As of 2008, for the first time in human history about as many people live in urban areas as suburban or rural ones. That means there are a lot of people who think that they deal with greater levels of traffic, more crime, more overcrowding, and higher costs of living than residents of places they consider barely populated backwaters.
Well, those urbanites have something to consider: They live with country bumpkin-levels of those problems compared to the denizens of the following cities. Depending on the city in question, that makes them much more fortunate, or unfortunate, than the occupants probably realize.
Now, it’s important to remember, when we say “extreme” we don’t mean these are places where you should grab a Mountain Dew and a snowboard, bruh. These 10 cities, instead, exist at the extreme edge of various spectrums. Let’s take a closer look, shall we?
10. Largest Population
This is one of the more contentious records as far as cities of the world go, since during rush hour or big events they can all feel like they’ve got the most people in them. Some of the most populous cities in developing nations have very outdated, underfunded bureaucracies which can make an accurate census report difficult to acquire. This is especially true for two of the leading contenders, Jakarta, Indonesia and Delhi, India. But even the highest estimates put them at the city the World Atlas claims is the world champion: Tokyo, Japan.
As of November 2016, Tokyo’s population was reported to be roughly 37,830,000 residents. To put that very large number in perspective, the population of Japan is reported by the CIA to be roughly 127,000,000 people. More than a quarter of the island nation’s population is located in one urban area. And yet, it’s by no means the largest city or the most crowded.
9. Largest Land Area
In July 2016, Guardian magazine said that urban areas were expected to triple in size over the next forty years. That’s also probably how long it will take any of the fastest growing cities to overtake the current largest urban area in the world. The champion city in that regard is unquestionably New York City, New York, with a metro area of 8,683 square kilometers (or 5,395 square miles if you’re going to use the imperial system like a true American).
It’s over 1,700 square kilometers more than Tokyo, the next largest urban area. It’s also nearly as large as the entire state of Connecticut (5,543 square miles). As it happens, growth in New York City has been slowing as recently as 2016. So it’s not out of the question for the little joke from the start of this entry that some other city will overtake it in the coming decades will have some truth to it.
8. Most Densely Populated City
As heavily populated and vast as New York and Tokyo are, they’re not even close to the most crowded, even if stories of people having to pay hundreds of dollars to live in closets might give that impression. After all, they are cities with large numbers of wealthy inhabitants who can afford decently-sized apartments and houses No, you have to go to the developing world to find places where people truly have no elbow room. Not even to a notoriously crowded city like Hong Kong. It’s one which many people in the Western Hemisphere haven’t even heard of, let alone a famous city. It’s Dhaka, the largest metropolis in Bangladesh.
At 16,235,000, its population is roughly a million less than that of the New York Metro area, but it’s less than 125 square miles in size. There are more than 110,000 people per square mile, and considering that the Telegraph reported that it was rated the second least livable city in the world, the housing is overwhelmingly slums. Unfortunately for many of the people who already live there, it’s only going to get worse in the immediate future because it’s also one of the fastest growing cities in the world.
7. Most Expensive City
The average person on the street would probably guess that the answer is New York City again, considering it’s a city where a single riverside house can go for as much as $130 million. But we live in a rapidly changing world, so we have to look across the Pacific once again to find the real ‘winner’. As of 2014, that honor swung over to Singapore, particularly due to the rising cost of utilities, food (11% higher than New York City), clothing (50% higher than New York City), and vehicular ownership. Not owning a car won’t save you that much: Singapore’s other transportation methods are three times more expensive than NYC’s.
This dubiously desirable record was still held as of 2016, though it’s been so volatile that it dropped and rose 10% during the time in between. With that in mind, such a volatile economic status means that a bust that leaves it one of the cheaper cities to live in might be around the corner.
6. Healthiest City
It’s time for us to look at an unambiguously positive record for a city to have, for a change. From clear air initiatives to encouraging cycling, many cities are going out of their way to increase the longevity of their citizens. The front runner is, once again, a city that’s not particularly famous. It’s the city-state of Monaco, which is totally surrounded by France except for a coast along Mediterranean Sea. You’ve probably only heard of it either if you’re into Formula One racing, or because you’re a fan of Grace Kelly. It’s only about two square kilometers (1.24 miles) with a population of only roughly 38,000. Odds are you’ve only heard of it for how ridiculously small it is compared to most nations.
However, Monaco exists in no small part as a tax shelter, and thus it has drawn a highly disproportionate number of wealthy people. So not only does it have enough people who can afford top-of-the-line medical treatment and lifestyles, it has taken on green initiatives and has many electric cars for government employees, driving down illnesses caused by emissions. The result is the residents have an average life expectancy of a staggering 89.6 years. Perhaps the city-state doesn’t seem so silly now?
