Could the entire population of the world plausibly live in Great Britain?

Manila, the most densely populated city on Earth. Image: Google.

I’ve been thinking about the issue of population density across the world – and how it varies hugely. Some people think England is particularly crowded and some would probably say that Great Britain as a whole is quite a tightly packed little island. But of course this is all relative.

I was reminded of this recently when I discovered that the Philippines is now on Google Street View. Since I had a few spare moments, and because my brother lives in Manila, I went for a little tour around the city, and was struck by the sheer density of it.

As it turns out, Wikipedia and other sources say the city of Manila is the most densely populated on earth, with over 41,000 people per square kilometre. This is followed by another Metro Manila area (Pateros), at over 30,000, and then Dhaka in Bangladesh at over 28,000.

Where am I going with this? Using these figures as a reference point, I decided to see whether the entire population of the world – currently about 7.4bn – could fit in the island of Great Britain. 

The answer is yes. Some maps and a few words below to help explain...

I've cut out a chunk of Manila and tiled it over GB – somewhat bigly.

If you scale things a little more closely to the real world, you begin to get a sense of what this kind of density would look like on the ground – and remember that in some parts of the world people do live at these densities.

Just not in the South West of England and time soon, thankfully.

I believe getting planning permission for this might be an issue.

To the other end of the country now, around the far north east corner of Scotland, including Wick (current population about 7,000). Not much room to breathe here.

In fact, there isn't much room left for roads or train lines or parks or anything else, so day to day life might be just a little complicated. 

Transport, waste, communications and a few other things would be a bit tricky.

There are about 7,400,000,000 people in the world now, according to current best estimates, and the land area of the island of Great Britain is about 210,000 square kilometers. The maps here don't have lochs and lakes cut out but my calculations do take this into account. 

So, if we had to accommodate the whole world in Great Britain, this gives us a population density of 35,238 people per square kilometre.  Remember, that is a lower density than the City of Manila (that is, the inner part of Manila with a population of 1.7m, rather than the whole of Metro Manila – an area with 13m people).

Let's look at a few more maps now.

Merseyside and surrounding area.


Central London, with a slightly wonky looking Thames.

For reference, there are about 300 people per square kilometre in Great Britain at present. There are about 5,500 people per square kilometre in London and about 6,300 in Tokyo.

New York City has a population density of about 11,000, and Paris is quite tightly packed, at about 21,000 per square kilometre (for the 20 arrondissements). Manhattan has about 26,000 people per square kilometre.

There is loads of stuff on the internet about this general topic, including the excellent Per Square Mile by Tim De Chant. The most densely populated country is Macau, at just over 21,000 people per square kilometre.

If all this metric stuff is confusing, then I can tell you that in imperial units the density needed to accommodate the world in Great Britain is about 90,000 people per square mile. No matter how you measure it, that's a lot. Even Manhattan only has 67,000 people per square mile.

The obvious question now of course is what we should do with the rest of the world. Turn it into a park? Nature reserve? Museum?

I'm joking of course: there is also a more serious point here. I'm just trying to put some perspective on the issue of population density across the globe and how we measure it.

London and the surrounding area – not actually all that dense.

It's tempting to look out the window or use our day to day lives to assess what's ‘normal’; of course, this is natural. But when I've been looking more closely at the GHSL global population datasets recently I have been amazed at just how densely populated some cities are – as you can see a little bit from my previous blog post on the topic.

Dr Alasdair Rae is a senior lecturer in the urban studies & planning department of the University of Sheffield. This article was originally posted on his blog, and is reposted here with the author's permission.

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook.



Everything you ever wanted to know about the Seoul Metro System but were too afraid to ask

Gwanghwamoon subway station on line 5 in Seoul, 2010. Image: Getty.

Seoul’s metro system carries 7m passengers a day across 1,000 miles of track. The system is as much a regional commuter railway as an urban subway system. Without technically leaving the network, one can travel from Asan over 50 miles to the south of central Seoul, all the way up to the North Korean border 20 miles north of the city.

Fares are incredibly low for a developed country. A basic fare of 1,250 won (about £1) will allow you to travel 10km; it’s only an extra 100 won (about 7p) to travel every additional 5km on most lines.

