The True Size

The traditional atlases of the world always have distortions, such is the nature of translating a 3 dimensional globe onto a flattened 2D plane. Thus the notorious Mercator version (used as a dartboard among geographers), that was traditionally used to increase the size of northern (read: Western) countries has been accused of long peddling the incorrect sizes of landmasses to millions in generation after generation, and we’re not just talking physical size and distances, but the map as envisaged in the political mind. Any map that say elevates Eurocentrism, or puts China in the centre, or the US (thus splitting Europe and Asia to opposite sides) can be equally accused -yet which is most correct?

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In truth, countries compared… you’ll need to be a bit of an atlas-savvy nerd to appreciate the differences in size of some of these comparison, but onwards:

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First off…

Ecuador, that tiny cut in the western side of South America is actually bigger than the UK. Fun fact, it is one of the world’s most biodiverse countries despite its small size, more so than say the US.

Also, it’s capital Quito has fantastic potential as a destination, and one of the world’s truly undiscovered next big thangs, should it ever clean up get and get the flower baskets out. It’s blessed with one of the world’s largest and most encompassing Old City’s that swamps over numerous hills and mountain vistas, like San Fran but with more grit, crime, streetkids etc. Actually exactly like San Fran:

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Quito

Quito

Laos slightly smaller. Fun fact – one of the world’s most sparsely populated countries unlike almost all other Asian territories (pop 7.2 million in comparison to the UK at 68 million). Lots of room for cows, temples and minefields -the world’s heaviest bombed country, that took more fallout than all the ammo and explosives used in both World Wars combined. Not only was this paradise so mullered, it was done secretly, that the outside world had no clue the US was bombing (as a nice little sideline in the Vietnam War). But now it’s hippy heaven, lush and laid back in every direction, just don’t stray off the paths.

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Koreans would come in at a 76 million count were they ever to reunite. The difference would be stark within the new populace – not just in culture and clothing, even in height where the Southerners would average a 3-5 inch difference thanks to the North Korean famine during the 90s. But it’s also said the Northerners are a happy, convivial bunch contrary to assumption, and the opposite holds truer for the south. The closest we’ve gotten to believing ourselves in paradise are those living in Pyongyang.

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Next off, England.

Sri Lanka. Until as late as 1480 Sri Lanka was connected to India by Adam’s Bridge, a 50 km/ 30 mile limestone shoal that is now about 1-3 metres underwater. Quite a hike, paddle and swim but bring your shark net. Where no boat ever dares:

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Tasmania, with a population of only 537,000 is very sparsely populated. Its original inhabitants were wiped out within 30 years of British conquest, and one of the few human ethnicities (distinct from Mainland Aborigines for 12,000 years) to become extinct. But yeah, let that little footnote in history hold you back. An extraordinarly beautiful island, also a little known pinnacle of fresh, inordinately organic produce from seafood to wine to bush tucker.

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Suriname, a country of half a million mostly living along the coast is South America’s smallest. It is also the first in the world to reach carbon neutrality, whose vast interior of rainforest goes far to mitigate carbon reduction for the rest of the planet. Caribbean in culture, it speaks Dutch formally and English Creole (unintelligible to the English) among the populace, who are one of the world’s most cosmopolitan, an even mix of Afro-Surinamese, Indian, Javanese, Chinese and mixed race. Basically anyone from anywhere could look Surinamese.

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Svalbard (popularised by its largest island, Spitzbergen) is Norway’s northern archipelago and a wondrous, tortured landscape of mountains, glaciers, pinnacles and ice. Only 2,700 people live across the archipelago, making it third in place from Antarctica and Greenland as the least populated land spot in the world. One of its most arresting sights are the annual waterfalls that form mile-long walls of water pouring off the melting glaciers, and the fact the inhabitants have to tote guns everywhere they walk for fear of polar bears, even if it is to take the rubbish out. Actually ESPECIALLY if you’re taking the rubbish out, such is the attraction for foraging ice monsters.

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Newfoundland floats in the world’s largest estuary, islanded also as an English speaking outpost (one of the Maritime Provinces) before French Canada takes over. Its accent is still discernibly Irish sounding as is its old sea shanty laden history -about 70% of its population claims some ancestry from the British Isles, compared to 6% from France. Small towns and fishing villages create a sleepy backwater of an island, the first part of North America (other than Greenland) discovered by Europeans, complete with a Norse settlement about a millennium ago – take that Columbus! [/snappy Geonerd speak circa 1992 school video].

