This animation shows how Europe's population density has changed over 130 years

Soviet tanks enter what is now Kaliningrad on 10 April 1945. This is relevant, you'll see. Image: AFP/Getty.

Want to see 130 years of European demographic change happen in a matter of seconds? Of course you do. Check out this gif:


It comes from the University of Lleida, in Catalonia, which has a whole team, HGISE, which is dedicated to producing historic maps of Europe, the discovery of which is basically our Christmas here at CityMetric.

It's quite hard to see what's going on in that GIF, though: it cycles through so fast that you can get a sense of the pattern of population change, but you can’t make out the details. So, here's a slower version:

That's still a bit nippy, though, so we've separated out the slides from the beginning and end of the time series.

Here's the map in 1870. A century and a half ago, the London area was the most densely populated area of Europe. From there, there were arcs of urbanisation heading up to northern England, east to the Benelux countries, then south down the Rhine Valley and into Italy. To a large extent these were the first bits of Europe to be hit by the industrial revolution.

Now check out the last slide, from 2000:

Austria has densified, to a great extent. So has southern Sweden. And the Mediterranean coasts – from Gibraltar to northern Italy, and also Greece – are way more populated now than they were. We're guessing that's the rise of tourism and holiday homes.

On the other side of the scales, parts of Ireland have actually depopulated: look at the south eastern corner, which is pink in 1870, but yellow now. Even a quarter century after the disaster of the great famine, parts of Ireland were still losing people.

All that said, to a surprising extent, the pattern of urbanisation today is largely the same as it was in 1870. The red areas now are by and large the dark pink ones of 150 years ago. The blue banana, which we've written about before, already existed in the late 19th century. It's just that on this map it's coloured red.

One other thing worth looking at briefly. Look at what happens to eastern Europe in the middle of the 20th century.

Here's 1930:


Here's 1950:

In the decades between those years, you may recall, central Europe had a bit of a time of it. You can see the turbulance in the animation, and when you directly compare the 1930 map to the 1950 one you can see how western Germany becomes slightly more populated, and eastern Germany rather less. 

This is probably in part the effect of changing borders (the units whose population density are being compared simply aren't the same ones). But something else is going on here too. 

Look at the area we've marked with a black dot. (The border of the map changes but we're pretty sure we've got the same area twice.) That's Konigsberg, the one time capital of East Prussia, and the furthest outpost of Germany before the outbreak of war.

Konigsberg didn't have a great time in WW2. In 1939 its population was 372,000; six years later, it was down to 73,000. It's now a Russian city called Kaliningrad, in the exclave of the same name.

That area of Europe, best we can tell, is the most obvious manifestation of the de-Germanisation of large swathes of Prussia that followed the war. Once, the Baltic coast was German; now, it's Polish, and Russian. And one effect of that transition was a massive fall in population density.


A new wave of remote workers could bring lasting change to pricey rental markets

There’s a wide world of speculation about the long-lasting changes to real estate caused by the coronavirus. (Valery Hache/AFP via Getty Images)

When the coronavirus spread around the world this spring, government-issued stay-at-home orders essentially forced a global social experiment on remote work.

Perhaps not surprisingly, people who are able to work from home generally like doing so. A recent survey from iOmetrics and Global Workplace Analytics on the work-from-home experience found that 68% of the 2,865 responses said they were “very successful working from home”, 76% want to continue working from home at least one day a week, and 16% don’t want to return to the office at all.

It’s not just employees who’ve gained this appreciation for remote work – several companies are acknowledging benefits from it as well. On 11 June, the workplace chat company Slack joined the growing number of companies that will allow employees to work from home even after the pandemic. “Most employees will have the option to work remotely on a permanent basis if they choose,” Slack said in a public statement, “and we will begin to increasingly hire employees who are permanently remote.”

This type of declaration has been echoing through workspaces since Twitter made its announcement on 12 May, particularly in the tech sector. Since then, companies including Coinbase, Square, Shopify, and Upwork have taken the same steps.

Remote work is much more accessible to white and higher-wage workers in tech, finance, and business services sectors, according to the Economic Policy Institute, and the concentration of these jobs in some major cities has contributed to ballooning housing costs in those markets. Much of the workforce that can work remotely is also more able to afford moving than those on lower incomes working in the hospitality or retail sectors. If they choose not to report back to HQ in San Francisco or New York City, for example, that could potentially have an effect on the white-hot rental and real estate markets in those and other cities.

