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    Why Cities Are Where They Are
    Articles, Blog

    Why Cities Are Where They Are

    August 27, 2019


    This is a Wendover Productions video made
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    from Squarespace. The Cumberland valley is home to six towns
    lying between Hagerstown, Maryland and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania— Greencastle, Chambersburg,
    Shippensburg, Newville, Carlisle, and Mecanicsburg. What’s exceptional about these small Pennsylvania
    towns is that they’re each almost exactly 10 miles from each other. The distances deviate by no more than a mile
    from this rule. This isn’t a coincidence and this isn’t
    planned. Drawing equal sized radii around each town
    shows you their spheres of influence. Assuming each town has the exact same shops
    and services, rational people will just go to whichever town is closest to buy or sell
    goods. Towns ten miles apart mean that nobody has
    to travel more than five miles to reach a town. Each one of these towns was founded before
    the formation of the United States, so that means that, of course, nobody had cars and
    pretty much everybody walked everywhere. 10 miles, or 5 miles each way, is about the
    distance a person can comfortably walk in a day with enough time to buy or sell goods
    at a central market. Back in this era before cars, a 5 mile radius
    was essentially the largest possible commuter zone to small agricultural towns and therefore
    having towns ten miles apart was the most efficient possible use of rural land. When you get a chance, take a look at map
    of a rural area that existed before cars. You’ll see that the distance between medium-sized
    towns is almost always somewhere between about 10 to 15 miles. Because the Cumberland valley is a valley,
    towns really could only develop in a line, but in most cases towns develop in all directions. This is what the ten mile rule looks like
    going out in all directions. Each of these points is a town and the hexagon
    around it is the area from which people will go to the town. In the real world, each of these towns probably
    has a small grocery store, a pharmacy, a bank, and maybe a restaurant. Since everybody uses these services, there
    doesn’t have to be many people in a towns sphere of influence in order to sustain these
    shops. But where do you put something more specialized,
    like a mechanic. People only need to go the mechanic every
    once in a while so you need more people to sustain one mechanics shop than one grocery
    store. Well, some of these small towns develop into
    larger towns with more people that can support more specialized shops and services. Putting these larger towns with more specialized
    shops closer together would be unsustainable since there wouldn’t be enough people going
    to those shops but putting them farther apart would be inefficient since there’s land
    that people would not go to a city from. This happens once or twice more until you
    have cities. These cities have the largest spheres of influence
    and the most specialized shops. You of course still have grocery stores and
    pharmacies in cities, but you also have things like luxury car dealerships, brain surgery
    centers, and airports. The city’s sphere of influence is enormous
    because people will travel hundreds of miles to buy an expensive car or get brain surgery
    or fly from an airport. Think about it within a city. How far would you walk to buy a latte. Probably only a few blocks and that’s why
    you see Starbucks or other coffee shops on almost every block. Since almost everyone buys coffee, you only
    need a few blocks of people to sustain one coffee shop. But how far would you walk to buy a MacBook? Probably quite far since its a infrequent
    and substantial purchase. That’s why Apple stores are rather rare
    even in cities. You need an enormous amount of people to sustain
    one Apple store and we can actually figure out roughly how many. In Connecticut, the Trumbull Apple Store is
    about 20 miles away from the New Haven store to the north-east and the Stamford store to
    the south-west. In the 10 mile radius around the Trumbull
    Apple Store there are about half a million inhabitants which tells us that you need about
    half a million people to sustain one Apple store. We can compare that to the Starbucks’ of
    lower Manhattan which are spread out at an average distance of about 600 feet. Drawing a 300 foot radius around one Starbucks
    in lower Manhattan covers around 6,000 people which means that one Starbucks needs 6,000
    people to sustain it. Of course both Connecticut and New York are
    places with higher than average incomes which means less people are needed to sustain one
    Starbucks or Apple Store. The numbers would be very different in, say,
    rural Kansas, but since each store generally only builds in areas with higher-than-average
    incomes this gives a good sense of how many people Apple and Starbucks looks for in an
    area before opening up a store. So, our model shows where cities should be,
    but its not like this in reality. This is the most efficient spread of cities
    if you’re assuming that the cities are on a perfectly flat plane with no geographic
    features, no social influences, no variability of income, equal distribution of resources—essentially
    assuming the world is one homogeneous place… which its not. In reality, of course, our world has an enormous
