Planning for a society conscious of density

In a society that is now forced more than ever to be germophobe (afraid of germs) I wonder if the urban distribution will change after COVID-19 and in light of the new concept of social distancing.

Let us have a look at the map of the world and find out what countries and which cities might need to rethink urbanization in the near future.

Starting from arguably the most populated city in the world, Tokyo. The actual metropolitan Tokyo, spread over 2 million square kilometres and counts close to 14 million people. These numbers would not award the title of the biggest city in the world unless we include the Greater Tokyo Area, a region led by an ever growing Tokyo which has been absorbing other nearby cities over the years, such as Yokohama, Kawasaki and Chiba to mention a few. A mega city that according to the estimates of the United Nations in 2016 counted 38 million citizens. This number places the Greater Tokyo Area as the 38th most populated “country” in the world, bigger than Poland and smaller than Afghanistan. The population density is usually understood as Urban and Metro, whereas Urban represents the most densely populated residential areas and Metro includes the surroundings and the low density industrial areas. For the Greater Tokyo Area the Urban density reaches 8,790 people per square kilometer, while the Metro area goes down to 2,600 people per square kilometre. Hence redistribution seems possible for Tokyo.

As a comparison, Singapore, which is the most densely populated country in the world in the category of a million and above in total population, hits 7,800 people per square kilometre. In Singapore it is hard to discern between Urban and Metro, because despite the 13 natural reservoirs present on the island, the country has limited industrial capacity and the population is spread quite evenly from North to South and from West to East.

So Singapore city has a lower density than the Greater Tokyo Area, but as a country, Japan has only 333 people per square kilometer. That is because the total population of Japan, 126 million according to the latest census (11th most populated country in the world), spreads over a land of 378 thousand square kilometres (62nd country in the world), therefore being the 24th most densely populated.

Another area of high density is certainly the Indian subcontinent, accounting for India and the other countries nearby or bordering with India.  Starting from Dhaka, Bangladesh, ranking by far the most populated city in the world with an incredible 47 thousand inhabitants per square kilometre, 6 times more density than Singapore. Bangladesh is so densely populated that ranks highly both with the capital city as well as a country. In fact, being the 8th most populated country in the world with 165 million people, but ranking only the 92nd in the world for area, the overall density makes Bangladesh the 7th most densely populated country in the world with 1,265 people per square kilometre as an average. It is important to state for comparison, that none of the countries ranking from 1st to 6th reach 10 million in total population, hence Bangladesh is truly the most crowded place in the world.

India is another interesting case to analyze. Mumbai, with 20 million people, has a density of 32 thousand people per square kilometer, ranking second in the world right behind Dhaka. In comparison, Hong Kong has a population of 7.5 million people and 25,700 in density. But India has many other cities ranking among the most densely populated in the world. Surat in Gujarat counts 7.2 million people and a density of 21 thousand, ranking 4th in the world, followed by Ahmedabad with 8 million people and a density of nearly 20 thousand, 5th in the world. Then Kolkota, 13th in the ranking, with nearly 15 million people and 12,500 per square kilometre. Delhi, 30 million people and 11,600 per square kilometre. Pune, 6.6 million people and 11,200 density. Chennai, 11 million people and 9,700 density.

With so many cities with high density, India is experiencing challenges in enforcing COVID-19 lockdown and the think-tank is already planning how to manage population density in the after-crisis.

In Oman, with a population of approximately 5 million and a land of 309,000 square kilometres, the density counts only 16 people per square kilometre. We could say that Oman has been blessed with a natural social distancing that could enable a perfect testing ground for a future where a pandemic threat could require a reduction in social interaction. Despite this, Oman has developed countermeasures to keep the country going while controlling the emergency. So even in the event of prolonged isolation, perhaps through the use of technology, the Sultanate could still provide the world with a sample of the world’s best hospitality.