Square Footage

This one’s mine!

So I was conversing with a fellow I know, and the right side of my brain asked the left side, “So just how much square footage per person is there these days?” We both agreed that seemed like an interesting question (given all the people running around these days), so we looked around for a body to help us research the answer.

We just happened to find one handy, so off we all went to the virtual library and math lab.  Unfortunately our math consultant was a Communications Arts major and made a small error thinking square kilometers to square miles was the same as kilometers to miles. Fortunately everyone involved obsessively double-checks their work, so we caught the error in time.

Pity, though. The original answer would have been fun to write about.

But the actual answer is pretty interesting, too!

world pop curveWe started with the total world population, as provided by World-o-Meters. The number increases by the minute, so we rounded up:

7,182,450,000 (and counting)

Yikes, we passed seven billion! Seems like just yesterday it was six.

Our research department found discovering the available earth land surface more challenging (especially with the math errors and the distraction of a baseball game).  Like the population, it’s a number that changes depending mostly on exactly what you consider land (ice shelves, for example). Unlike population, which just keeps increasing, land surface area is just tricky to pin down.

[Sea level also plays a role, but the coast line doesn’t change that much in the short-term. However… if all the ice in Greenland were to melt — making Greenland Greenlandmore like its namesake and less like its little neighbor’s namesake (who ironically also has it backwards)] — the sea level would rise about 22 feet. That may not sound like much, but say goodbye to Manhattan, much of Florida, and a lot of other nice coastal area.]

In any event, after considerable debate (and dinner) the research department (all except for two parts of the mind: one wanted to watch TV, the other voted for a nap) decided on a figure:

148,900,000 square kilometers

Or for us metrics-challenged folks:

57,506,020 square miles

Which is a whopping:

1,606,821,477,134,336 square feet

(Wouldn’t you like to see the Real Estate ad with that figure?)

Carry the four…

From there it seemed like a simple bit of math: Divide the land surface area by the number of people, and the result is how much square area each person has.

That’s assuming we distributed all the Earth’s population evenly across all land area. (You can probably see the problem already, but I’ll get to that later.)

((And no, the problem isn’t the difficulty in convincing all those people to spread out. That’s what the cattle prods are for.))

The answer turns out to be:

20,736.7 sq meters per person
0.0080064 sq miles per person
223,715 sq feet per person

Jus’ chillin’ and enjoyin’ my 357 foot2 lot!

So we each get over 200,000 square feet of land to call our own! If we take “square footage” seriously, that forms a square patch just a hair under 473 feet on all sides. (Or you can have a plot one foot wide and 472+ feet long.)

As a square, that’s about the size of a (rather large) baseball field. For reference, Target Field in Minnesota is 328 feet by 339 feet, and some of the outfield is cut off by the fence (it’s only 404 feet to the center field fence, but the actual diagonal to the far corner would be 470-ish).

That’s a goodly patch of land! The only thing is, for some of us, it’s located on Mount Everest, or the middle of the desert or deep in the Amazon jungle. (That’s the problem alluded to above!) It’s going to be difficult for them to build a baseball field when lack of water or oxygen is a concern!

We can make those poor souls more comfortable by forfeiting the deserts and mountains. (But who wouldn’t want a baseball field in the Amazon jungle!) According the University of Texas, “33% is desert and about 24% is mountainous.” Subtracting that 57% gives us:

84,895,800 sq km
32,778,431 sq miles
915,888,241,966,572 sq feet

After doing the math again, we find out that now we all get:

11,819.8 sq meters per person
0.0045636 sq miles per person
127,517.5 sq feet per person

So, to accommodate everyone more comfortably, we’ll have to close ranks a bit and settle for just over 125,000 square feet. That still makes a square patch 357 feet on a side (or about 108.7 meters), and that’s still (very large) baseball field-sized!

Steam rooms to the left, bowling alley on the right!

Of course, these are all ramblers. If we go vertical, we can increase our personal footage. (I’m thinking Olympic-size pool and steam rooms in the basement (maybe a bowling alley) and a sprawling space observatory and dog park on the roof!)