    effect on where and why cities develop. To start out, let’s cut this down to one
    city on a flat, featureless plane for simplicity. What affects the location of cities more than
    anything is water. If we put an ocean on one side of our isotropic
    plane, our city will almost certainly locate near it. Oceans have always been and still are what
    connects the world. There’s no other means of transport that
    can move such enormous amounts of cargo for so little. Any city needs to be economically efficient
    to grow and it will cost more to bring goods to a city that’s 1000 miles inland than
    one right by the ocean. Just look at Europe. 6 of the 10 largest European cities are within
    100 miles of the coast. But oceans aren’t the only bodies of water
    to affect cities. Rivers are just as or perhaps even more influential. Milan, the 19th largest European city, is
    the largest to not be either directly on the ocean or on a river, and even then its only
    15 miles from a river and 75 miles from the ocean. Until the last century or so, cities could
    not survive without direct water access. If you need more proof, 14 of the 15 largest
    cities in the world are within a few dozen miles of the ocean. Perhaps the most obvious attractor for cities
    is resources, so going back to our isotropic plane, putting natural resources anywhere
    on this map will draw cities near it. Cities that existed before the last century
    or so generally sprung up right near the resources, much like Pittsburgh, since they acted as
    manufacturing and transportation hubs for those resources, but more recently new resource
    dependent cities don’t need to be as close to the resources themselves. New transportation technologies can bring
    the resources from their source. Just look at Dubai. Of course the UAE has enormous oil deposits,
    but they’re much closer to Abu Dhabi and the South-West than Dubai. In 1900, Dubai had 10,000 residents, less
    than half that of Carlisle, Pennsylvania—one of the farming towns we talked about at the
    beginning. That only grew to 40,000 by 1960, but today
    its known worldwide and has more than 2.5 million residents. It was able to grow at this enormous rate—even
    faster than Abu Dhabi—since it cemented itself as the economic and administrative
    hub for the oil industries of the region. Another geographic feature that we can add
    to the plane is mountains. Now, mountains don’t always have a uniform
    affect on cities. Mexico City, Bogota, and Addis Ababa are all
    enormous cities at elevations above 7,000 feet. Mountains do make transport and trade difficult,
    but they also provide protection. Many ancient cities grew in these locations
    since they were easy to protect, which left more time to focus on growing the city, but
    mountains can also hinder development. For quite a while, the United States could
    not develop west of the Appalachian mountains. They just served as an enormous barrier. In 1800, the average center of population
    for the entire United States was here even though the US had sovereignty over this entire
    area. Of course technology eventually conquered
    this barrier and moved the mean population center all the way out to Missouri today,
    but if the Appalachian mountains didn’t exist American history and geography would
    be completely different. We would have seen urban development much
    earlier in the mid-west. But mountains can have another effect. You see, coal, silver, gold, and other mineral
    deposits are all often located in mountainous regions, and, just like Dubai, cities can
    develop in less hospitable and easy places due to resources. The economic advantage of exploiting the resources
    overpowers the economic disadvantage of being in an inhospitable location. Denver, Colorado grew 650% between 1870 and
    1880 with the opening of a railroad branch connecting with the transcontinental railroad. It served as an access point to transportation
    to the gold miners in the rockies. So mountains can either push cities away or
    bring them nearer—it really just depends on the circumstance. Let’s exchange our isotropic plane for a
    world map. Where should cities be on here? Well, our world’s cities are not necessarily
    all in the most geographically efficient locations. While there is a certain level of natural
    selection that grows the efficiently placed cities and shrinks the inefficiently placed
    cities, humans are not always able to put cities in the most efficient locations. Let’s put up the 224 cities in the world
    with a population over 2 million. You can immediately see some patterns. Putting up the equator, you can see a clear
    divide. Only 32 of these cities lie in the southern
    hemisphere. One might think this is because there is so
    much more land in the northern hemisphere, but that’s not entirely true. You see, the southern hemisphere still has
    32% of the world’s land, but only has 14% of the world’s large cities. There’s clearly a higher density of cities
    in the northern hemisphere. You can pretty much trace this all back to
    Europe and Asia. The first large civilizations and empires
    were on these two continents even though the human race likely originated in Africa. There’s hundreds of different theories on
    why civilizations succeeded in some places and failed in others, but one of the more
    plausible and interesting theories is that Europe and Asia succeeded because they’re
    wide instead of tall. The very shape of the continents may have
