Home-baked Charts #3: Population Growth Since 1950 in American and Mexican States, Canadian Provinces, Caribbean Countries, and Beyond

The idea for this post came from the picture above. As you can see, the fastest population growth in the United States has been in southern and western states, led by Nevada, Arizona, and Florida. Northern and central states have grown much more slowly, and West Virginia’s population even shrank a little bit. In the following charts, I’ve graphed the data above, and added in Canadian provinces, Mexican states, and Caribbean countries to provide further points of comparison. The x-axis shows population growth between 1950-2016, the y-axis shows total population size as of 2016.

This first chart shows just American states and Canadian provinces:

The big standouts in the US are California, Texas, Florida, Arizona, and Nevada. In Canada too, the southernmost province, Ontario, and the westernmost provinces, Alberta and British Columbia, grew the fastest. But, Canadians not having a proper Sunbelt to move to, even Quebec’s growth was faster than all but nine US states.

Now let’s add in Caribbean and Central American countries, and Puerto Rico:

The populations of these countries grew faster than most American states, though none matched the growth of Arizona or Nevada. The most notable standouts were Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, and Guatemala; the Caribbean islands grew more slowly.

Now let’s add in the Mexican states. Mexico has 32 states, but the following chart shows only 29 of them; I could not find the relevant statistics for the states Oaxaca or Durango, and did not include the state of Quintana Roo here because its growth has been so incredibly rapid since Cancun was developed in the 1970s that to include it would have distorted the entire chart. (You can see what that looks like further below).

As in the Caribbean and Central America, Mexican states have grown faster than American ones. As in the US, the fastest-growing Mexican states have tended to be near the US-Mexico border, and near California and Arizona in particular. These include the two Baja California’s, Sonora, and Neuvo Leon.

The big standout, however, is Estado de Mexico (State of Mexico), which includes part of Mexico City. In contrast, Ciudad de Mexico, which includes the historic centre of Mexico City, had one of the slowest-growing populations. This is similar to America’s District of Columbia, the population of which has actually shrunk since its peak in 1950, even as the population of Washington’s metropolitan area in Virginia and Maryland has grown relatively quickly.

Now, let’s add in the outlier that is Quintana Roo. Its growth, based on Cancun, is similar to Nevada’s Vegas-driven growth. But whereas Nevada’s population in 2016 was around 17 times larger than it was in 1950, Quintana Roo’s was nearly 70 times larger than it was in 1950:

Finally, let’s compare the growth of US states to countries worldwide. Here is the population growth rate of some of the biggest countries in the world, compared to five of the fastest-growing American states:

This may just be a coincidence but, as in the US where desert states like Arizona and Nevada have grown the fastest, so too in the world have desert countries grown the fastest:

While Nevada’s growth rate has been about the same as Kuwait’s, the comparison between sin cities Las Vegas and Dubai (in the United Arab Emirates, the biggest growth outlier in the world) might be the most apt.

Home Baked Chart #2: Small Talk, Daylight-Patio Savings

One of the good things about the Biden presidency has been the reduction in Trump-oriented small talk. This has left old favourites (the weather) and new upstarts (Covid vaccination) as the big small talk items. And really, it is easy to see how hand in hand these two topics go. Locking down has been especially tough in the cold. Restaurant owners have seen their patios empty, tired parents have had to struggle to get (and keep) their toddlers’ jackets and gloves and hats and snowpants on, front-line workers have had to wait outside for the bus or scrape ice and snow off their cars at the start and end of a stressful day, deliverymen and women have had to unpack groceries or bike over meal deliveries in freezing weather, homeless people have had to take refuge in shelters vulnerable to Covid, elderly people and disabled people have been unable to go to the mall or gyms or cafes when it’s too icy or windy to walk or use a wheelchair outside, basement apartment dwellers have gotten limited sunlight and their ceilings stamped on by their working-from-home neighbours upstairs. More generally, anybody living with a bad home situation or in a crowded apartment has found it harder to find some peace and privacy, or socialization, by simply going outside.

