Thomas Baekdal, Author, Professional Writer, Magazine Publisher and Media Analyst, for whom I have great respect and admiration has produced this article for his own website baekdal/EXTRA .  Here it is reproduced for the benefit of MENA-Forum membership and all.  The Real Size of New York City is an original view of town planning that should definitely be taken into account by those frantic urban development in the MENA region. 

The Real Size of New York City … and analytics

By Thomas Baekdal, Author, Professional Writer, Magazine Publisher and Media Analyst.

Here is a weird little thing to think about. How big is the New York City really? How big is any city?

Well, we could take out a map and measure the geographic space that it occupies. This will tell you that New York City is about 789 km² when we measure the land of the city itself. And you can then compare that number to the used-land of other cities to get a list of the ‘biggest cities in the world’.


Nope. Wrong.

The problem is that cities aren’t flat. Most cities have multi-story buildings or even skyscrapers. Take the example of ‘One World Trade Center’ in New York. Its width and length is only 63 meters, but its top floor is 386.5 meters up from the ground.

So if we instead where to lay out the entire building as a one-floor building, it would cover an area about 9 times of its current size, as seen in the picture below.

And this is just one building (arguably the biggest one), but imagine if we did this with every building in New York City. How big would the city be then?

Well, I don’t know. I tried looking up that number, but nobody seems to have done this calculation. There are plenty of people who have done what I did here and calculated the size of just a single building, but nobody seems to have done it for every building.

My point here, though, isn’t really to talk about New York City, but to illustrate that it’s often hard to compare data because key elements are missing. Even when you think you have the data, there is often some other element that plays into it as well.

Right now we have no idea how big our cities really are.

“Wait-a-minute”, you say. “Couldn’t we look at population size and density instead?” Well, yes and no. We can certainly look at the population of a city and determine the biggest one simply by that size, but that doesn’t take into account the land mass of the area.

And population density isn’t that useful either. Imagine 20 people living in a 10 by 10 meter one-story house. That gives each person 5 M² to live on. Now imagine 20 people living in a 10 by 10 meter multi-story house, with 10 floors. Now the same people each have 50 M². That’s quite a difference in living conditions even though the population density is the same.

So again, just looking at the population size doesn’t really tell you how big a city really is.

This, of course, doesn’t just apply to cities. It applies to all analytics. Very often the data that we have and the questions that we ask lacks vital data that makes the answer meaningless.

Let me give you one example by asking: What is the most popular media company on Facebook?

How would you answer this? By looking at Facebook views (like most do)? And would that actually answer your question?

You see the problem? A Facebook view isn’t a measure of popularity. It’s a measure of activity. Sometimes this activity does indeed correlate with popularity, but other times it doesn’t. And if this is the only metric you look at, you don’t really know the answer to your question.

It’s exactly the same as asking how big New York City is by merely looking at the geographic size. It doesn’t really tell you anything about how big the city really is.

So, we either need better data, or better questions … or both. But most of all, we need to train ourselves to spot when we are dealing with an unknown.


Thomas Baekdal, Author, Professional Writer, Magazine Publisher and Media Analyst.