    changed the course of human history. You see, when a continent is wide, you have
    a ton of land with roughly the same climate. Climate tends to change when you go north
    and south rather than east and west as a nature of how the earth rotates around the sun. Much of the success of early civilizations
    had to do with the domestication of plants and animals and the corresponding technology. When expanding horizontally, the climate is
    similar enough that an empire can use the same successful plants and animals, while
    expanding vertically requires the domestication of new plants and animals. If a civilization started in central-america,
    for example, there would be very little land on the continent with a similar climate and
    their expansion would be severely limited. In Europe and Asia, on the other hand, theres
    thousands upon thousands and miles of similar climate that can be reached just by traveling
    east or west. There’s evidence to back this up. Just look at the maps of the four largest
    early empires—the Qing Dynasty, the Abbasid Caliphate, the Umayyad Caliphate, and the
    Mongol empire. They were all in Eurasia and they all expanded
    horizontally. When some of the more modern empires expanded,
    they had the technology to do so overseas. The three major modern empires were the British,
    Spanish, and French empires—each of which came from relatively similar climates. A major reason why America was able to succeed
    is because all the agriculture from Europe worked there. Climatically, Europe and America are nearly
    identical. The majority of developed colonized countries
    are in the northern hemisphere just because they were closest to Europe, but formerly
    British countries like South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand are all highly developed and
    in the Southern Hemisphere. Their success over more northern countries
    in the southern hemisphere can also be partially attributed to their greater climate similarity
    to Europe. Let’s ask one more question. If our world only had one city, where would
    it logically be? Well if you take the location of every person
    in the world and average it out, you come to south-central Asia. That means that this general region is the
    optimum place to live on the planet, but where more specifically should our world city go. Well, this region is already in the Northern
    Hemisphere and in Eurasia, so we’ve already covered those two criteria. We want a place within a hundred of so miles
    of the ocean, on a navigable river, near mountains with rich mineral deposits—the single best
    place for a city on earth just might be… Dhaka, Bangladesh. Every geographic model and theory says that
    there is no better place on earth to put a city than here. There’s evidence to back this up: Dhaka
    is between the 4th and 18th largest metropolitan area on earth depending on how you define
    metropolitan area, and Bangladesh is the sixth densest country on earth—there are 161 million
    people living in an area about the size of England. History has affected geography enough that
    the largest and most advanced civilizations are not all in South-Central Asia, but if
    we started all over again, did humanity a second time, every geographic model says that
    this region could be the origin and central point of human civilization. I hope you enjoyed this Wendover Productions
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    Urban Geography: Why We Live Where We Do
    Articles, Blog

    Urban Geography: Why We Live Where We Do

    August 18, 2019


    This is Wendover Productions. Sponsored by the Great Courses Plus. Here’s an interesting question: which city
    do you think is more dense—Paris, France or New York, United States? It probably seems obvious: New York, the land
    of skyscrapers, the Big Apple… right? Wrong. New York, in fact, has a population density
    of less than half that of Paris. Paris’s is 56,000 people per square mile
    (22,000 per square kilometer) while New York’s is only 27,000 people per square mile (10,500
    per square kilometer.) To find a European city with a comparable
    population density to New York’s—the densest American city—you have to go all the way
    down to number six on the list: Lyon France (27,000 per sq/mile; 10,500 per sq/km.) New York of course has a super-dense urban
    core, but then around it is miles and miles of suburbia—just like almost every other
    American city. Paris, on the other hand, packs almost its
    entire population into a compact urban core. There’s also another interesting pattern
    that differs between the two continents: rich Americans live outside the city, rich Europeans
    live city center. Compare the income map of Paris to that of
    Philadelphia. Of course it’s not perfect, but you can
    definitely see a pattern. The most commonly cited reason for both these
    trends is the difference in age. Most European cities have existed for hundreds
    if not thousands of years, while all but a few American cities only gathered enough population
    to be called cities in the past one or two hundred years. What that means is that European cities existed
    when all but the super-rich had to commute to work by foot. In the middle ages, Paris had a population
    of two to three hundred thousand people, but you could walk from one side to the other
    in thirty minutes. It was incredibly densely populated. You just had to live within walking distance
    of work. Therefore, the rich paid more for the houses
