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Videos

Watch 6,000 Years of Urbanization in 3 Minutes

Max Galka at Metrocosm has taken the most comprehensive dataset on cities and made it come alive in a new video.

Last week, I wrote about new research spearheaded by Yale University that, for the first time ever, mapped urban settlements from 3700 B.C. to 2000 A.D. Now, Max Galka at Metrocosm has created a fun video using that digitized and geocoded dataset.

In the Yale-led paper, published in Scientific Data, the authors wrote about the significance of their work:

Whether it is for timely response to catastrophes, the delivery of disaster relief, assessing human impacts on the environment, or estimating populations vulnerable to hazards, it is essential to know where people and cities are geographically distributed. Additionally, the ability to geolocate the size and location of human populations over time helps us understand the evolving characteristics of the human species, especially human interactions with the environment.

Galka’s visualization, which is inspired by this world population history map by Population Connection, makes the rise and spread of cities over time abundantly clear.

In the video, as a timeline glides across 6,000 years, cities pop up on Galka’s world map at the points when their populations were first documented in historical and archeological records. (This is not necessarily the same year in which these cities were “born.”) The later a city was written into history, the warmer its color on Galka’s map. At the bottom of the map, Galka also includes helpful context about that point in history.

Galka tells CityLab via email about why he created this data viz, and what he found interesting about it:

Most datasets available go back only a few years or decades at most. This is the first one I've seen that covers 6 millennia. I'm a big fan of history, so after reading the study, I thought it would be interesting to visualize the data and see if it offers some perspective… . What I found most surprising was how early some of the MesoAmerican cities formed, several hundred years before the first cities in Europe.

About the Author

  • Tanvi Misra
    Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering demographics, inequality, and urban culture. She previously contributed to NPR's Code Switch blog and BBC's online news magazine.