Skip to Content
Streetsblog Chicago home
Log In
Streetsblog USA

Wowza: Scale Maps of Barcelona and Atlanta Show the Waste of Sprawl

2:14 PM CDT on September 3, 2014

diagram-barcelona

This graphic was created by Alain Bertaud, a senior researcher at NYU’s Stern Urbanization Project. He was formerly principal urban planner for the World Bank. Part of his work has focused on comparing densities of world cities.

In this stunning comparison of metro Atlanta and Barcelona, you can see that the two regions have almost the same population. Barcelona is actually a little bit bigger in that respect. They also have a roughly similar total length of rail transit: Barcelona has 99 miles of rail lines to Atlanta’s 74. But the living patterns couldn’t be more different. Atlantans are just way, way more spread out. In fact, the urbanized area of Atlanta is 26.5 times that of Barcelona. That has an enormous impact on the usefulness of the transit systems, Bertaud explains:

Urban densities are not trivial, they severely limit the transport mode choice and change only very slowly. Because of the large differences in densities between Atlanta and Barcelona about the same length of metro line is accessible to 60% of the population in Barcelona but only 4% in Atlanta. The low density of Atlanta render this city improper for rail transit.

Bertaud counts “accessible” as within one-third of a mile of a rail transit station.

Bertaud’s comparison focuses mainly on how low-density development affects one aspect of city life: the efficiency of transit. But there are many, many other ways Atlanta’s spread out nature produces waste, inefficiency, and high costs. Atlanta’s sprawling scale means it needs roads, utilities, and public services that cover 26.5 times as great an area as Barcelona’s public infrastructure and services do. And it means individual people must travel farther — at great personal and environmental expense — as they go about their daily lives.

h/t @joesarling and @m_clem.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from Streetsblog Chicago

Taste of 79th Community Walk uses a stroll with a New Orleans-style brass band to highlight the corridor

Saturday's event was a reminder that there's no better way to get to know a neighborhood than taking a walk with others, enjoying live music, and supporting local businesses.

September 20, 2023

Check it out: Now it’s safer to get on and off the 312 RiverRun from Belmont Avenue

One of the coolest new things on the on-street route is the treatment of Belmont near and over the Chicago River, by the southern trailhead of the north-south path.

September 19, 2023

Who’s to blame for the killing of a man on the sidewalk after two drivers crashed in West Ridge?

The police statement and crash report provide different accounts of which driver should have yielded, but a 6-lane street layout may have also played a role in the tragedy.

September 19, 2023
See all posts