    closest to the center of the city. This is a similar reason to why in historic
    European hotels, you’ll often see the nicest and largest rooms on the lower floors—the
    opposite of what you’d see today. Before elevators existed, the rich didn’t
    want to have to walk up as many flights of stairs. Walking distance was not only important to
    big cities. Small villages across Europe were almost always
    the same size because their population was dictated by the walkability of the surrounding
    fields. European farmers tended to live in small towns
    and walk to their fields during the day rather than the homesteading approach used in America. Therefore, villages would only be as large
    as the amount of people needed to work the fields within walking distance. American cities, on the other hand, began
    their period of rapid growth in a more modern era when decentralizing technologies were
    much more advanced. By the time North American cities grew larger
    than the distance people could reasonably walk, there was already the technological
    capability to create public transportation systems. The first major public transportation innovation
    was the steam train in the mid 19th century. This was a very expensive means of transport
    and was therefore only for the super rich. Interestingly, because steam trains take an
    enormous amount of time to reach speed, the towns that the rich commuted from, known as
    railroad suburbs, were generally not just at the nearest bit of countryside, but separated
    from the city by a few miles of countryside. The impact of railroad suburbs remains today. On the track of the old Philadelphia Main
    Line, there’s a stretch of super-rich communities with huge estates and country clubs from Ardmore
    to Malvern. The demographics just never changed from the
    time of the railroad suburb. A few decades later, streetcars emerged and
    quickly became an instrumental part of the American commute. Much like steam trains, streetcars also created
    new communities—this time with slightly less rich upper-middle class individuals. In Washington DC, the wealthy suburbs of Tenleytown,
    Chevy Chase, Bethesda, McLean, Rockville, and more all grew as a result of the streetcar. But once again, walking distance influenced
    geography. Streetcar commuters had to live within walking
    distance of a stop, so naturally there would be a radius of civilization about 20 or 30
    minutes walking distance from a stop, then past that…nothing. That meant that between the lines, there was
    all this open space where nobody could commute from. Enter: the automobile. At first the car was only for upper class
    individuals especially with the distraction of the two World Wars and Great Depression,
    however, by the time young Americans returned from World War Two, there had been enough
    technological advances to make the automobile affordable for the middle class. Over 50% of households had cars by 1950. At the same time, the government was offering
    loans to returning veterans which significantly increased the number of americans who could
    afford to buy homes. Instead of buying a small central city home,
    this generation opted to use their new cars to commute from cheaper, nicer, and larger
    suburban homes. The idea was that the working parents would
    go downtown each day while the rest of the family would stay to enjoy the suburb. It was the perfect deal. So that whole history was absolutely true,
    but it doesn’t entirely explain why European cities didn’t experience suburbanization as
    well. In Germany, for example, many, if not most,
    cities were bombed to rubble during World War Two. They had the opportunity to rebuild in any
    way they wanted, but then chose to keep their compact design. Today, the average metropolitan population
    density in Germany is four times higher than the US’s. At the same time, other cities across Europe
    that survived the war experienced enormous population influxes and still maintained their
    mammoth population densities. Perhaps the least commonly cited reason for
    suburbanization in the US is crime. It’s a bit of an ugly period in American
    history that we sometimes forget, but crime levels were absolutely insane in the 70’s,
    80’s, and 90’s. There are a ton of different theories for
    why this was—perhaps the most interesting being the that the rise in gasoline emitted
    lead caused lower IQ’s and higher aggressively. New York had an astronomical 2,245 murders
    in 1990. London didn’t even have that many in the
    entire 90’s decade. Violent crime rates are still consistently
    10 or more times higher in the US. In 1992, a poll was conducted asking departing
    New Yorkers why they were moving to the suburbs, and the most commonly cited reason was crime
    at 47%. Cost and quality of living were way down at
    lower than 10% each. Crime rates are significantly lower in suburbs
    as they are typically havens for higher-income individuals. Europeans don’t have to worry as much about
    inter-city crime so they’re much more willing to live downtown. Land for suburban housing is also readily
    available in the US because farmers have always been quick to sell their relatively unprofitable
    land to developers. By contrast, In France, for example, agricultural
    subsidies are 12 times higher per acre of land than the US. That’s a big reason why large European cities
    are still closely surrounded by small farms. In many European cities, you can literally
