It’s not just because they’re old.

Which city do you think is more dense: Paris or New York City?

That’s the question posed by the latest video from Wendover Productions, the folks who render addictively tidy explanations for complex transportation, geography, and legal matters. After their recent video on why American trains are such a pain, Wendover is channeling their inner urbanist once again to tackle density—specifically, why European cities pack so many more people into their urban cores.

Oops, spoiler alert: The answer is Paris. The French capital has 56,000 people per square mile while NYC, the most densely settled U.S. metropolis, has only 27,000 people per square mile. In fact, old New Amsterdam would only come in sixth on a European density ranking—equal to Lyon, France and below Athens, Barcelona, Monaco, and Frederiksberg.

The big reasons? Age, not surprisingly. Paris and other European cities developed around Medieval transit technology, when walkability was at a much greater premium and wealthiest lived in the urban core. New World urban settlement patterns were largely shaped by faster transportation: first trains, then streetcars, and then private cars. Thus the rise of railroad towns for affluent commuters, streetcar suburbs, and finally the auto-centric sprawl of 1950s America.

Even European cities that developed after these transit technologies typically opted for Old World density, as in Germany’s post-war rebuilding. To explain why, the video offers other factors, from high gas prices and low urban crime rates that kept central cities attractive to residents to generous farming subsidies that preserved nearby land for agricultural use. It’s an ten-minute crash-course in Euro-urbanism, basically. Worth a look as you drive back to your sprawl-riddled suburb. Same as it ever was; same as it ever was.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. a photo of a tiny house in Oregon
    Design

    How Amazon Could Transform the Tiny House Movement

    Could the e-commerce giant help turn small-home living from a niche fad into a national housing solution?

  2. The downtown St. Louis skyline.
    Perspective

    Downtown St. Louis Is Rising; Black St. Louis Is Being Razed

    Square co-founder Jack Dorsey is expanding the company’s presence in St. Louis and demolishing vacant buildings on the city’s north side.

  3. an aerial view of Los Angeles shows the complex of freeways, new construction, familiar landmarks, and smog in 1962.
    Transportation

    The Problem With Amazon’s Cheap Gas Stunt

    The company promoted its TV show The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel with a day of throwback 1959-style prices in Los Angeles. What could go wrong?

  4. Environment

    What U.S. Cities Facing Climate Disaster Risks Are Least Prepared?

    New studies find cities most vulnerable to climate change disasters—heat waves, flooding, rising seas, drought—are the least prepared.

  5. a photo of Housing Secretary Ben Carson in Baltimore in July.
    Equity

    How HUD Could Dismantle a Pillar of Civil Rights Law

    The Department of Housing and Urban Development plans to revise the “disparate impact” rule, which could fundamentally reshape federal fair housing enforcement.  

×