Wendell Cox and his population density daffiness - 1
We find it difficult to understand why Wendell Cox continues to expend time and effort comparing the gross population densities of various cities and metropolitan areas - without reference to other important parameters, such as land area.
This might make sense if there was a point to make. However, the relationship between gross population density - nothing else considered - and transportation needs, traffic levels and so forth is less strong that Cox implies (albeit tacitly). Professionals and advocates know this well, and we believe that Cox does, too.
Old habits die hard, we suppose.
There once was a time when a person wanting to research cartographic details of far-away locations had to settle for large-scale atlases - or visit the nearest map library. Aerial photographs have been made for a long time (check out this 1887 view of Los Angeles; the camera was facing roughly eastward), but publicly-accessible collections from different areas were seldom found except in map libraries.
All that has changed, and rapidly, during an interval of less than five years. Today, if there is a place of significant habitation on Earth for which maps or aerial images are not available online, then we cannot think of where this might be - other than military bases and other "sensitive" locations.
Thus, the limited utility and - and questionable veracity - of Cox's population-density comparisons are now easily visible.
Since at least 2001 Cox has claimed that Paris is
... by far the developed world's most densely populated major city.
(Cox 2001. Paris Population History: Analysis and Data. This version is no longer available online.)
That, as a practical matter, is false. Cox has also long claimed that
Paris is at least 2.5 times as dense as New York. (Cox 2001.)
That is not only false, but visibly so, as revealed by panoramic views of New York City and Paris (click to enlarge images).
New York City has more than seven times the land area of the ville de Paris. The borough of Manhattan, with two-thirds the land area of Paris, has significantly greater population density. Cox now acknowledges this. However, he refuses to acknowledge that Manhattan and parts of adjoining boroughs form a contiguous sub-region with the same land area as Paris - but with a higher number of residents. In other words, at least one region of New York City has the same geographic size as Paris - and a higher population density.
As we documented in a previous post, Cox appears to have embraced the term "municipal" population density - that is, population density within a "municipality" - as a means of deflecting criticism (e.g. from the likes of us). No surprises here.
Cox has a history of defining and labeling various urban regions as he sees fit, without reference to established or "official" definitions of metropolitan regions - or, at times, to common sense:
The quote above is often attributed to the English writer Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (1832-1898), who is better known by his nom de plume, Lewis Carroll. However, it was written evidently for the 1951 Walt Disney animated feature, Alice in Wonderland. The link above is to an excerpt, posted on "YouTube."
For example: High Density US Cities by Metropolitan Area Density: 1990. This page does not define "high density," and - more significantly - sets no limits or other guidelines with reference to minimum population or minimum land area.
Thus, one can read that the town of Guttenberg, NJ, had a population density of 16,496 / km2 (42,914 / sq mi; Census 2000).
The problem is that Guttenberg (link is to "Wikipedia" article) housed only 8,268 people, and had a land are of only 0.5 km2 (0.2 sq mi). Guttenberg has more than twice the population density of New York City (located just across the Hudson River) - but New York City has nearly 1,600 times the land area of Guttenberg. Moreover, there are Guttenberg-sized areas of New York that have larger - much larger - population densities than the New Jersey town. As anyone who visits the Empire State Building observation decks can see, this is true throughout a land area (click to enlarge image) much larger than Guttenberg.
The point of Cox's population-density exercises is not clear. The Guttenberg example brings to mind a remark by an Australian student, heard many years back:
That sounds like something you save for the pub, to impress your "mates."
Cox hasn't always clung to the word "municipality." See, for example, Selected Current and Historic City Densities Compared to Sierra Club Classifications. Here, one can read that the former Kowloon Walled City, Hong Kong, had a population density of 1,924,563 / km2 (4,984,615 / sq. mi.). The problem with this "math" is that the estimated population, stated by Cox, was 50,000. The land area was all of 2.6 hectares(6.4 acres); about 0.03 km2 (0.01 sq mi). This was enough land to make a plot about 160 meters (525 feet) square.
Kowloon Walled City was a small area that remained under nominal Chinese administration after the remainder of the New Territories were leased to the UK in 1898. The linked "Wikipedia" article states that a 1987 Hong Kong government survey estimated the population at 33,000 - 34 percent lower than that stated by Cox, corresponding "density" statistics were about 1,255,000 / km2 (3,249,000 / sq mi).
Cox is not the only person who can play the "Guttenberg game." We can name a specific, well-known district of a major U.S. Pacific Coast city that houses many more people than Guttenberg, NJ, and has nearly twice the population density.
First, the statistics: the population was about 100,000 (at 2000). The land area is about 3.3 km2 (1.3 sq mi). The population density works out to more than 30,000 / km2 (nearly 77,000 / sq mi).
Second, the place: San Francisco's Chinatown (link to "Wikipedia" page is here). It's true that this place does not have its own municipal government - but we think that is beside the point.
Another example: San Francisco has a land area of 121 km2 (47 sq mi). Direct comparisons between San Francisco and Los Angeles can be highly misleading because the latter has ten times the land area of the former. It is therefore reasonable to consider areas of L.A. that have approximately the same area as San Francisco. One such area is enclosed by the Los Angeles River, Sunset and Hollywood Boulevards, La Cienega Boulevard and Vernon Avenue. The population of this area at 1970 was about 600,000. The population at 2000 was nearly 950,000. We note that the population of San Francisco had not exceeded 800,000 - and add the following fact, counter-intuitive to some: If the region above had its own municipal government, then it would rank as second-most dense major city in the U.S. - and this has been true since the late 1970s.
Parts of Los Angeles, e.g. Koreatown, have gross population densities 15,000 / km2 (40,000 / sq mi) but such high densities do not occur in large contiguous areas of L.A.
Colleagues have pointed out that the "densification" described above did not occur in a particularly "transit-friendly" manner. We agree, but that, again, is beside the point.
As we've noted, New York City, which has more than seven times the land area of Paris, has at least one contiguous area of land, the size of Paris, that that houses more people.
In addition, New York also has at least one contiguous area that houses more people - significantly more - than the "most densely populated administrative district (arrondissement) of Paris. which is also known as "the most densely populated urban district in all of Europe."
The 11th ("XIe") arrondissement of Paris had (at 2010) more than 151,000 residents (up from 149,000 at 1999). The land area was stated at 3.7 km2 (1.4 sq mi).
Is there an area of New York City, similar in size to the XIe arrondissement of Paris, but housing a larger number of residents?
The answer, as some New Yorkers might put it, goes like this: Yeah, dat's right, bub, ya got a problem wid dat?
We hope that our readers (those few of you who remain) will excuse our occasional attempts at humor, but we have a serious point.The fact that at least one part of New York City, with a land area of about 1.5 sq mi, houses more than 151,000 residents should not surprise anyone who has ever enjoyed view from the Empire State Building. However, some of the responses we've gotten suggest that some people believe this comparison is not appropriate. We do not understand what the objection(s) might be.
The area served by Manhattan Community Board 8, including the Upper East Side and Roosevelt Island, covers 5.13 km2 (1.98 sq mi), and had 217,000 residents at 2000. Although trivial, we'll deduct the area (0.6 km2) and population (9,500, at 2000) of Roosevelt Island emphasize the point make the point. Thus, the population density (at 2000) of the Manhattan Community Board 8 area was nearly 46,000 / km2 (119,000 / sq mi), compared to 40,000 / km2 (105,000) for the XIe arrondissement of Paris.
The results are clear - notwithstanding the issue of just what might reasonably be inferred from same.
We wil continue this discussion in a subsequent post.