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Togo, one of the smallest countries in Africa no less holds more than 40 ethnic groups, and was once known typically as to what it offered the colonials -the Slave Coast, sandwiched between the Gold Coast (Ghana) and Ivory Coast that still bears its name. Togo nowadays might be known as the Phosphate coast, having the world’s fourth largest deposits -peddler of fortune but also tying 30% of the economy to the whims of price fluctuation.

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Tunisia, the northernmost country of Africa and an even mix of Berber and Arab worlds. It is classified as the only ‘Free’ country on the continent and the only full democracy in the Arab World, in part helped by igniting the Arab Spring in 2011, and the martyrdom of lowly market trader, Mohamed Bouazizi. Thousands of years of culture, from Phoenician to Roman to Berber to Arab to Ottoman to French -and it’s more famous for the scenes shot for the Star Wars franchise. I mean, fuck the ruins.

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Japan’s northern island was once home to the Ainu people, who now number 25,000 and could be as high as 200,000 due to those who have no idea of their ancestry. They were claimed to be the world’s hairiest people, whose women would tattoo moustaches onto their faces. They were also proto Caucasoid -that doesnlt mean White, but looking similar to the Central Asians (think Afghans riding/ fighting bears and living like the native Americans).

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Louisiana comes in as the 19th smallest state in the US -which means it’s on the small size over there. Its history of Spanish, French and British colonisation, with large amounts of imported slaves and Creole culture has resulted in a heady mix of urban societies unique to the country -in 1974 English was officially unofficialised as the state language of instruction in schools, with people free to practice the tongues of their heritage. Bajan, Cajun, Creole, Caribbean, French, English and Spanish influence is redolent in cities such as New Orleans, that lends to the culinary mix. Think French food a la swamp, soul food a la spice route, Americana tropicalia.

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Panama’s 80km (50 mile) canal carved out in the 19th – 20th centuries connects the Atlantic with the Pacific without the rigmarole of going round the whole of South / North America, a journey saving thousands of km and untold hazards from sea ice to stormy straits to financial lawyers. It contributes a full 40% to the economy, though that’s now diversifying into conservative banking and luxe tax haven, notably exposed by the Panama Papers . Panama City currently looks like condo heaven for the part.

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Guatemala, the most populous of the Central American states (with 17 million) and the core of the former Mayan civilisation. About 45% remain indigenous, while the rest are mixed. They happen to be one of the world’s shortest countries, where women average 4″10 (147cm) and men about 5″3 (160cm). It’s also one of the youngest countries outside Africa, whose median age is about 20 – almost half of all people are kids. Like kid kids. Like the Dino exhibit in the Natural History Museum in Half Term with Santa Claus riding the T Rex over an Easter Egg Hunt on Disney Nite. Everywhere.

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Denmark’s size is the most varying of the world’s nation, due to whether you’d include self ruling Greenland. From 130th position it can be propelled to the 12th largest territory, overtaking Mexico or Saudi Arabia, or equivalent to 6 Germany’s. Even if you were to take just that little poky nib pointing out of Germany as the be all and end all, thanks to the exactitude of how coastlines are measured it comes in as having one neverending seaside longer than Chile’s (who measures things quite laxly, doesn’t take in so many indents and doesn’t quite give a fuck unlike map nerds). Geo-porn right here.

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Iceland is so sparsely populated it stands at 3 people per sq km for its 364,000 inhabitants, mostly in the capital Reykjavik. The island is powered by geothermal energy, and almost completely renewable, plus the first on the Global Peace Index, though to be fair it’s sitting on a giant bubbling vat of energy as the one place on the planet still being formed, and there’s plenty to go round for a pool of people so small there aren’t enough wankers to get pissed off about. Even the dating apps have to run the gamut of ancestry/ DNA tools that alert you (giant flashing letters, industrial screaming, pop up of Michael Jackson’s face) if you inadvertently swipe right on your cousin.

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Greece has 6,000 islands, of which 277 are inhabited, and 80% of the country is mountainous to boot. This topography of islanded, competing city states led to the cradle of Western civilisation, and the translation of history, landscape, culture and food today has seen it become a leading destination for visitors, notably winning ‘world’s best country’ by Condé Nast. The big secret not yet overrun with 20 quacking cruise ships a day are the mountains, dramatic idylls, that command much of the mainland and that are only visited by natives. Epirus in the west, is where its at.