Data from Zumper, an online apartment rental platform, suggests that some of the priciest rental markets in the US have already started to soften. In June, rent prices for San Francisco’s one- and two-bedroom apartments dropped more than 9% compared to one year before, according to the company’s monthly rent report. The figures were similar in nearby Silicon Valley hotspots of San Jose, Mountain View, Palo Alto.

Six of the 10 highest-rent cities in the US posted year-over-year declines, including New York City, Los Angeles, and Seattle. At the same time, rents increased in some cheaper cities that aren’t far from expensive ones: “In our top markets, while Boston and San Francisco rents were on the decline, Providence and Sacramento prices were both up around 5% last month,” Zumper reports.

In San Francisco, some property owners have begun offering a month or more of free rent to attract new tenants, KQED reports, and an April survey from the San Francisco Apartment Association showed 16% of rental housing providers had residents break a lease or unexpectedly give a 30-day notice to vacate.

It’s still too early to say how much of this movement can be attributed to remote work, layoffs or pay cuts, but some who see this time as an opportunity to move are taking it.

Jay Streets, who owns a two-unit house in San Francisco, says he recently had tenants give notice and move to Kentucky this spring.

“He worked for Google, she worked for another tech company,” Streets says. “When Covid happened, they were on vacation in Palm Springs and they didn’t come back.”

The couple kept the lease on their $4,500 two-bedroom apartment until Google announced its employees would be working from home for the rest of the year, at which point they officially moved out. “They couldn’t justify paying rent on an apartment they didn’t need,” Streets says.

When he re-listed the apartment in May for the same price, the requests poured in. “Overwhelmingly, everyone that came to look at it were all in the situation where they were now working from home,” he says. “They were all in one-bedrooms and they all wanted an extra bedroom because they were all working from home.”

In early June, Yessika Patapoff and her husband moved from San Francisco’s Lower Haight neighbourhood to Tiburon, a charming town north of the city. Patapoff is an attorney who’s been unemployed since before Covid-19 hit, and her husband is working from home. She says her husband’s employer has been flexible about working from home, but it is not currently a permanent situation. While they’re paying a similar price for housing, they now have more space, and no plans to move back.

“My husband and I were already growing tired of the city before Covid,” Patapoff says.

Similar stories emerged in the UK, where real estate markets almost completely stopped for 50 days during lockdown, causing a rush of demand when it reopened. “Enquiry activity has been extraordinary,” Damian Gray, head of Knight Frank’s Oxford office told World Property Journal. “I've never been contacted by so many people that want to live outside London."

Several estate agencies in London have reported a rush for properties since the market opened back up, particularly for more spacious properties with outdoor space. However, Mansion Global noted this is likely due to pent up demand from 50 days of almost complete real estate shutdown, so it’s hard to tell whether that trend will continue.

There’s a wide world of speculation about the long-lasting changes to real estate caused by the coronavirus, but many industry experts say there will indeed be change.

In May, The New York Times reported that three of New York City’s largest commercial tenants — Barclays, JP Morgan Chase and Morgan Stanley — have hinted that many of their employees likely won’t be returning to the office at the level they were pre-Covid.

Until workers are able to safely return to offices, it’s impossible to tell exactly how much office space will stay vacant post-pandemic. On one hand, businesses could require more space to account for physical distancing; on the other hand, they could embrace remote working permanently, or find some middle ground that brings fewer people into the office on a daily basis.

“It’s tough to say anything to the office market because most people are not back working in their office yet,” says Robert Knakal, chairman of JLL Capital Markets. “There will be changes in the office market and there will likely be changes in the residential market as well in terms of how buildings are maintained, constructed, [and] designed.”

Those who do return to the office may find a reversal of recent design trends that favoured open, airy layouts with desks clustered tightly together. “The space per employee likely to go up would counterbalance the folks who are no longer coming into the office,” Knakal says.

There has been some discussion of using newly vacant office space for residential needs, and while that’s appealing to housing advocates in cities that sorely need more housing, Bill Rudin, CEO of Rudin Management Company, recently told Spectrum News that the conversion process may be too difficult to be practical.

"I don’t know the amount of buildings out there that could be adapted," he said. "It’s very complicated and expensive.

While there’s been tumult in San Francisco’s rental scene, housing developers appear to still be moving forward with their plans, says Dan Sider, director of executive programs at the SF Planning Department.

“Despite the doom and gloom that we all read about daily, our office continues to see interest from the development community – particularly larger, more established developers – in both moving ahead with existing applications and in submitting new applications for large projects,” he says.

How demand for those projects might change and what it might do to improve affordable housing is still unknown, though “demand will recover,” Sider predicts.

Johanna Flashman is a freelance writer based in Oakland, California.