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How Much Personal Space Do You Have?

Allison McCartney

published on June 14, 2013 in Design

If you live in an urban metropolis, you know how densely packed the population can get. With buildings growing ever taller and apartments stacking floors of people on top of each other, it can be difficult to determine exactly how much space everyone really has.

Andrew Bergmann, Creative Director at CNNMoney, set out to illustrate this point by presenting the density of the world’s most crowded cities in a way that he hoped would make the abstract numbers more relatable.

“Population density is measured by the number of people per square kilometer or square mile, but that’s hard to picture,” he said.

“When you flip the imperial equation on its head and multiply by the quantity of square feet in a square mile, you end up with square feet per person. That is the amount of space in relation to an individual …which gives us a much better picture of what this means.”

New York’s calculation of 1,010 square feet per person might sound like a lot to the city’s average resident, but that number is an average based on the total area of the city, including parks and street areas. Plus, while some New Yorkers live in spacious brownstones, others are cramped tiny micro-apartments.

For Bergmann, the process of conceiving the graphic came naturally.

“Population density is something I’ve been thinking about for a long time,” he said.

“I had a good idea of what I was going to do from the beginning, but I tried several approaches… I found that circles were the cleanest way to represent the concept.”

That concept was to create real-world comparisons to help people relate to the unfamiliar.

“I’m in New York and have a general idea of how many people are around me,” said Bergmann. “But I don’t know exactly how that relates to other cities around the world.”

“You can do the math and find out, oh, this place is half as dense as New York, but you don’t know what that feels like.”

“With this project I set out to explore what population density might actually look like.”

To experiment with the interactive graphic, click on the image below.