Curious about how urbanization has developed over thousands of years and how cities have affected local and regional environments, a team of Yale University researchers recently created a comprehensive dataset of urban settlements from 3700 BC to the present day by digitizing, transcribing, and geocoding historical research linked to urban populations around the world.
Using the researchers’ publicly available data, New York-based entrepreneur Max Galka has just created a fascinating digital map showing where and when population clusters have emerged over the last 5,700 years.
We’ve embedded a video of Galka’s map above, though for a more interactive experience, check out the Mapbox version on his website which allows you to drag a slider back and forth to see more clearly the trends and speed of urbanization over countless generations. Push it to around 1900 for a real surprise.
Galka notes, “For each city, the map shows the date of the earliest recorded population figure, which is not necessarily the date when the city was founded.” He adds that the size of each dot corresponds to its population at that time, while the colors redden over time to indicate when the urban centers emerged.
Speaking about his map to CityLab, self-confessed history buff Galka said the dataset caught his attention because it went back so far. “This is the first one I’ve seen that covers six millennia … I thought it would be interesting to visualize the data and see if it offers some perspective.”
He added, “What I found most surprising was how early some of the Mesoamerican cities formed, several hundred years before the first cities in Europe.”
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