A vendor sells vegetables at Kawran Bazar in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters

Geographically speaking, the Bangladeshi city has all the right criteria to be the "central point of human civilization."

Politics and history aside, the single best place on Earth to build a city may be right where Dhaka, Bangladesh, sits. At least, that’s the conclusion that Wendover Productions, makers of snazzy explainer videos on things like failing trains and European density, comes to during its dive into the theories that explain why cities are located where they are today.

To understand what makes Dhaka—or rather, its location—so precious for cities, the video takes us to a 1930s theory by the German geographer Walter Christaller. Called the central place theory, it argues that cities and towns serve primarily to provide goods and services to surrounding areas. The more specialized goods a settlement has, the larger its sphere of influence. That’s what helps cities, which tend to have advanced hospitals and airports, for example, serve more people farther away. The idea is that people are willing to travel to use those services.

But Christaller’s theory is just that. It doesn’t account for variation in economics, social influences, and, more importantly, the topography of Earth. Mountains may form barriers to development for some cities, while providing a wealth of mineral resources for others. If cities are meant to provide goods and services, then access to resources is a must. Similarly, the video notes that 14 of the 15 largest cities developed near oceans and rivers; access to water is valuable for both trade and transport.

Lastly, it’s perhaps no coincidence that prosperous cities tend be in Europe and Asia. That region is also where the four largest empires persisted, and as far as one theory goes (and there are many), those emperors and kings can thank their lucky stars for the wide shape of those continents. Since emerging civilization, in the video’s explanation, depended on the domestication of plants and animals, it was easier to expand horizontally, where climate stayed pretty constant, than vertically.

That all brings us back to Dhaka, which sits in South Central Asia. It’s in the sweet spot that is Eurasia, with plenty of space to both its right and left for expansion. Does it have the mineral-rich mountains, waterways, and other resources it needs to prosper? Check, check, and check. Bangladesh’s hills and mountains are rich with minerals, biodiversity, and other forest resources. The city itself sits near several rivers, including the enormous Ganges-Brahmaputra delta, which benefits Bangladesh’s agricultural economy.

It’s worth noting, however, that this conclusion is strictly a geographical one. Between air pollution, poverty, and rising sea levels as a result of climate change, Dhaka has its fair share of problems that currently make it one of the least livable cities in the world. But had history played out differently, Dhaka could have been, as the video puts it, the "central point of human civilization."

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. POV

    To Build a Better Bus System, Ask a Driver

    The people who know buses best have ideas about how to reform the system, according to a survey of 373 Brooklyn bus operators.

  2. Equity

    D.C.’s War Over Restaurant Tips Will Soon Go National

    The District’s voters will decide Initiative 77, which would raise the minimum wage on tipped employees. Why don’t workers support it?

  3. A stained glass artwork depicting two owls and geometric patterns
    Design

    The Brilliant Artist That Chicago, and the World, Nearly Forgot

    The idiosyncratic art of Edgar Miller (1899-1993) has long been hidden behind closed doors. Finally, Chicagoans are getting more opportunities to see it.

  4. A rendering of Elon Musk's Chicago Express Loop, which would transport passengers from downtown to O'Hare in 12 minutes.
    Transportation

    The Craziest Thing About Elon Musk's 'Express Loop' Is the Price

    The $1 billion construction estimate is a fraction of what subterranean transit projects cost.

  5. Passengers line up for a bullet train at a platform in Tokyo Station.
    Transportation

    The Amazing Psychology of Japanese Train Stations

    The nation’s famed mastery of rail travel has been aided by some subtle behavioral tricks.