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Welcome to the world’s densest country (non-city state), that fits in 13% more people than Russia -a territory 115x larger. 165 million Bangladeshis call this, the world’s largest river delta, home. Its capital Dhaka, will rise from today’s 21 million to 35 million in the next decade, then slow (Bangladesh already has below replacement fertility levels). Still, by 2100 the city will have reached 54 million, many of them climate refugees as the sea level rises and the delta sinks, though the long term plan is for a giant version of the Netherlands -the sea held back, the economy with few resources, invested in people.

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One of Russia’s most beautiful spots and a major stop on the Trans Siberian, this is the world’s oldest lake and actually the largest body of freshwater in the world. Not due to its footprint (where other lakes are multiple times in size) but depth, at over a mile down. It holds nearly a whopping quarter of the world’s freshwater, and have the only freshwater seal species, more famed for the fact they look like fat cigars /fuzzy zeppelins zipping about.

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Hawaii is the planet’s most distant island, that takes multiple continent sized expanses of water in every direction to reach. Slap bang in the middle of the Pacific (half the world’s water area and about a third of the planet surface) it’s so hard to reach only a few birds made the up to 10,000 km /6,000 mile journeys about 8 million years ago, and evolved in utter isolation into 140 different species. No mammals made it other than a flying bat, and of course the genius of Polynesian explorers in 300 AD and another wave in 1100. Imagine rafting up your belongings, pigs and family, saying goodbye to your relatives (who’ll never know your fate) and striking out from the Isle of Wight, in a hope you’ll get an angle right to reach a spot of land near Tehran, if everything in between and all around and in every direction is ocean. For all their expertise with finding land (based on clouds, currents, birds etc) hundreds of flotillas likely never made it.

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The last major spot made habitable by humans on the planet NZ was recently discovered to be the mountaintops of a previously undiscovered continent that now lies beneath the seas. Separated by 1700km / 1000 miles from Australia the islands also enjoyed unique wildlife that propagated in isolation before humans hit it in 1350. They entered a wondrous land (world’s most varied in terms of topography and climate types, on par with the entirety of the US), where birds ruled the roost, filling the niches of mousey pickers (kiwis), giant grazers (11ft moas) and the predators that swooped on them (eagles that stood a metre tall and whose spine-snapping talons were the size of tiger paws). None of them, many who nested on the ground, were prepared for the human, rodential and livestock onslaught that followed.

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Japan is -typically dichotomous for its culture -one of the worlds most densely populated yet also most forested and mountainous countries. Tree cover accounts for 70% of the land, while the 125 million-strong population crams into the strip of coastal cities on the Kanto and Osaka plains, including the world’s singularly largest – Tokyo with 39 million inhabitants. But look again at the size of the islands, each massive -just so riddled with topography humans are islanded again.

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Somalia, with the longest coastline on Mainland Africa is the continent’s most homogenous country, standing out in a panoply of states in the world’s most diverse region, that will normally count hundreds of languages and ethnicities within any border. 85% are Somali, albeit divided into 8 tribal/ chieftain groups. In the north Somaliland has declared itself independent, a functioning, peaceful state, as opposed to the civil war decimating the rest.

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WALES

Qatar can claim the title of not just the richest country per capita whom earn nearly $100,000 each every year (and that still takes into account the legions of indentured underclass and guest workers), thanks to 14% of the worlds natural gas and plenty of petrol to boot. It can also claim the world’s most multicultural country, where only 12% are native Qatari, and its capital Doha is 92% foreign born.

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Fijians are a mix of Melanesian, a few Polynesian and later waves of Indian emigrants. Melanesians share a blonde hair gene, long assumed to be traces from European colonials, but has been found to be endemic, and long before Western contact.

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Lesotho is a mountain kingdom entirely surrounded by South Africa, a mere spot on the map that shows its real size below. With spectacular cliffs, gorges, mountains and waterfalls it remains an undiscovered gem, though now rising in the tourist ranks for its verdant landscapes, plus the novelty of snow in Africa.

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Beijing has grown from 1.6 million in 1950 (barely growing since 1700 when it was the world’s largest city for the next century) to 20 million today. The govt has since curbed the growth via urban citizenship registration, but is now building a new city on its outskirts, Xiong’An.