You might be wondering about that math error. Or if you’re more math astute, laughing about it.  Turns out the standard conversion of kilometers to miles isn’t directly useable when it comes to square kilometers and miles.  A little thought shows why:

Imagine you have a small plot one kilometer square. Each side is 1 km, which means each side is 0.621371 miles. If you naively convert 1 square km to square miles (using the same factor), you’d get the answer 0.62+ square miles. But consider the formula to calculate square whatevers: multiply one side by the other. If we multiply 1 km side by the other 1 km side, sure enough, we get 1 square km.

sq kmBut here’s the trick: if we multiply 0.621371 by itself, we get 0.38610, and that is the correct answer!

When I did the square footage calculation the wrong way, I came up with that we all got a patch about 70 feet on a side.  That’s smaller than a baseball diamond (which is 90 feet on a side).  I found that answer very surprising, since I thought I’d heard much larger answers in the past. Surprising answers demand a closer look and double-checking.

And if I’ve learned one thing in my years as a computer programmer (actually I’ve learned quite a few things), it’s that when the system or answer seems way out of whack, it’s almost always an error on my part.

But just for grins, I did take a look at how much the situation has changed since we had six billion.  Back then (October 1999), we all had:

14,149.3 sq kilometers per person
0.0054630 sq miles per person
152,648.0 sq feet per person

Which amounted to a patch about 390.7 feet on a side (119 meters).

Back at the five billion mark (July 1987 — 26 years ago):

16,979.16 sq kilometers per person
183,177.6 sq feet per person

And that gave us very nearly 428 side feet on our lots (130.3 meters). That’s noticeably more elbow room (although it’s less than we’d have today if we used all available land surface area). But still, at that size we could include the entire ballpark, not just the field (which gives us access to the concession stands!).

Let’s make one more jump, back to the three billion mark in 1960:

28,298.6 sq kilometers per person
305,296.0 sq feet per person

Back in those days we had vast estates over 552 feet on each side (168.2 meters)! It was a much longer walk to go borrow a cup of sugar. On the other hand, we had the parking lot in addition to the ballpark.

crowdedAll in all, it’s getting more crowded, obviously, but even on our 357-foot lots there’s a fair bit of space. We’ll all have to chip in for roads and public buildings, and no doubt some will join together to farm.

(We’ll have to make sure the farmer-types get the farm land!)  If we all give up half our square footage, we’d still be able to have lots over 250 feet on a side.

One more thing: I’m calling dibs on Target Field!

Real Programmers[By the way, hello, Communication Arts major, so you might want to check the math. Sure, I was a computer programmer for three decades, but we only used ones and zeros, so — again — check the math! You always should anyway.]

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

15 responses to “Square Footage

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Attention: If you read this between when I published it and when I wrote this comment (assuming you return), there are three new paragraphs added starting just to the left of the image of the guy on the mountain. The first new line reads, “So we each get…”

    Somehow in adding or editing the caption on that image I accidentally deleted those three paragraphs. I noticed something didn’t feel right about the article, but couldn’t quite put my finger on it. It’s hard to see what’s wrong with something that isn’t there!

    But the light bulb finally lit, and you’ll find the article reads a lot more sensibly now that the set up for “baseball field” and “Amazon jungle” are back in place.

    • Lady from Manila

      Er, just don’t count on me to check the math. I’m busy or something… [Why do you think I switched to teaching English to (ugh) Koreans from keeping financial records as an accountant?] 🙂

      Seriously, I like this post better now, especially the part where you deduced and played with the idea of a baseball field in the middle of the Amazon jungle.
      But what about the animals also inhabiting this planet?

      Perhaps I won’t get used to having that much land all to myself. I’m gonna get lonely. 🙂

      • Wyrd Smythe

        We should be okay, because (as far as I know) animals don’t play baseball! And, of course, there will be several dogs running around on my patch (when we’re not using it for a baseball game). If you get lonely, you can always come and visit. Or get a bunch of people together, merge plots and become a town!