    take the city bus to farms. Lastly, all sorts of energy are cheaper in
    the US. A gallon of gas costs as much as $7 in some
    parts of Europe compared to the US average of $2.20. It’s significantly more expensive to commute
    by car in Europe so there’s more motivation to live closer to work where either the drive
    is shorter or you can take public transportation. Also, big suburban homes aren’t as attractive
    in Europe because electricity and heating costs are higher. Suburban life really didn’t live up to expectations. Americans now spend an average of 4.25 hours
    per week sitting in cars, buses, or trains traveling to and from work. That’s 2.5% of their entire lives. It’s also been scientifically proven that
    commuting from the suburbs is linked to higher blood pressure, lower frustration tolerance,
    and higher rates of anxiety. Also, the suburbs are no longer the countryside
    havens that they once were. They’re just a continuation of the urban
    sprawl. Rich Americans are therefore beginning to
    return to the city. With lower crime rates, higher fuel costs,
    and an overall shift in attitude, urban cores are having a second renaissance. So that’s why we live where we do. It’s a complicated, controversial, and surprisingly
    political history. I hope you enjoyed this Wendover Production
    video. I first need to thank my amazing sponsor—the
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    A Bridge Between the USA and Russia
    Articles, Blog

    A Bridge Between the USA and Russia

    August 15, 2019


    The relationship between the USA and Russia is complicated. JFK: “It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile, launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States.” *Intense laughter* JFK: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade, and do the other things. Not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” Their rivalry defined the second half of the 20th century. Reagan: “Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall.” Millions are spent each year trying to improve relations, and even more spent undermining them again. To many their opposites; chalk and cheese, vodka and apple pie, Oceania vs Eurasia, East vs West. It’s easy to forget that only 51 miles separates them. If we’re going to spend so much time, energy and money trying to build bridges between Russia and America, then why not just build an actual bridge? In 1986 Ronald Reagan gave engineer Tung Yun Lin a National Medal of Science, Lin handed back to him a 16-page plan for an intercontinental peace bridge. Whether for environmental, financial, or political reasons a bridge across the Bering Strait has been on someone’s agenda ever since. Most of this talk has come to nothing, but in 2015 Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping started to make some actual plans. *Theme music* The Bering Strait is a 51 mile sea passage separating Siberia and Alaska. In 1867 the US bought Alaska for 7.2 million dollars or 2 cents an acre. This created a new border right down the middle separating two small islands, Big Diomede (Russian), and Little Diomede (now American). The same boundary is followed today by the International Date Line, giving the Diomedes the adorable nicknames of “Tomorrow Island” and “Yesterday Isle”. Ever since the Cold War Big Diomede and most of Russia’s Eastern Shore has been a military zone. No travel is permitted. In fact, you can’t arrive or depart there even with a Russian visa. The closest you can get is the port of Provideniya, and even then you should probably get permission before rocking up. This hasn’t stopped people trying though, in 2006 Karl Bushby and Dimitri Kieffer navigated the strait’s ice floes on foot. However Lynne Cox swam between the Diomedes in 1987, The public support was so immense that Reagan and Gorbachev thanked her at the signing of the nuclear forces treaty. Gorbachev: “It took a daring American girl by the name of Lynne Cox a mere two hours to swim the distance separating our two countries, By her courage she showed how close to each other our two peoples live.” Trump: “We’re not gonna let them violate a nuclear agreement, and go out and do weapons. So we’re going to terminate the agreement. We’re gonna pull out.” We could really do with another Lynne Cox right now. Something to bring the US and Russia together. The whole world a little closer. Even if it has to be marketed to us as a trade deal or a “Trans-Pacific Infrastructure Investment”. A bridge would be a common project, a physical link forcing superpowers to cooperate. But ignoring all political and financial hurdles for now. Is it even possible? Currently the world’s longest sea bridge is 34 miles across, Connecting Hong Kong to Zhuhai and Macau in China. And although the Bering Strait is 51 miles, the longest bridge you’d actually have to build would only be 26. The Diomedes make two perfect stopping points. You could build a US bridge on one side and a Russian bridge on the other. In fact, make it a race the loser has to build the three-mile bridge connecting the two. Construction would be slow, for seven months of the year the temperature is well below freezing, and although the Strait rarely freezes large chunks of ice are funneled through the passage from the Arctic. These ice floes would exert enormous pressure on any structure we built. There may be engineering solution around this, but perhaps the simplest would be to scrap the bridge and dig a tunnel. Tunnels may not lend themselves to metaphors as well, but they’re warmer, often cheaper over long distances, you can lay