Capturing the Size and Density of New York City and Environs on a Map of Major U.S. Cities

As mentioned in the previous post, depictions of the population density of major U.S. cities tend to under-emphasize the significance of New York City. New York is clearly the most densely inhabited major city in the United States, with 29,303 people per mi sq (in 2020), a figure that far overshadows that of second-place San Francisco (18,631). San Francisco, moreover, makes a poor comparison, as its total population is more than an order of magnitude less than that of New York (808,437 vs. 8,335,897 in 2022).

The population concentration found in the core areas of New York City is also masked by the relatively low density of some of its outlying areas, particularly of Staten Island. With a population of 8,618 per mi sq (in 2020), Staten Island is comparable in this regard to Los Angeles (8,304.22 per mi sq). In contrast, Brooklyn – which would be the country’s second most populous city if the boroughs of New York had never amalgamated – had a population density of 39,438 per mi sq in 2020, a far higher figure than that of San Francisco. But it is Manhattan that really stands out. Its 1,694,251 residents (2020) are crowded into a mere 22.83 square miles, giving it a density of 74,781 people per sq mi. A century earlier, Manhattan had been even more densely populated. When its population peaked at 2,331,542 in 1910, its density exceeded 100,000 people per mi sq, a figure that makes San Francisco seem sparsely settled in comparison.

In short, when it comes to both urban population size and density in the United States, New York City is in a league of its own, with no real competition. To illustrate this situation, I have redrafted two of the maps that were used to illustrate the previous GeoCurrents post. In the new versions (below), New York is broken down into its five constituent boroughs. A new density scheme was required as well, as four of New York’s five boroughs monopolize the top three categories in the new 2022 map. As the redrafted 1950 map shows, Queens and especially Staten Island were much less densely inhabited than the other boroughs at the time. This map highlights the significance of Brooklyn, the Bronx, and especially Manhattan as the country’s most densely populated urban places in the mid-twentieth century.

But even this redrafted map does not adequately capture the elevated population densities found in the greater New York City region. As the table of the most densely populated incorporated cities in the United States (posted below) reveals, New York City itself ranks in only the sixth position. The four cities with the highest density are all in Hudson County, New Jersey, immediately to the west of Manhattan. The largest city in Hudson County – Jersey City – is not on this list. But if cities that cover very small areas (below five square miles) are excluded, Jersey City ranks in the second position. Yonkers, which is immediately north of the Bronx, also makes this list of the most densely populated sizable U.S. cities. To reflect this concentration of dense urbanism in the New York metro area, I have edited the map once more, this time including Hudson County and Yonkers.


One more GeoCurrents post will examine population density in American cities. After that, this blog will turn to the recent elections in New Zealand and Poland before returning to the historical development of the urban system of the United States.