These maps reveal the truth about population density across Europe

Barcelona: one of the most crowded places in Europe. Image: Getty.

It’s often said that England is the most densely populated large country in Europe – typically in discussions about the nation’s rising population, and the growing strain on public services. But it’s not true.

With 426 people per km², as of 2016, England is densely populated when compared to most other European countries. But it’s not as densely populated as the Netherlands, where there were 505 people per km², or a much poorer country such as Bangladesh, where there were 1,252 per km².

Yet simply dividing the number of people by the land area of a country is not always the best way to understand population density. Consider a country such as Russia, where urban density is high, but there are vast swathes of empty land. The figures will tell you density is very low (eight people per km²); but this it not what most people in Russia experience in their daily lives. The same is true of Australia, Canada and other large, highly urbanised nations.

That’s why I set out to understand the topic in more depth, using alternative measures of population density. I looked at 39 countries across Europe and came up with a set of statistics to help us understand settlement patterns in a more nuanced way. If you are interested in looking at this issue globally, I recommend Duncan Smith’s World Population Density interactive map, or the World Bank’s data comparison tool.

A bird’s eye view

To begin with, I took Eurostat’s population density grid data for 2011 and mapped it. This divides Europe into areas of 1km², and then gives a population count for each area, so that we can compare like-with-like across Europe. As you can see from the map, it provides a good overview of where people live, and where they don’t live: notice the sparse settlement pattern in the Alps or northern Scandinavia, or indeed much of Spain.

European population density. Data: Eurostat. Mapping: by the author.

This bird’s eye view helps us to understand the wider context. For example, we can see an area of high population density extending in a rough arc from north-west England down to Milan, with a little break in the Alps. This is the so-called “blue banana”, or dorsale européenne (European backbone), identified by French geographer Roger Brunet in 1989, and it is home to more than 110m people.

But we can get further clarity still by honing in on “built-up” density, which takes into account only those 1km² areas with people living in them. I call this figure “lived density”, since it provides a way of seeing the kinds of population densities that people experience in their day-to-day lives, within built-up areas.


The Spanish distribution

A good way to understand this measure is to look at Spain. It has a population density of 93 people per km², giving the impression of a sparsely populated country. This is borne out in the map, where much of Spain appears to be empty; much more so than any other large European country.

The reasons for this date back to Medieval times, as Daniel Oto-Peralías at the University of St Andrews has explained. Yet characterising Spain as a sparsely populated country does not reflect the experience on the ground – as anyone who knows Barcelona or Madrid can tell you.

Spain contains within it more than 505,000 1km squares. But only 13 per cent of them are lived in. This means that the “lived density” for Spain is in fact 737 people per km², rather than 93. So even though the settlement pattern appears sparse, people are actually quite tightly packed together.

In fact, Spain could claim to be the most densely populated major European country by this measure, despite its appearance on the map. This also helps explain why Spain has the most densely populated km² in Europe; more than 53,000 people inhabit a single 1km² area in Barcelona. France also has an area with more than 50,000 people in a single km², in Paris.

Barcelona from above: possibly the most densely populated km² in Europe. Image: author provided.

There are 33 1km² areas across Europe with a population of 40,000 or more: 23 are in Spain, and ten are in France. England’s most densely populated km², in West London, has just over 20,000 people in it. Globally, the highest figure is close to 200,000, in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

See for yourself

When we look at “lived density” across Europe, it’s fair to say that England is a densely populated country – but it still sits behind Spain and the Netherlands on the list of major European nations, and below the microstates of Monaco, Andorra and Malta. The lived density figure for the Netherlands is 546 people per km², compared to 531 for England, 204 for Wales, 200 for Scotland and 160 for Northern Ireland.

Although these population numbers are a little dated now (they are based on 2011 data), they can still demonstrate how population density figures might differ from what we experience in our day-to-day lives. Arithmetic population density measures can be useful, but on their own they don’t always help inform public debate, or match up with our perceptions of urban density.

