For Release Saturday, April 7, 2012
In a space as large as France, the Netherlands and Belguim combined, America’s megapolitans house more than 2.5 times as many people. In fact, they are more densely settled than Europe as a whole and, by some estimates, will house two-thirds of the U.S. population by 2040.
Yet, the United States is often referred to as the land of wide-open spaces with low population density. And, at times, the nostalgia for how America once was is used to influence and validate public policy. For instance, some policy experts firmly believe that the U.S. cannot support European-style passenger rail.
It is true the average population density in the U.S.—about 100 persons per square mile—is roughly half that of Western European countries. But the comparison is misguided. The U.S. has a significant amount of densely settled urban areas scattered throughout. While megapolitans occupy only 17 percent of the continuous 48 states’ land base, America’s megapolitan clusters, as a group, form the world’s third most populous country, behind China and India.