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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
#1🇨🇳 Beijing672,000
#2🇮🇳 Vijayanagar500,000
#3🇪🇬 Cairo400,000
#4🇨🇳 Hangzhou250,000
#5🇮🇷 Tabriz250,000
#6🇮🇳 Gauda200,000
#7🇹🇷 Istanbul200,000
#8🇫🇷 Paris185,000
#9🇨🇳 Guangzhou150,000
#10🇨🇳 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 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:

RankCityPopulation in Year 1895
#1🇬🇧 London5,974,000
#2🇺🇸 New York3,712,000
#3🇫🇷 Paris3,086,000
#4🇺🇸 Chicago1,420,000
#5🇯🇵 Tokyo1,335,000
#6🇷🇺 St. Petersburg1,286,000
#7🇬🇧 Manchester1,244,000
#8🇬🇧 Birmingham1,074,000
#9🇨🇳 Beijing1,055,000
#10🇷🇺 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
#1🇯🇵 Tokyo38,194,000
#2🇮🇳 Delhi27,890,000
#3🇨🇳 Shanghai25,779,000
#4🇨🇳 Beijing22,674,000
#5🇮🇳 Mumbai22,120,000
#6🇧🇷 Sao Paulo21,698,000
#7🇲🇽 Mexico City21,520,000
#8🇪🇬 Cairo19,850,000
#9🇧🇩 Dhaka19,633,000
#10🇺🇸 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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World Cities Ranked by Average Annual Sunshine Hours

While we all see the same sky, some see it differently, depending on where they live. Today’s graphic ranks world cities by annual hours of sunshine.

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Visualizing the Most and Least Sunshine Hours per Continent

World Cities Ranked by Average Annual Sunshine Hours

View the high resolution of this infographic by clicking here

While we all see the same sky, we see it a bit differently depending on where we stand.

For those in the planet’s most extreme regions, the sun doesn’t follow the same pattern of seasons as it does in more temperate regions.

Today’s visualization comes from Sleepopolis and summarizes the top cities on each continent that receive the most and least annual sunshine hours.

Ranked: Cities with the Least and Most Sunshine Hours

While the graphic groups the top five cities from each continent, the tables below highlight the top 10 cities from around the world that boast the highest and lowest annual sunshine hours.

Top 10 Cities with the Most Annual Sunshine

CityCountryClimate# of Sunshine Hours
YumaUnited StatesArid4,015.3
Marsa AlamEgyptArid3,958.0
Dakhla OasisEgyptArid3,943.4
CalamaChileArid, Marine West Coast, Tundra3,926.2
PhoenixUnited StatesArid3,871.6
KeetmanshoopNamibiaArid3,870.0
Las VegasUnited StatesArid3,825.3
TucsonUnited StatesArid3,806.0
KhargaEgyptArid3,790.8
El PasoUnited StatesSemiarid3,762.5

The sunniest city on Earth is Yuma, Arizona in the U.S. As the driest city in the U.S., Yuma receives less than 200 millimeters (8 inches) of rainfall and endures roughly 100 days of 40°C (104°F) weather every year. Yuma lies between the Gila and Colorado rivers, in a lush region that produces almost 90% of leafy vegetables grown in the U.S.

Arizona boasts three of the top 10 sunniest cities in the world, including Phoenix in the fifth spot, which is the 5th most populous city in the U.S. and is known as “the Valley of the Sun”.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Egypt also has three cities in the top 10 list, with Marsa Alam, Dakhla Oasis, and Kharga claiming the 2nd, 3rd, and 9th sunniest spots, respectively. Dakhla Oasis, or “inner oasis”, receives practically zero precipitation each year.

Top 10 Cities with the Least Annual Sunshine

CityCountryClimate# of Sunshine Hours
TotoróColombiaMarine West Coast637.0
TórshavnFaroe IslandsMarine West Coast840.0
ChongqingChinaHumid Subtropical954.8
DiksonRussiaTundra1,164.3
MalaboEquatorial GuineaTropical Wet and Dry1,176.7
BuenaventuraColombiaTropical Wet and Dry, Humid Subtropical1,178.0
LimaPeruArid1,230.0
UshuaiaArgentinaTundra1,281.2
ReykjavikIcelandTundra, Marine West Coast1,326.0
BogotáColombiaMarine West Coast1,328.0

Although perceived as a sunny location, Colombia borders both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, exposing it to higher variety in weather patterns and precipitation. Colombia alone is home to three of the top 10 cities with the lowest hours of annual sunshine.

Ranking second-to-last in the number of sunshine hours, Torshavn lies between the Scottish coast and Iceland and receives roughly 37 days of sunshine every year; the average temperatures on this island barely reach above 5°C (41°F).

Our sun doesn’t shine at the same level of brightness all the time. NASA has observed that the sun goes through “solar cycles” that last roughly 11 years─brightening and dimming at relatively regular intervals and impacting how intensely we receive sunlight at any given time.

Sunshine Near the Poles

Humans typically need exposure to the sun to maintain healthy sleep habits, as our brain has been hardwired to follow natural waking and sleeping rhythms.

However, several cities experience no sun at all for several months at a time in what’s known as the “Polar Night”.

  • Tromsø, Norway: winter darkness is enjoyed rather than endured, as it can last for over a month
  • Svalbard, Norway: even indirect sunlight is absent, with no change in sunlight to help indicate a 24-hour day
  • Dikson, Russia: receives no sunlight whatsoever in December

Wherever you live, people have been watching and tracking the movements of the sun with rapt attention for millennia, even when we couldn’t see it.

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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?

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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.

RankCityCountry2035 GDP
#1New York🇺🇸 United States$2.5T
#2Tokyo🇯🇵 Japan$1.9T
#3Los Angeles🇺🇸 United States$1.5T
#4London🇬🇧 United Kingdom$1.3T
#5Shanghai🇨🇳 China$1.3T
#6Beijing🇨🇳 China$1.1T
#7Paris🇫🇷 France$1.1T
#8Chicago🇺🇸 United States$1.0T
#9Guangzhou🇨🇳 China$0.9T
#10Shenzhen🇨🇳 China$0.9T

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.

RankCityCountry2035 Population
#1Jakarta🇮🇩 Indonesia38 million
#2Tokyo🇯🇵 Japan37.8 million
#3Chongqing🇨🇳 China32.2 million
#4Dhaka🇧🇩 Bangladesh31.2 million
#5Shanghai🇨🇳 China25.3 million
#6Karachi🇵🇰 Pakistan24.8 million
#7Kinshasa🇨🇩 DR Congo24.7 million
#8Lagos🇳🇬 Nigeria24.2 million
#9Mexico City🇲🇽 Mexico23.5 million
#10Mumbai🇮🇳 India23.1 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.

RankCityCountryAnnual Growth
#1Bengaluru🇮🇳 India8.5%
#2Dhaka🇧🇩 Bangladesh7.6%
#3Mumbai🇮🇳 India6.6%
#4Delhi🇮🇳 India6.5%
#5Shenzhen🇨🇳 China5.3%
#6Jakarta🇮🇩 Indonesia5.2%
#7Manila🇵🇭 Philippines5.2%
#8Tianjin🇨🇳 China5.1%
#9Shanghai🇨🇳 China5.0%
#10Chongqing🇨🇳 China4.9%

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.

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