gas, oil, and electricity alongside. They’re protected from harsh weather, and ships can still pass above them. With the Arctic ice caps melting, the Bering Strait could become a very busy shipping lane in the next 20 years. The Strait is relatively shallow, the maximum depth is only 55 metres. The Channel Tunnel is a hundred metres below sea level. That opened in 1994 connecting the UK to Europe, and that relationship is going swimmingly. A tunnel (unlike a bridge) doesn’t have to intersect the Diomedes, it can start and end at more convenient points. But therein lies the problem. There are no convenient points. Here’s a map of the Alaskan and Siberian road networks, the closest highways are 2,000 miles apart. In Russia anything east of Magadan is impossible to get to by car. And although there are plans for major Alaskan routes, anything west of Fairbanks is tricky. Tunnelling under the Bering Strait would be the easy part, you’d also have to build thousands of miles of roads, over rough terrain, in incredibly harsh conditions. And after all that you’ve still got to persuade people to drive it. The only sensible option would be a train. You’ll still face all the same obstacles during construction, but a warm high-speed railroad from Anchorage to Vladivostok is way more convenient than a 60 hour drive through the Arctic. The main use of such a railroad would be freight. If we extend the network through North America and into China, it could transport a significant amount of the world’s cargo. But now we’ve got one of the biggest engineering projects in the world, costing hundreds of billions of dollars. Is there a need for it? An Arctic railroad would have to compete with our existing freight network, boats and planes. The busiest shipping route in the world by cargo is China to North America. So let’s say we want to ship one metric ton between the two busiest ports, Shanghai to Vancouver. We’ve got four options; ship, air, rail ,and road. A boat can do it in 15 to 20 days, cost us $300, and produce 225kg of CO2. Plane: 1 day, $3,500, 4,400kg. A train: 2 to 4 days, $400, 630kg. And a truck: 7 to 10 days, $900, 1,050kg. If speed is the priority and money no object, a plane is the way to go. But if speed doesn’t matter and you want the best value for money then shipping is the clear winner. Ships and planes account for 90% of global trade, that is a lot of fuel being burned all day, every day. Diesel trains are not environmentally friendly, but both Alaska and Siberia have stores of untapped geothermal energy. We need to replace as many major transport routes as possible with renewable alternatives, and high-speed electric trains are one of them. There’d definitely be a market for an Arctic railroad, it would dramatically improve travel time without an enormous increase in price. Whether it would be profitable for whoever built it though is another matter. It would have to be a financier with very deep pockets, and probably an ulterior motive. That pretty much leaves three options; Russia, America, or China. China are building railways and shipping ports everywhere. They’re already building high-speed railways connecting Europe, Africa and Asia. All with China as the central hub. They don’t just want to be at the crossroads. They want to be the crossroads, for all future international trade and transport. That means North and South America are definitely on the agenda. In fact, they proposed a high-speed railway connecting china to the US in 2007. Putin has given China approval to build through Siberia. And then in 2015 China and Russia announced they were collaborating, to build the Siberia and Alaska passage together. This is mostly just talk, but it’s getting louder and more frequent. There’s a reasonable chance of it happening with or without US involvement. It would be a real shame if multiple countries didn’t cooperate on this project. Not to mention the dangerous power dynamic it could create. An Arctic railroad connecting China, Russia, and the US would be an amazing achievement. An opportunity for three superpowers, currently jostling for their place in the century, to collaborate on a common project. One that could genuinely improve the world, environmentally, financially, and politically.

    Brazil’s Geography Problem
    Articles, Blog

    Brazil’s Geography Problem

    August 14, 2019


    This video was made possible by Skillshare. Learn from 21,000 classes for free for two
    months at https://skl.sh/wendover3. There are plenty of lines you can draw on
    the globe but perhaps none is more consequential than the equator. Of the 15 wealthiest countries
    in the world as measured by GDP per capita, all are in the northern hemisphere. Only 800
    million of earth’s 7.6 billion residents live south of the equator. There is a clear
    divide between north and south but of those 800 million people a quarter of them, about
    207 million, live here in Brazil. The country is an exception to the global trend. Brazil
    is the fifth most populous country in the world and the most populous entirely within
    the southern hemisphere. Its economy has grown enormously and the country is quickly developing.
    Although, the very land it sits on stacks the odds against it. Its location gives it
    a disadvantage. Given this, the question is whether Brazil can develop into a world superpower
    by the likes of the US, Europe, Russia, India, and China or if the country is doomed to fail? Brazil, of course, looks like this but in
    reality almost 80% of the country’s population lives here—within 200 miles of the coast.