5. City with Worst Traffic
Even people who’ve been stuck in traffic for hours doesn’t really understand how bad it can get. Imagine that the worst traffic you’ve experienced was not only significantly worse, but that such an amount of traffic is effectively routine. If you can imagine that, then you’ve just pictured life for the average driver in Mexico City, the city which has held the title for “Worst Traffic” for multiple years. It’s also the only country in the Western Hemisphere in the top five.
During regular hours, a driver in Mexico can expect a trip to take at least 66% longer to reach the destination than if there was no traffic congestion. When rush hour comes around, however, this will balloon to around 101%. Every driver can look forward to spending an average of just under an hour a work day stuck in congested traffic. Even factoring in days off and other times that might help them avoid the worst congestion, the average person in Mexico City will still spend 227 hours a year stuck in traffic, or just over nine days total. It’s frankly kind of amazing enough people are willing to put up with that, to the point where the traffic can remain so bad.
4. Most Impoverished City in the World
It’s no surprise that the poorest city in the world is located in an area that was torn apart by civil war for decades. Even 14 years after the end of a 23-year civil war, Monrovia, Liberia can hardly be described as having recovered. It’s the largest city in Liberia and the capital, with a population of roughly one million. Despite that, amenities most people take completely for granted are generally out of the question for them.
Public transportation is limited to sparse private taxis. Electricity is utterly unreliable, leaving such devices as ATMs and credit card readers out of the question. Those with access to electricity aren’t supposed to use it between 2 and 6 a.m. Monrovia’s plumbing infrastructure is so insufficient that only one third of the population even has access to a flush toilet. They have to rely on makeshift latrines or even public spaces. Even for those whose toilet functions, the sewage system for the city is failing, leaving the sanitation bad enough that it’s no surprise the city was hit by an ebola outbreak.
3. Happiest City
Okay, since that was pretty grim, let’s lighten the mood by focusing on something positive. It might seem difficult or unscientific to quantify something as abstract as the happiness of a city. However, the design and consultation firm Arcadis’s method for determining it still seems pretty credible. It was to take the balance of the population’s health, the amount of prejudices the citizens faced and expressed, the levels of education, employment levels vs. cost of living, and the crime rate. After crunching the available data of all that, the city in question turned out to be none other than Seoul, the capital city of South Korea. You might think that a city that is constantly threatened with nuclear destruction by a notoriously unstable neighbor would make the city more paranoid, but this does not seem to be the case (it undoubtedly helps that North Korean missiles are infamously unreliable).
Unfortunately for fans of small government, this success is attributed in no small part to extensive urban planning. Seoul’s government also heavily favors globalist policies. Maybe you feel living in a happier city might not be worth accepting all that, but it feels like something worth considering.
2. The Most Homicidal City
Let’s get the most negative one out of the way. Many people believe that cities are inherently more violent than rural areas (although a study published in 2013 showed that cities actually aren’t any more dangerous than less populated areas), so they’ll assume that the most violent one must be practically a free-fire zone. That city would be Caracas, Venezuela, which is also that nation’s capital.
As the World Atlas reported in February 2017, the capital’s murder rate reached 119.87 per 100,000 people, meaning that with a population of 2.1 million, 2,517 homicides will occur there in a year. It’s one of only four cities in the world where the murder rate is more than 100 per 100,000. To give an idea just how much homicide there is in Venezuela, there are two other Venezuelan cities in the worldwide top ten for homicides a year. It’s more than double the homicide rate of St. Louis, Missouri, which now has the highest murder rate in America per capita. It’s also not a brand new development. Even back in 2011, Caracas’s murder rate became notorious when it rose above Baghdad’s. Hopefully there’s still time for anyone reading to cancel their plans to take a vacation there.
1. Oldest City in the World
We’ll conclude this list with a neutral fact. In this case, we don’t mean which was the first city ever built (evidence indicates this would be long-abandoned Jericho of Old Testament fame). What we’re looking for is which city has been continuously occupied since it was founded for the longest time. You might think it’s somewhere in Africa, where humans first evolved. Maybe you assume it’s somewhere in Eastern Asia? How about in the Middle East, where Mesopotamia is known as the Cradle of Civilization? Turns out it’s the last one, and it’s a city that likely will be quite familiar to anyone following current world events. As reported by The Guardian magazine, it’s poor, war-ravaged Aleppo, the largest city in Syria, that has the strongest claim.
Aleppo was first founded as a city circa 6,000 BC, because it occupied easily defended, hilly terrain. Its easy access to the Queiq River connected it to what’s now the nation of Turkey, and made it a valuable trading center for millennia. Being located in the notoriously volatile Middle East has meant it was conquered and reconquered many times by many empires including the Assyrians, Egyptians, and so on. So while it’s currently experiencing extreme turmoil, we can be assured that it will be able to recover eventually. It certainly has plenty of times in the past.
Dustin Koski writes from River Falls, Wis., which isn’t even an extreme town, let alone city. Still, might as well follow him on Facebook.