The world is urbanizing faster than ever, with over half of the planet’s population currently living in cities—more than any time in history. But when did this trend of “urbanization” start? It turns out its roots go back much farther than we thought.
An interesting study by Yale University researchers published in Scientific Data last week examined the various ways that historians have measured the size and density of cities, from ancient civilizations to the megacities of today. In doing so, the researchers had to transcribe and organize information from dozens of older studies, some that had never before been digitized. They ended up amassing the most comprehensive urban population dataset ever—one that traces the development of cities for over 6,000 years.
Using that dataset, Max Galka made a video that plots each of these cities onto a world map precisely at the moment when the settlement achieved the population and density that would define it as a “city” (which is relative, of course). You can watch how the trend of urbanization spreads across the planet over hundreds and hundreds of years, condensed into a few minutes.
Over at his website, Galka also plotted all the data onto a Mapbox map and includes links to the raw data. He also points out the significance of the study, from a data standpoint. “In 1960, only 34 percent of the world lived in cities. The most comprehensive collection of urban population data available, UN World urbanization prospects, goes back only to 1950,” he noted. “It’s now possible to analyze the history of cities over a much longer timeframe.”