    You do see a concentration of population near the coast in any country as it provides a
    cheap and easy means of transportation by boats and a source of food through fishing
    but few countries have such a severe concentration of people by the oceans as Brazil. This small
    area, for example, is home to three of Brazil’s six largest cities. Normally this would help
    development as the area in between cities will urbanize but this map doesn’t tell
    the whole story—this one does. You see, this area of Brazil is rather mountainous.
    The major cities mostly exist in small pockets of low-altitude, flat land on the ocean. This
    is because major cities need easy water access to get goods in and out. The majority of Brazil’s
    coast is defined by steep, sheer cliffs. Petrópolis, for example, a suburb of Rio, is a mere 13
    miles from the ocean and yet it sits at almost 3,000 feet of altitude. The rare areas with
    low-altitude land on the water are where cities like Porte Alegre, Rio de Janeiro, and Recife
    are but this pattern has two consequences. First, these cities, while being on flat land
    themselves are surrounded by cliffs and mountainous regions which means their growth is limited.
    There are plenty of cities that exist in mountainous regions but the world’s largest and most
    influential cities like London and Delhi and Beijing all exist in areas with absolutely
    no geographical features limiting their growth. The fact that Brazil’s cities locate in
    rare low-altitude coastal land means that the country will likely never have a megalopolis
    by the likes of the Pearl River Delta or the US Northeast. It takes a surprising six hours
    to drive between Rio and Sao Paolo and since there’s no low-altitude coastal land in
    between them, there are really no major cities in between them too. Brazil’s cities are
    confined to the geographically convenient areas which are spread out from each other.
    This means the cities can’t collaborate easily with each other thereby limiting Brazil’s
    impact on the world stage. Like any large country, Brazil’s development
    potential is also linked to how it gets its food. This, in fact, might be Brazil’s greatest
    obstacle as it really doesn’t hav e much great farmland, at least yet. The country’s
    main agricultural region is its south which is blessed with great soil and great rivers
    that help transport crops away from their farms. Interestingly, the same elevation that
    leads to steep coastal cliffs causes rivers to run in a counterintuitive direction. The
    Tietê river, for example, starts near Sao Paolo a mere 10 miles away from the Atlantic
    ocean but then runs inland almost 500 miles where it flows into the Paraná River which
    eventually flows out into the ocean near Buenos Aires, Argentina. If a farmer wants to export
    their food abroad, it’s often cheaper to first ship it the thousands of miles by boat
    on these rivers than just hundreds of miles overland to Brazil’s coast due to their
    poor road infrastructure. This means that Argentina gets the business of packing up
    and shipping Brazil’s food to other countries. That’s just lost money for Brazil as a result
    of their geography. Brazil’s south, though, does not even have enough land to feed the
    country’s own 200 million residents. Given that, the question is where to put the rest
    of the farms. In Brazil’s north is the Amazon basin. The
    central feature of this region is, of course, the Amazon River which is navigable for boats.
    Normally this feature would lead to a significant population as navigable rivers serve as cheap
    and easy transport for crops and goods but the banks of the Amazon are a tough place
    to farm or live. Not only are they muddy and unstable which makes building difficult, but
    the Amazon also regularly floods which means that every year many of the communities on
    the banks of the Amazon can have their streets underwater for months. Building and living
    in the Amazonian cities is difficult, but what’s more difficult is building the roads
    in and out. The largest city in the Amazon, Manaus, is home to 2.6 million people, it’s
    as big as Baltimore, and yet there are only three roads connecting the city to the outside
    world. Many of the smaller towns around the Amazon have no roads going in and out as its
    just incredibly costly and difficult to build roads through the rainforest. In fact, rather
    unbelievably, there is not a single bridge spanning over the Amazon so there is no way
    to drive from the northernmost region of Brazil to the rest without taking a ferry. Overall,
    this whole area is just empty. Even if there was the infrastructure to transport crops
    to market, farming in the Amazon involves clearing huge amounts of land and even then,
    the soil is relatively infertile which leads to poor yields. Despite being Brazil’s largest
    state, Amazonas is home to just 1.8% of its population. It just costs too much to build
    the infrastructure needed to live there. To the south of the Amazon, though, is an
    area known as the Cerrado. This vast savanna used to be in the same category as the Amazon—it
    was empty. The problem was not only that there was no natural network of rivers to get crops
    out of the area but also that the soil was too acidic and lacking enough nutrients to
    easily grow large quantities of crops. Between both the Amazon and the Cerrado being off-limits
    for large-scale farming, that meant that Brazil really didn’t have much land at all for
    farming. 30 years ago, with only the south to farm, Brazil was actually a net importer
    of food—it bought more food from other countries than it sold. That was until researchers discovered
    that all you needed to do to fix the soil was add phosphorous and lime. The phosphorous
    served as a fertilizer in the place of natural nutrients and the lime worked to reduce the
    level of acidity. In the early 2000’s, the country spread more than 25 million tons of
    lime per year and so today the Cerrado accounts for 70% of Brazil’s farmland. In addition,
    Brazil has begun growing soybeans. This plant is normally grown in more temperate climates
    such as the US, northern China, or Japan, but through cross-breeding and genetic modification
    it can be modified to grow in warmer and acidic environments such as the Brazilian Cerrado.
