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The Wild Spaces

  • Written by  Benjamin Hennig
  • Published in Mapping
The Wild Spaces Benjamin Hennig
23 Jan
2016
Where are the world's remaining wild spaces? Benjamin Hennig explores these remaining spots of isolation

In a globalised world, distance appears to have become almost irrelevant. Transport and communication technologies have changed our interaction with distant places considerably, and there appear to be few remote or even undiscovered spaces left on our planet.

Earth’s surface has an extent of approximately 510 million sq km of which almost 30 per cent (149 million sq km) is land area. And yet, despite humans having become such a dominant factor, 106 million sq km of the land surface remains unoccupied or unused.

Only very small amounts of people are living in sparsely populated areas, which is an expression of the strong organisation of human societies to maximise those living in close relative proximity. 95 per cent of the world’s population lives on just ten per cent of the land area. However, the remaining 90 per cent of space is far from being uniformly remote. Some of the spaces unspoiled by human occupation are quite inaccessible even in our interconnected world. In a study conducted for the World Bank’s World Development Report, Uchida and Nelson looked at the accessibility of places by calculating the travel time from the nearest large city of 50,000 or more people using land- or water-based travel.

Ten per cent of the land area is so remote that it is more than 48 hours travel time from a large city. In wealthier countries, only 15 per cent of people live more than an hour of travel time from a large city, while the same applies to 65 per cent of people living in the poorer regions of the world.

wildspacesBenjamin Hennig

This cartogram shows the land surface transformed according to the absolute travel time that is necessary to reach the nearest large city using a gridded cartogram projection. The larger a grid cell appears, the more remote it is, highlighting the least accessible spaces on the planet (Antarctica has not been included in the transformation and appears in its original shape).

More than half of the world’s population according to UN estimates now lives in cities. This map shows those places that most of the people living in the world need the longest time to get to. It draws an image of the areas that are almost disconnected from the often-quoted ‘shrinking’ effects of globalisation. This world map is the striking opposite representation of our image of a globalised and interconnected world, of those vanishing places that we thought do not exist anymore.

Benjamin Hennig (@geoviews) is a senior research fellow in the School of Geography and the Environment at the University of Oxford. He is involved in the Worldmapper project and maintains the visualisation blog www.viewsoftheworld.net

This article was published in the January 2016 edition of Geographical magazine.

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