With all of this in mind, I’ve made a chart that shows both winter weather and vaccination rates in various countries. The y-axis shows average daily high temperatures for capital cities during the month of February, the x-axis vaccination rates in those same countries as of March 1. Obviously, this chart isn’t meant to yield any great insights. It’s just…making small talk.

Here we can see the sunny outliers, Israel with its 90+ percent vaccination rate and warm winter weather, and the United Arab Emirates, with its 60 percent vaccination rate and even warmer weather. And we can also see the opposite extreme, the minus-10 degree daily high temperatures in the capital cities of Mongolia (Ulaanbaatar) and Kazakhstan (Nur Sultan, aka Astana, aka Akmola), and almost no vaccinations. (Mongolia has at least had one of the lowest Covid death rates of any country in the world, about 100 times lower than in Kazakhstan and about 1000 times lower than in countries like the US, the UK, and Italy).

The US and UK are also outliers in vaccination however, and, at least in London and in the southern US, are also enjoying fairly warm weather. Perhaps more of a surprise is Serbia, which is next to the US and the UK here. Serbia has been open to vaccines coming not just from American pharmaceutical companies but also from Russia (the Sputnik vaccine, which has not yet been used much even in Russia) and China (the Sinopharm vaccine). (In terms of Covid death rates, Serbia has been a middle-of-the-pack country; its death rate is only about a third as high as in the US, the UK, or its own next-door neighbours Hungary and Montenegro, and it is roughly equal with those of countries like Canada and Israel).

Chile, where it is still summer, is another country that has had a relatively successful vaccination campaign. A number of small, warm island states, like the Maldives, Barbados, Bahrain, and Malta, have as well. In contrast, none of the countries where daily high temperatures average below zero in February, such as Finland, Norway, Canada, Russia, and Ukraine, are ahead in vaccinations. Outside of southern Canada, these countries are not just cold but also extremely dark during the winter.

Daylight-Patio Savings
In countries like Russia and Canada, it will be at least 2 more months before warm weather or significant rates of vaccination occur. (As I finish writing this now, on March 15 in Toronto, around noon, it is minus-2 outside, and 5% of Canadians have received a first dose of a vaccine). On the bright side, there is now a bright side: with the days getting longer, there is more sun to go around, especially on the south-facing side of streets. Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to the two other big city-small talk topics of conversation: traffic/parking, and restaurants.

With indoor dining closed, and with patios needing to provide a responsible amount of social distance space (at the very least, so as to not scare away potential customers), restaurant-adjacent sunny patio space may be a precious commodity this spring. After all, you get cold quickly when sitting down in the shade. And yet, if the patio policy that existed in autumn is any indication, the vast majority of sunshine will be given to car-driving lanes and street parking, leaving most patios either in shadier areas or with less-than-ideal social distancing.

A maximally restaurant-friendly patio policy, in contrast, would take today’s 4-lane east-west main streets (for example) and make them temporarily 2-lane streets, so that the entire south-facing half of the street could become a sunny springtime patio and pedestrian area.

Pedestrian street, Streetscape design, Street

I’ve left out, of course, the smallest-talk subject of all: daylight savings. This year it’s not just about the farmers. Restauranteurs too can benefit from more sunlight during dinnertime, if we give patios the space they need. This is something they, and we, could all enjoy a after a long, difficult winter. So, let’s make a slight addition to the old mnemonic this year. Spring ahead, put the cars in the shade.

Home-Baked Chart #1: Elevation and Landlockedness, Selected Cities

Elevation above sea level and proximity to the sea coast are two important factors that influence a city’s climate and economy. Here I’ve tried to plot many of the world’s cities according to these factors, to provide a comparative perspective that will hopefully be of interest.