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The Aussie state is nearly 40x larger than it’s namesake but only 2.6x larger in population  (ergo about 15x more sparsely populated), albeit a large majority live in in the Sydney area -5 million out of 8 million.

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London

Hong Kong (7.5 million) appears similarly populated as London in density (9.2 million), though in reality the large majority of HK is open countryside and mountain. If counting only the urban areas of the territory it becomes 20x denser- in fact the world’s most heaving spot of humanity surmounting to 60 sq km -about the size of Manhattan but 3x the population and built density, also being the world’s most highrise city, including 380 skyscrapers (over 150m/ 492ft in height):

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Luxembourg, a mix of French and Germanic culture, came about in 1815 as a fiefdom of the king of the Netherlands who installed a Prussian guard to defend against another French attack, thus bringing about the crossroads that is this little nation, though one of the fastest and richest in the world. Fun fact: the worlds largest manufacturer of dentures, not just a tax haven.

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Hawaii actually has the world’s tallest mountain, Mauna Kea, that is a gently sloping cone volcano (dormant) with a snow capped peak on Big Island, most of it underwater. If measured from the sea floor it comes to about a km taller than Mount Everest, at over 10,000m or 33,500 ft. Above water it 4,200m or 13,300 ft, slightly taller than Mont Blanc.

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New Caledonia, a gorgeous colony of France out in the Pacific, and one of the few places where you find tropical conifers.

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Germany.

Ghana, the rising star of West Africa this ‘small’ (well on the map it looks tiny of course), gold and petrol-rich kingdom, already diversifying into tech and biotech, is estimated to climb from a population of 30 million today to 80 million by the turn of the century:

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Uganda -another supposedly small country on the banks of Lake Victoria. However it will become the nexus of one of the world’s great population centres alongside eastern China, northern India and West Africa. A state that features little in many minds, by 2100 its nondescript capital, Kampala (present population 3.3 million) will hold 40 million, more than twice NYC. Further along the lakeshores will be Malawi, a thin thread of a country, but which will also transmogrify its sleepy towns of Lilongwe and Blantyre to similar sizes.

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Welcome to one of the world’s most mineral-rich (and suffering for it), mountainous and beautiful countries, and a former jewel of the Silk Route, whose populace is a sensual mix of the Middle Eastern, East Asian, Central Asian, Caucasoid and Indian peoples. A place remarked by invaders as an epic place to stage a war, with beauty in every direction, and crosshair.

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This ancient version of Arabia, Yemen is redolent of a medieval world where ancient mud-brick skyscrapers and exotic oases now share airspace with the current whizz of Saudi bombs and insurgent missiles.  One of the poorest, most indentured, and most beautiful nations on the planet, like Afghanistan paying the price for its isolation.

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Rights Managed

Yemen, Hadhramaut, Wadi Do’an, Khuraibah. A view of the oasis in Wadi Do’an.

From a glance at an atlas CAR looks like a small nondescript territory in the middle of the continent. It is literally the heart of darkness to many mindsets -the world’s poorest, unhealthiest nation, and worst place to be young, largely thanks to its civil war. Despite its true size shown below, only 5 million call it home, though typical of Africa they consist of 80 ethnic groups each speaking their own language. Fun fact the country is the best place in the world to view stars with the least light pollution, as well being bounded by the Bangui Magnetic Anomaly. So named after its capital that stands at the heart of this displacement in the Earth’s magnetic field, possibly caused by a meteor impact.

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The world’s newest country South Sudan broke from Sudan in 2011 after years of civil war (Sudan has been under 6 continuous conflicts since independence in the 1960s), but has recently entered its own civil wars now. In the south the country holds what may be the largest movement of large animals on Earth, in the annual migration of savannah grazers that rivals the Serengeti, only recently spotted by naturalists as a cloud on the horizon 50km (30 miles) wide and ongoing for 80km (50 miles).

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Thailand looks like an upended Germany but with a vast umbilical that stretches into the Andaman sea, haunt of tourist coves and terrorist strongholds as Islamic separatists (more affiliated with Malay culture further south) conduct their intrigue among the spectacular karst scenery. Despite its size and population (70 million), only one major city occupies the country- Bangkok, steamy denizen of the east and home to 15 million, vaults far over any other Thai city (runner up Chiang Mai only holds 200,000). One of the few cultures never to have been colonised by an Abrahamic religion or power, and thus ferw hangups about sex, and free lovin’m.