    Thanks to the enormous amount of land Brazil has and these technological advancements the
    country has gone from producing 16% of the world’s soybean in 2005 to 31% today.
    A country’s level of development is often to linked to how good its natural transportation
    system is. That’s part of why the US developed so much so fast—it has a great system of
    navigable rivers right in its agricultural heartland that helps get goods from the fields
    to cities fast and inexpensively. The Brazilian Cerrado, though, does not have that. It doesn’t
    even have much of a preexisting network of roads since before this recent agricultural
    advancement barely anyone lived there. Therefore anyone who wants to farm in the Cerrado has
    to find land, level it, treat it with phosphate and lime, and build roads to get supplies
    in and crops out. Cerrado farms can be profitable but it takes an enormous amount of money to
    build the infrastructure needed to start a farm. It’s not like the US or France or
    China where all you need is some land. The consequence of this is that farms in Brazil
    tend to owned by corporations rather than individuals because only corporations have
    the money to build farms. That therefore increases the level of wealth disparity in Brazil. According
    to the World Bank’s Gini index, Brazil is the 11th most economically unequal country
    in the world. Lower wealth disparity and the emergence of a middle class are indicators
    of economic development so the country should want to fix this. Brazil’s government has
    recognized its infrastructure problem as a source of its wealth disparity and has therefore
    worked to build roads in the interior so that more individuals can run farms but the government
    only has so much money to spend and it’s a big country.
    Brazil does, though, understand the importance of its core. It understands that the coastal
    cities are constrained and that economic development will come from the center. It was partially
    for that reason that the country decided to move its capital from Rio de Janeiro to here—Brasília.
    The thinking was that putting the capital in the core would stimulate the economically
    underdeveloped region and, in many ways, it worked. The city simply did not exist before
    1960 yet today more than 4 million people live in its metropolitan area. Being located
    on relatively flat land unlike Rio, the city can just grow and grow and grow without hinderance.
    Brazil has potential, but its defining issue is that it’s an expensive place. It’s a
    vicious cycle. In order to make money, Brazil needs to invest in its infrastructure but
    without people making money it doesn’t have the tax money to build what it takes t o transition
    into the first world. The question of why tropical countries are less developed is an
    enormous one without a clear answer, but Brazil is one of the most likely candidates to break
    this trend. It certainly lags behind other developing countries like China, but as its
    agriculture industry develops it will become a bigger and bigger exporter which will bring
    more money in. With time, its average income will inch up. The country already does have
    major companies in other industries such as banking, manufacturing, and oil but with how
    big Brazil is, agriculture is the one that’s the world’s focus right now. Only France,
    Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States export more agricultural products per year
    which is good company to be in. Brazil may not have the explosive growth rate of some
    other less developed countries but by continuously taking what it earns and reinvesting it to
    open up more of the country to agricultural production it will continue its path to superpower
    status. One of the common questions I receive is how
    I started making these videos. The first step was learning the skills needed from writing
    to research to sound design and editing, but for each and every one of them there’s a
    course on Skillshare. Skillshare, you see, is an online learning community that has more
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    learn skills to help you make videos, to show off at parties, or even to help you get a
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    months exclusively by going to skl.sh/wendover3. Skillshare makes this show possible and its
    a great place to learn or improve your skills so please do check them out, once again, at
    skl.sh/wendover3. Thanks for watching and I’ll see you again in three weeks for another
    Wendover Productions video.