For each city, this map shows the date of the earliest recorded population figure, which is not necessarily the date when the city was founded. The size of each dot corresponds to its population at that time.
By 2030, 75 percent of the world’s population is expected to be living in cities. Today, about 54 percent of us do. In 1960, only 34 percent of the world lived in cities.
Urbanization didn’t begin in the 1960’s. But until recently, tracking its history much further back than that was a challenging task. The most comprehensive collection of urban population data available, U.N. World Urbanization Prospects, goes back only to 1950. But thanks to a report released last week by a Yale-led team of researchers, it’s now possible to analyze the history of cities over a much longer time frame.
The researchers compiled the data by digitizing, geocoding, and standardizing information from past research published about historical urban populations. The result is a clean, accessible dataset of cities, their locations, and their populations over time, going as far back as 3700 B.C.
As the authors of acknowledge, the data has a number of limitations and is “far from comprehensive.” Certain parts of world are better represented than others, and some well known cities do not appear until centuries after they were founded. That said, for such an ambitious project (the historical populations of every city ever built anywhere in the world), I think they managed to piece together an impressive amount of data.
Note the huge explosion of urbanization around 1900 AD:
h/t: Matthew Cobb