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Sulawesi, the fourth largest of Indonesia’s islands is a range of peninsulars isolated from each other by a mountainous centre. A full 60% of its species are endemic (found nowhere else), and its range of ethnic groups, tribes and religions, each with their own cultures, architecture, languages and cuisines, also owe their existence to the varying levels of geogrpahical isolation. Indonesia at large holds 388 ethnic groups, whose national motto is ‘unity through diversity’.

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100 million people, 175 ethnolinguistic groups, nearly 8,000 islands, of which 5,000 haven’t even been officially named yet, spanning the equivalent distance from Norway to the Sahara. That’s a lot of ferries and a lot of timetables. Sitting on the Pacific Ring of Fire it is perhaps the world’s most disaster prone country (including the bi-annual typhoons and flooding), but also benefits from the vast natural resources that location endows, alongside one of the world’s greatest hotspots for biodiversity.

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The world’s sparsest populated country, or territory outside the poles Mongolia counts 2 people per sq km. Imagine a rolling grassland from London to Russia and you’ll get the idea of the empty expanses that have made it even hard to invade, though helped the other way round. In the past nomads would keep track by building cairns just before the last one went out of sight in the distance.

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Extra:

Australia is a continent

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Precolonial

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This is not Argentina – it is the southernmost tip of Argentina. Once populated by the world’s tallest people, many of whom were taken into human zoos and circuses round the world -now extinct. The men were said to average 6.5ft -7ft.

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As mentioned above, Russia population 145 million, Bangladesh 165 million:

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Chile is not a thin country, just a neverending one.

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The Moon displayed below is actually just splayed out. As a three dimensional ball it would look about the size of Australia.

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Mawr:

Peru

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Japan

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Colombia

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Saudi Arabia:

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South Africa

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Algeria

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Indonesia

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Chile

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FIN

The World’s Most Built Up City

So we’ve dallied enough in terms of scale and size, in hard numbers. That was all based on population. So what of the built environment? Which city is most impressive in terms of the size you actually see and experience? For example, let’s forego the fact Karachi has 25 million people and Chicago only 9 million – which city feels and looks bigger? And let’s conveniently  forget every street in Karachi looks like a stadium just emptied next to Camden Market. With cars. -Well otherwise Chicago would be more impressive from it’s dense stacks of skyscrapers as you wander round it’s centre (and not its unending lowrise suburbs). The city has 125 skyscrapers – defined as a building 150m or over in height – whilst Karachi only has one. 341 highrises over 100m, while Karachi has 12 (though watch this space – Karachi has 7 skyscrapers, and 7 highrises under construction). Karachi  may actually feel more built up only if you travel interminably across it’s horizons, but Chicago far outweighs in its centre, which would be the more common experience for the average visitor without a bi-plane.

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Globally there’s an obvious contender for the top spot here. New York, New York. Built on a narrow granite island it’s natural line of development was upward, spiking ever highward on a sturdy piece of rock that could take the weight and foundations of a ballooning population and economy. Its sheer density of building is almost unimaginable, famously creating ‘canyon’ streets sided by overarching walls of concrete and glass. The city is astoundingly built up, feels astoundingly huge, and has done for a century. It is the city of the mind when people think of cities.

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NYC has a whopping 804 highrises, of which 282 are skyscrapers. It’s also going through a building boom as developers rush to get a portfolio of tall buildings into plan before a new zoning law gets called in. The island is so packed already a new phenomenon is rising – small plots but exorbitantly high and profitable buildings rising like slivers, some so tall and thin they look liable to totter the next time a periodic Hollywood tsunami/ meteor strike/ giant monster revisits. By 2030 the city will resemble a glittering porcupine:

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Once again it may be dwarfed by other cities populations (it’s barely if at all in the top 10), but off paper its skyscrapers look and count more impressively. NYC has such a density of tall buildings, little seen elsewhere, it’s streets resemble canyons. Even Dubai with its greater catchment of supertalls had to artificially create it’s one concrete gorge on the Sheikh Zayed Road, whilst all around is lowrise and desert.