I have provided the data for all 39 countries, where available, so you can compare the figures for yourself. By using a more sophisticated measure, we can gain a more nuanced perspective of settlement patterns and relative densities and, hopefully, better capture the reality on the ground in towns and cities.

Population density metrics. Data: Eurostat. Calculations by the author.

The ConversationNote: the final column shows how many 1km cells have people in them, but within that the level of density also varies, so this is not a “percent urbanised” measure.

Alasdair Rae, Professor in Urban Studies and Planning, University of Sheffield.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

Vanilla Skybus: George Romero and Pittsburgh’s metro to nowhere

A prototype Skybus on display near Pittsburgh. Image: BongWarrior/Wikimedia Commons.

The late director George A Romero’s films are mainly known for their zombies, an association stretching from his first film, 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, to his last as director, 2009’s Survival of the Dead.

But many of them are also a record of Pittsburgh, the city he lived and worked in, and other locations in the state of Pennsylvania in the late 20th century. Martin (1978), for example, isn’t just a movie about a kid who thinks he’s a vampire: it’s a moving portrayal of the post-industrial decay of the Pittsburgh borough of Braddock.

Though born in New York, Romero studied in Pittsburgh and stayed in the city after graduation, shooting commercials as part of the successful Latent Image agency. It was in collaboration with advertising colleagues that he shot his debut Night of the Living Dead. On both that movie and subsequent films, Romero and his colleagues used their experience and connections from the agency to secure cheap and striking locations around the city and state. 

It’s in Romero’s little-seen second film, 1971’s romantic drama There’s Always Vanilla, that a crucial scene touches on a dead end in the history of urban transport in Steel City.

In the scene Vietnam vet Chris, only recently returned to town after a failed music career, sees his father off on a train platform, after an evening where Chris got his dad stoned and set him up with a stripper. (It was the early 1970s, remember.) An odd little two-carriage metro train pulls up on an elevated concrete platform, Chris’ father rides away on it, and then Chris literally bumps into Lynn, whom he then both gaslights and negs. (It was the ‘70s.) You can see the scene here.

A screenshot from There's Always Vanilla, showing the Skybus through a chain link fence.

If you don’t live in Pittsburgh, you might assume that funny little train, still futuristic forty years on, is just an everyday way of getting around in the exciting New World. Who knows what amazing technology they have over there, right?

In fact, the Transit Expressway Revenue Line, more snappily referred to as the Skybus, not only doesn’t exist today: it hardly existed at all, beyond what we see in that short scene. In the 1960s there were plans to replace Pittsburgh’s street car system with a more up to date urban transit system. The Skybus – driverless, running on rubber tires on an elevated concrete track with power provided with an under rail system – drew enough support from the Port Authority and Federal Government for them to fund a short demonstration track at the Allegheny County Fair, at that point a local institution.

It’s this demonstration track and train that appears in There’s Always Vanilla. Film makers love isolated systems like this, or the UK’s many heritage railways, because they allow for multiple takes and a controlled environment. So it made sense for Romero to use this local curio rather than seek access to an in-use station.


The sequence in Vanilla shows that the Skybus system worked, and as a potential metro system it looks quite striking to this day with its curved windows and distinctive logo. But the proposed system wasn’t popular with everyone, and cost concerns and political wrangling stalled the project – until it was finally rejected in favour of a more conventional steel wheel on steel rail transit system.

The demonstration track was pulled up in 1980, although the small station and platform seen in the movie remains: Romero expert Lawrence Devincentz narrates a photo tour of the building on the blu ray of There’s Always Vanilla.

Vanilla was renamed and barely seen on release, but is now available as part of a boxset of Romero’s early works from Arrow Video, in ridiculously pristine 2K digital transfer. The Skybus is there too, a curio of Pittsburgh history caught on a few short minutes of film. Neglected back then, both seem considerably more interesting now.

‘There’s Always Vanilla’ is available on blu ray as part of Arrow’s ‘George A. Romero: Between Night and Dawn’ box set, and will receive a standalone release later this year.

Mark Clapham used to work in rail regulation, but now writes things like this. He tweets as @markclapham.