The human urge to own land sometimes borders on the absurd. Earlier this week, Richard Florida and I took a look at the question of whether the size of American cities was economically optimized: Do we have too many cities with too few people in them? (Answer: Yes!) But there’s an implicit question embedded in that notion of anti-NIMBY place-making, once posed by Leo Tolstoy: “How much land does a man need?”
Tolstoy’s answer was pretty grim. But leave it to a YouTuber to take that existential literary question literally by asking, “How much land does humanity need?”
That’s the issue enterprising online video-maker Joseph Pisenti explores on his channel, Real Life Lore.
Pisenti ups the ante on the density game by examining two more specific questions in three videos: How large would a city need to be to fit all of humanity, and how big would a building need to be fit every human being?
This first video examines how we migrate the 7.4 billion people of the world into one city. To assemble his case, he looks to the current urban density of places like Singapore, Manhattan, Manila, and especially Tokyo. With 36.9 million people, the Japanese megacity houses half-a-percent of the world’s population. Then Pisenti finds even more compact examples of urban dwelling, such as the Dharavi slum in Mumbai, India, or the Kowloon Walled City as it existed in Hong Kong in 1987.
Here are calculations of the population, size, and density measurements of Pisenti’s chosen cities:
The video examines which existing geographic spaces could house all seven billion of us in cities of varying densities. Here’s a rough estimate of those various densities compared to existing land-forms:
Real Life Lore’s next set of videos, the most recent of which was posted today, takes this question to its next extreme: how many of us can fit into one building?
The first video takes that proposition very literally—resulting in a standing room-only structure. Pisenti points to some of the largest buildings (real and proposed) as well as indoor and outdoor stadiums in the world—the AT&T Stadium, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Mecca, the Tesla Gigafactory, and the Boeing Everett Factory. Then he unveils this idea for a venue to house all 7.478 billion earthlings.
It may not look like much, but it’s very space efficient. Packing five people in each square meter floor tile with ceiling space of just 1.63 meters, Pisenti imagines a 2.436 billion cubic meter building that fits in the middle of Manhattan. It ultimately reaches a width of 1.346 kilometers (.836 mi) and a height of 1,346 meters (4,416 feet tall).* The building would be about twice the size of the Burj Khalifa and the width of about five Tesla Gigafactories.
In the comments, many viewers took issue with general unpleasantness of life inside the World Cube, stacked like sardines without much regard to breathing, eating, drinking, light, or architectural soundness. So Pisenti has now unveiled his latest thought experiment: a livable building for all of humanity in Brazil. Think of it as a “break glass in case of nuclear catastrophe” option for our seven-billion-person family.
Pisenti chooses Brazil for his new megabuilding because of its proximity to 12 percent of the Earth’s surface freshwater and the second-largest hydroelectric dam in the world. Here, everybody gets more room: He averages the world’s living space as estimated by the United Nations to propose a one-floor building of 90,860 square kilometers (about the size of Jordan).
With the final building, Pisenti also accounts for the following factors: enough space to grow nothing but sweet potatoes (for their high caloric yield), space for drinking water storage and electrical units, and a Manhattan-esque ratio of park space to residential area. If it were built to the height of the world’s tallest building, Pisenti estimates such a structure could only take up around 900 square kilometers—about the size of the Faroe Islands. It wouldn’t necessarily be pleasant, but it’d be home. And the world will live as one!
*CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct the height of the cube in feet.