 

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New York on the other hand had to build up due to its islanded constraints – and more interestingly – it could. There are of course other islanded city centres (Montreal, pre-Columbian Mexico City, Vancouver, Malé), but they didn’t build upward to the same extent due to the lower population or business demand, and notably, greater difficulty.

Malé, Maldives

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New York is lucky enough to sit on granite, strong enough for all that weight and without the need for hundred foot foundations, as in clay-based, alluvial London or Shanghai, the latter of which began sinking from all the concrete, and a highrise moratorium declared in 2003. Ever wondered why European metropolises aren’t especially highrise-savvy, especially after the wartime clearances? Well they’re further lumped with restrictive zoning laws in the form of historic protection, and ‘viewing corridors’ that forbid any impinging structures on celebrated views.

London has no less than 14 of these hallowed visions stretching across vast swathes of the capital to its 5 UNESCO World Heritage sites, plus one cathedral, so that you can see the small bump of St Paul’s dome on the horizon from a bush 16km away, whose existence controls the world’s premier business district. When one surly pensioner (the kind with a lot of time on his hands) hacked a hole in said bush to restore the 18th Century viewing point, he single-handedly laid waste to 4 planned skyscrapers in the 1980s.

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Only two other major cities share New York’s perfect storm of constraints, freedoms, demand and bedrock. The granite island of Hong Kong, and the granite peninsular of Yujiapu in Chongqing, both of which require high rises stacked closely, and the canyons they create.

Chongqing:

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Hong Kong

A bird's eye view of residential and com

MIKE CLARKE/AFP/Getty Images

Singapore is another contender in the making, especially as its population balloons, but the presence of its nearby airport keeps the height limit at 280m or lower – pretty much a Hong Kong highrise-fest but with fewer really tall buildings. On the horizon though is Mumbai, a 233 sq mile peninsular of 12.5 million (metro 21 million) that gets smaller the busier it gets, until it dwindles uncharitably into the sea:

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The city now has over 70 skyscrapers topped out, with another 33 over 250m to come, and about 800 more highrises (buildings 12 storeys/ 115ft)  than NYC, at 7,068.  And a helluva lot of profitable land reclamation for the future.

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For decades many Tokyoites believed their rival city in the States to be bigger due to the famed skyscraper thicket there, when in truth Tokyo was the world’s largest just before WWII destruction, and again by the 1960’s, a title it held till 2015. Tokyo’s skyline is still impressive but dampened considerably by being in a notorious earthquake zone, with strict height limits enforced. It’s still deceptively big in terms of highrises (coming in at 157 skyscrapers and 562 highrises), but they form disparate nodes or lone towers (and one REALLY big one), compared to Manhattan’s forest of centrality.

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Tokyo still has multiple winding lanes, midrises and even one storey townhouses throughout it’s centre, interspersed with the usual roaring pedestrian streets and skyscraper districts. It’s not for nothing that Monocle awarded it ‘the World’s Best City’ title in its 2015 and 2017 rankings, for its dichotomous ability for peaceful ambience combined with jaw-dropping size; how very Japanese.

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But look again at Tokyo’s highrises. The modus operandi of many Japanese based multinationals favour large trading floors. Add on the height limits of say 150m-250m (or 500ft-750ft) and you create a market for titanic sized buildings. Huge floors and sheer walls, squat and overbearing in bulk. In any other city – for example NYC, Shanghai or Hong Kong – they would be twice as narrow and twice as tall.

Tokyo’s monsters:

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Many are unapologetically wide and overbearing, creating a certain monolithic grandeur to the city that could almost be described as beautiful; thoroughly in keeping with age old Japanese functionalism, while others more diplomatically disguise their bulk by splitting into (or pretending to be) multiple towers and setbacks. They are the fat ambassadors wives gracing the charity ball circuit:

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Look at the Mori tower, a snippet of modesty at 238m (780ft), yet holding almost the same floorspace as the Willis Tower in Chicago – the world’s tallest building for nearly 25 years, at 442m (1,450ft), nearly double the height and imposition.