This being my first home-baked chart, I made a few rookie mistakes: the chart may be a bit blurry (if so, you can download the following document to see a clear version), and I put elevation on the horizontal axis, though it would have been more intuitive to have it on the vertical…

There is a lot happening in this chart, so let’s walk through it together:

  1. See that blue box in the bottom-left corner: that’s where about 35-40 percent of people in the world live, close to sea level and close to the sea.

  2. The Swiss Mis-conception: Switzerland is sometimes used as a way to downplay the economic significance of geography. If the Swiss are so rich, after all, what excuse do other poorer mountain countries have? Well, you can see part of the flaw with this line of thinking here: Swiss cities are neither high above, nor far from, the sea. Zurich and Geneva (and all the other Swiss cities too, though they are not shown on this chart) are at the very bottom-left, less than 500 metres above sea level and less than 500 kilometres from the nearest coast.

  3. European(/Mediterranean) exceptionalism: As with Zurich and Geneva, even the highest-elevation or furthest inland European cities are in the bottom-left of the chart, near sea level and near the sea coast. Specifically, you can see Madrid just over 500 metres above sea level, and Moscow just over 500 km from the sea coast. Similarly, in the Mediterranean regions outside of Europe, you can see Damascus about as high up as Madrid, and Khartoum a similar distance from the sea as Moscow. (Even though Khartoum is 1600+ km upriver on the Nile, it is only about 600 km across the desert to the Red Sea). Cities like Ankara (Turkey), Amman (Jordan), and Yerevan (Armenia) are near this corner of the chart too, though a few hundred metres higher above sea level than Damascus and Madrid. Most other European or Mediterranean cities would be too cramped to show: nearly all of them would be inside that little blue box. Even the highest small towns in Europe, such as Davos in Switzerland, are only around 1500 metres above sea level. That’s 100 metres lower than Denver, Colorado.
  4. The Extreme Edge: starting in the bottom-right, the big standout is El Alto-La Paz (population ~1.8 million) in Bolivia, which sits about 4000 metres above sea level. Other Andean cities, in Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia, are in this corner of the chart as well. Further inland, most of the cities on the outer edge of the chart are in China, on the Tibetan plateau (notably, Lhasa and Xining ), or in Yunnan province in southwestern China (notably Lijiang and Kunming, but also smaller, higher ones like Shangri-La), or in northwestern China in Gansu (Gansu’s capital, Lanzhou, is next to Denver here) and especially in Xinjiang (Hotan, Kashgar, and in the top-left corner, the trio of Bole, Yining, and even a city of ~3.5 million people: Uruqmi.) Also in this area of the chart are cities in Xinjiang’s fellow stans, such as Kabul (Afghanistan), Almaty (Kazakhstan), Tashkent (Uzbekistan), Skardu (Pakistan), Bishkek (Kyrgyzstan), and Osh (Tajikistan). Finally, furthest inland of all is Novosibirsk, which with a population of about 1.6 million is actually the third largest city in Russia (though still much smaller than Moscow or St Petersburg). It is followed by Oskemen in Kazakhstan (pop. ~300,000), a city near where the borders of Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and China’s Xinjiang region meet. Just behind them are a number of other cities in Russian Siberia.

  5. Siberian cities like Novosibirsk raise the question of whether or not the Arctic Sea should count for the purposes of this chart. I’ve included Novosibirsk, Oskemen, Krasnoyarsk (Russia), and Surgut (Russia) twice, once not counting the Arctic Sea – “ex-Arctic” – and once counting the Arctic Sea. As you can see, “Novosibirsk (ex-Arctic)” is over 3000 kilometres inland, whereas Novosibirsk’s distance to the Arctic Sea is only around 1600 km, putting it closer to cities like Minneapolis and Winnipeg (not counting Hudson’s Bay) on the chart. Oskemen, in contrast, is still close to 2500 km from the sea even when you do include the Arctic. That is still about 700-1000 km further than the “poles of inaccessibility” – the furthest spots inland – of Africa or the Americas. You can see some of the furthest inland cities in those continents on the chart, such as Kisangani (DR Congo), Bismarck (US), or Cuiaba (Brazil), all around 1500 km from the coast.

