด๐Ÿ‡ต๐Ÿ‡น$231,155,949
South African AirlinesJNB-CPT๐Ÿ‡ฟ๐Ÿ‡ฆ$184,944,128
EmiratesCAI-DXB๐Ÿ‡ช๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡ช$181,392,011
EmiratesCPT-DXB๐Ÿ‡ฟ๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡ช$176,743,498
Air FranceABJ-CDG๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ซ๐Ÿ‡ท$174,986,272
British AirwaysCPT-LHR๐Ÿ‡ฟ๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡ฌ๐Ÿ‡ง$174,605,201
EmiratesMRU-DXB๐Ÿ‡ฒ๐Ÿ‡บ๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡ช$163,952,609

Despite the smaller earnings compared to larger markets, some airline companies see the potential for growth in Africa. Virgin Atlantic will fly a route between Londonโ€™s Heathrow and Cape Town in South Africa, while Qatar Airlines acquired a stake in RwandAir.

Financial Hubs

The cities that appear in the top revenue ranking are revealing. Since business and first class travelers are such an important revenue driver, it makes sense that connections between the worldโ€™s financial hubs are delivering big value to airlines.

As Asian and African economies continue to evolve, what route could be the next billion dollar route for airlines?

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