Mori:

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Willis:

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Likewise the even bigger Tokyo Midtown tower, with twice the floorspace of One World Trade Center (formerly the Freedom Tower) in NYC though half the height. This is one deceptive power dresser. Note the backing for her – the thin enshadowed strip at left, glimpsed from street level:

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In reality the ‘thin’ strip, made of green glass almost doubles the floorspace, though hidden from street angle. From the air one can see better the bulk of the place; a perfect expression of Japanese culture where the public face of tatamae hides – even compliments – the personal truth of honne.  The gargantuan building debuts with the ultimate socially acceptable accolade: that from whichever angle you see her, she looks half her weight :

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In short Tokyo has the biggest buildings of any city, not measured in terms of height, but on average floorspace. Not just that they’re lower or deceptive in format, but the city itself is so large (with a centre that’s arguably the world’s largest) that its massive buildings don’t need to pack it in to create a Manhattanesque thicket. Rather they are interspersed with lowrises and midrises that form the majority of the urban landscape of the region. However, travel the city seeing in the vastness of its infrastructure, its verdant crowds or taking a flight above it all, and the seething vastness reveals itself.

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Tokyo was of course the biggest city that ever was (multiple times over), for a good 50 years. Its breakneck growth saw in one of the biggest construction booms in history, best measured by population growth. Before the war it had just usurped NYC as the world’s largest city with 12.6 million, but of course plummeted during the war (the bit where it became the world’s most destroyed piece of urbanity ever). It then climbed spectacularly again as a phoenix – between 1960 and 1970 it went from 17.5 million to 24 million, or 650,000 newcomers a year.

Only a few other cities compare. Between 2000 and 2010 Beijing grew by 605,000 a year, Shanghai by 626,000. However… we have a winner: Seoul between 1970 and 1980 added 700,000 a year.

Visitors mention that Tokyo may not feel immediately larger than New York due to its greater preponderance of smaller buildings, but Seoul delivers in spades. A city of 24.5 million Seoul has traditionally been the world’s second largest city, yet one of it’s most obscure, with a surprisingly low global profile for much of the 20th Century – though things have now changed due to the Korean Wave of music, movies, tech and trends (and a certain catchy dance video about a certain highrise district).

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Seoul is the densest of the highrise megacities if you’re just counting the urban areas, with over 33,000 highrises (defined as a building 12 storeys/ 115ft or more) – that’s over 5x NYC. The country has the densest urbanity in general (not taking into account the countryside, or the 70% forest cover of the nation). Much more so than its rival across the sea, it houses the majority of its population in dense tracts of highrise housing, coursing over or around the local topography like a studded sea.

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It does however have far fewer skyscrapers (at ‘only’ 85), deemed a handicap if they were used as landmarks for bombers flying in from the North. Only recently has it thrown heed to the wind and built a swanky new supertall that’s over half a km high and as subtle as the burning eye of Sauron.

sauron

To rival Seoul, there’s The Pearl River  Metropolis made up of the conjoined cities of Guangzhou and Shenzhen as mentioned previously (not to be confused with the much wider Pearl River Megalopolis). Like Tokyo it combines massively built scale and population, but is much more high rise. It has 383 skyscrapers (buildings 150m or over) built and 75 under construction – less than Hong Kong’s 390 but more than New York’s 282, or Tokyo’s 157, plus an almost incalculable amount of highrises to compliment.

Guangzhou’s centre…

gz

…is a mind-numbing 140 km from Shenzhen’s centre, though both are part of a single contiguous urban area. This definitely takes on the northern twins of Seoul and Tokyo for built size:

szz

It does however, like Seoul, swirl around the many hills or are broken by remaining patches of farmland here and there, so not as blanketing as Tokyo. Best appreciated hovering from the air or a fine green hilltop which the city has many, but not flying for miles across an unbroken sea of buildings.

sz1

Final answer, the most built up city is of course the one with most built living space. I would take that as New York with its skyscraper centre and vast tracts of large single/double storeyed suburbs, covering the biggest land area, but bear in mind the majority of that would resemble a green, sparsely populated forest. Like Milton Keynes, that forgot to stop.

nyc

If you’re talking building up, well that would be the Pearl River Delta (or Shanghai/ Sao Paulo, but that’s on the next post). If you’re flying a plane, that would be Tokyo’s vast picnic sea of urbanity from horizon to horizon.

If you’re talking feel – 24 hr, highrise happy, neon drenched, slightly totalitarian Seoul. The future – Mumbai? Dubai? Chongqing?

And if you’re talking city centre, imo that’s back to the Big Apple baby.

NYCC

No, wait…

-isn’t Tokyo twice the size of NYC?

More? The World’s Most Highrise City