        “(ugh) Koreans”? Careful… one of my college sweeties was Korean… 😛

      • Lady from Manila

        I was actually referring to how all the animals will be distributed to the lands assigned for each person. We can’t just elbow them out or shoo them away out to the sea. 🙂 (Ok I’m being silly)

        “So just how much square footage per person is there these days?” Interesting question. But as world population increases, we may have to hurry up in converting Mars as our 2nd habitable planet, don’t you think?

        You had a Korean girlfriend?! No kidding. I bet she made you eat super hot spicy foods. 😉

        Now now, I really should go to sleep before my silly questions get out of hand. 🙂

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Well, it’s my idea, so I get first pick of the dogs. After that, the rest of you can figure out how to divvy up the others! 😐

        I think we do need to get off this planet before it’s hit with a huge asteroid, and we definitely need to get out of the solar system before the sun turns into a red giant and consumes the Earth (and Mars). (Literally: the sun will be so big when that happens that the Earth’s orbit will be inside the sun.)

        It wasn’t the food that was hot and spicy…

    • Lady from Manila

      Mr. Smythe, your last line just made me blush…

  • iconicallyrare

    Great depth and slant on the perspective of population growth. Now I’m curious, is the population growth leveling at around one billion every 11 or 12 years? And can you imagine that in in just one century (and a baby born today could see this phenomenon), that we could be approaching10 billion MORE people to make 17 billion?

    I think I’ve been sleeping in regard to this subject. In two centuries, how will we accommodate at least 34 billion people (at best–without exponential growth, i.e., freezing the current growth rate and using my poor rounding method)?

    With animals who overpopulate, hunting season is opened out of necessity. And, that thought alone can take to mind to strange and worrisome places…to places where I think, if I were just starting to have children, I may choose to voluntarily limit the number of my offspring, not only to be a responsible person, but also to prevent my kids from having to deal with some potentially horrific /population explosion issues.

    But, people are not that educated on the subject (perhaps intentionally, not to cause too much alarm?). Anyway, I tend to either stick my head in the sand, or take a subject to an extreme level when it has my attention…so I could be overdramatizing a bit, but I really like the thought you have generated in this text. ~S

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I’m glad you found the article engaging and thoughtful! Exactly as with yours, a primary purpose of this blog is to try to bring my experience and background to others. (I really enjoy your blog, because you explain things so well and in such detail, and because it’s a world almost utterly alien to me, and I deeply enjoy learning new things!)

      The growth rate is, in fact, slowing down. It seems to have peaked around 1965 and has been dropping since. You can find more detail on the World-O-Meters World Population page, but here’s a significant quote: “World population has doubled (100% increase) in 40 years from 1959 (3 billion) to 1999 (6 billion). It is now estimated that it will take a further 43 years to increase by another 50%, to become 9 billion by 2042.” The population is projected to reach 10 billion in 2062.

      Humans do manage animal populations through hunting (we had a bit of a deer explosion recently, so they upped the number of hunting permits). If they didn’t nature would adjust things similarly. The deer/wolf ratio in the wild swings back and forth depending on conditions. Science fiction authors have imagined the consequences of over-population in a variety of ways, and many of them are horrific.

      However, most analysts feel the real problems won’t come from over-population, but from human mistakes or evil. The human race shows many signs of self-destruction that will be a problem long before over-population is. Disease is a prime candidate in this mobile, close-packed world. Various political situations could explode into nuclear world war. There are a variety of natural cause things that could wipe us out (asteroids, super-volcanoes, severe global warming). [Actually that last one is more our fault.]

      There are also many resources we’re consuming that can’t be replaced. Fossil oil is the least of it. We’re running out of helium, for example! (Liquid helium is required to chill the super magnets in MRI machines, so No Helium means No MRIs anymore.)

      And I don’t think anyone is trying to keep this under our hats. Many are trying to get people educated and engaged, but a huge problem in today’s world is the sheer volume and fast pace of content available. Today’s thoughts are quickly lost downriver in the onslaught of tomorrow’s. Who wants to read about gloom and doom when there are videos of cute kittens to watch!

      Sometimes I think the end may come simply because we weren’t paying attention.

  • iconicallyrare

    Thanks for educating me a bit more on the subject. Also, directing attention to the consequences of human mistakes and evil, instead of just focusing on numbers and statistics seems right.

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