The trains are reasonably quick: maximum speeds of 62mph and average operating speeds of around 20mph make them comparable to London Underground. But the trains are much more spacious, air conditioned and have wi-fi access. Every station also has protective fences, between platform and track, to prevent suicides and accidents.

The network

The  service has a complex system of ownership and operation. The Seoul Metro Company (owned by Seoul City council) operates lines 5-8 on its own, but lines 1-4 are operated jointly with Korail, the state-owned national rail company. Meanwhile, Line 9 is operated jointly between Trans-Dev (a French company which operates many buses in northern England) and RATP (The Parisian version of TfL).

Then there’s Neotrans, owned by the Korean conglomerate Doosan, which owns and operates the driverless Sinbundang line. The Incheon city government, which borders Seoul to the west, owns and operates Incheon Line 1 and Line 2.

The Airport Express was originally built and owned by a corporation jointly owned by 11 large Korean firms, but is now mostly owned by Korail. The Uijeongbu light railway is currently being taken over by the Uijeongbu city council (that one’s north of Seoul) after the operating company went bankrupt. And the Everline people mover is operated by a joint venture owned by Bombardier and a variety of Korean companies.

Seoul’s subway map. Click to expand. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

The rest of the lines are operated by the national rail operator Korail. The fare structure is either identical or very similar for all of these lines. All buses and trains in the region are accessible with a T-money card, similar to London’s Oyster card. Fares are collected centrally and then distributed back to operators based on levels of usage.


The Korean government spends around £27bn on transport every year: that works out at 10 per cent more per person than the British government spends.  The Seoul subway’s annual loss of around £200m is covered by this budget.

The main reason the loss is much lower than TfL’s £458m is that, despite Seoul’s lower fares, it also has much lower maintenance costs. The oldest line, Line 1 is only 44 years old.

Higher levels of automation and lower crime rates also mean there are fewer staff. Workers pay is also lower: a newly qualified driver will be paid around £27,000 a year compared to £49,000 in London.

New infrastructure is paid for by central government. However, investment in the capital does not cause the same regional rivalries as it does in the UK for a variety of reasons. Firstly, investment is not so heavily concentrated in the capital. Five other cities have subways; the second city of Busan has an extensive five-line network.

What’s more, while investment is still skewed towards Seoul, it’s a much bigger city than London, and South Korea is physically a much smaller country than the UK (about the size of Scotland and Wales combined). Some 40 per cent of the national population lives on the Seoul network – and everyone else who lives on the mainland can be in Seoul within 3 hours.

Finally, politically the biggest divide in South Korea is between the south-west and the south-east (the recently ousted President Park Geun-Hye won just 11 per cent of the vote in the south west, while winning 69 per cent in the south-east). Seoul is seen as neutral territory.  


A driverless train on the Shinbundang Line. Image: Wikicommons.

The system is far from perfect. Seoul’s network is highly radial. It’s incredibly cheap and easy to travel from outer lying areas to the centre, and around the centre itself. But travelling from one of Seoul’s satellite cities to another by public transport is often difficult. A journey from central Goyang (population: 1m) to central Incheon (population: 3m) is around 30 minutes by car. By public transport, it takes around 2 hours. There is no real equivalent of the London Overground.

There is also a lack of fast commuter services. The four-track Seoul Line 1 offers express services to Incheon and Cheonan, and some commuter towns south of the city are covered by intercity services. But most large cities of hundreds of thousands of people within commuting distance (places comparable to Reading or Milton Keynes) are reliant on the subway network, and do not have a fast rail link that takes commuters directly to the city centre.

This is changing however with the construction of a system modelled on the Paris RER and London’s Crossrail. The GTX will operate at maximum speed of 110Mph. The first line (of three planned) is scheduled to open in 2023, and will extend from the new town of Ilsan on the North Korean border to the new town of Dongtan about 25km south of the city centre.

The system will stop much less regularly than Crossrail or the RER resulting in drastic cuts in journey times. For example, the time from llsan to Gangnam (of Gangnam Style fame) will be cut from around 1hr30 to just 17 minutes. When the three-line network is complete most of the major cities in the region will have a direct fast link to Seoul Station, the focal point of the GTX as well as the national rail network. A very good public transport network is going to get even better.