Charts: 3

Square feet per person in various nations

(Charles Platt is a guest blogger)

To what extent do we feel overcrowded, as a species? I’m not talking about resources; just psychological factors.

To create this chart I turned to the CIA Factbook, where I looked up the populations of various nations and then divided this number into their land area (excluding lakes and rivers) to get the number of square feet available per person. I represented the results in squares that are all drawn to the same scale.

Of course if you are in Australia, where each resident has almost 4 million square feet to play with, you won’t make full use of your land ration, if only because most of it is desert. On the other hand, when I was in Australia I did feel intuitively aware that the country was, so to speak, empty. As soon as I drove out of an urban area, the emptiness was right there. Conversely, in Hong Kong, where citizens have barely more than 1,600 square feet each, everyone is intensely aware of being crammed into a very crowded place.

Personally I enjoy wilderness areas, but I wouldn’t claim that open spaces are essential for my mental health. I do, after all, still have an apartment in New York City containing just 350 square feet. The apartment next to mine, identical in size, used to be a home not only to a married couple, but also their young child.

I suspect that our romantic yearnings for “freedom to roam” may be just that: Romantic yearnings.