  6. I’ve bolded the names of certain cities, either because they are very large or because they are medium-sized cities that are very high up and/or very far from the sea. In a few cases, most notably Mexico City (followed perhaps by Addis Ababa in Ethiopia and Bogota in Colombia), a city is very large and very high up. In contrast, there are no very large cities further inland than about 1000 km, around where cities like Lahore, Chengdu, Chicago (if you don’t count Great Lakes), Kigali (if you don’t count other Great Lakes) and Kabul are situated.

  7. For the most part, I have limited “city” to places with populations of at least 100,000. This leaves out even more remote settlements; the highest of which, La Rinconada in Peru (pop. ~17,000), is another 1000 m or so higher than El Alto. There are a few exceptions, however, where I have included smaller cities, mostly around the outer edge of the chart. These include, for example, Cheyenne (pop ~64,000) the capital of Wyoming, Santa Fe (pop ~84,000) the capital of New Mexico, Timbuktu (pop ~55,000, in 2009) in Mali, or Tamanrasset (pop ~93,000, in 2008) in the Algerian Sahara. (In a future home-baked chart we’ll look at the elevation and landlockedness of extreme towns and settlements, sea cliffs, and mountain peaks).

  8. Many of the cities ranged along the y-axis are in the Americas or the former Soviet Union.
    Many are upstream on major rivers, such as Manaus (the Amazon), Minneapolis and St Louis (Mississippi), Delhi (Ganges), Lahore (Indus), Chengdu (Yangtze), Xian (Huang he, aka Yellow), Juba (White Nile), Ascuncion (the Paraguay River, upstream fron the Parana), Kisangani (Congo), Perm and Moscow (eastern and western tributaries of the Volga, respectively) and various Russian cities located on major Siberian rivers that flow north to the Arctic. Several are also next to or near great lakes, like Chicago (Lake Michigan), N’Djamena (on the formerly great Lake Chad), Winnipeg (Lake Winnipeg and its neighbours), or Irkutsk not far from the very great Lake Baikal.

  9. Most the cities ranged along the x-axis are Latin American or in regions near the Indian Ocean (the Middle East, eastern Africa, southern Asia, etc.). You can see, for example, a city like Caracas (Venezuela’s capital), roughly 900 metres high yet only about 10-20 km from the sea. Or, close to it, Sao Paolo (Brazil’s megacity), over 750 metres high yet only about 50 km from the sea. Near Sao Paolo on the chart another big city is Bangalore, in southern India. Nearly all these cities are in the Tropics; several, like Nairobi in Kenya and Quito in Ecuador, are next to the Equator. A number of the other capital cities around the Horn of Africa region are even higher than Nairobi is: Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, Asmara in Eritrea, and Sanaa in Yemen.

  10. Finally, there is that busy middle cluster of the chart, between about 1000-1500 metres above sea level and 500-1000 kilometres inland. This is, roughly speaking, the Persianate section of the chart, centred on Tehran but ranging widely to include cities like Isfahan, Tabriz, and Shiraz (which are higher but closer to the sea) on one side and Mashhad, Herat, and Dushanbe (which are lower but further from the sea) on the other. Along with Tehran, several other capital cities are here: Brasilia (Brazil), Kathmandu (Nepal), Lusaka (Zambia), Lilongwe (Malawi) and Kampala (Uganda). And for North America, there is Calgary and Salt Lake City.

What We’re Reading

Well, the “We’re” will have to be aspirational for now. But here’s a What I’ve Been Reading list:

January 2021
The Corner That Held Them, by Sylvia Townsend Warner

The Iron Road: The Illustrated History of Railways, by Christian Wolmar

Hitler, My Neighbour, by Edgar Feuchtwanger

Of Smiling Peace, by Stefan Heym

Jigsaw: An Unsentimental Education, by Sybille Bedford

Hav, by Jan Morris