Russian cities that keep on growing

The Russian people have a lot of space. Not just because their country is the largest in the world, with almost 11% of the world’s land mass, but also because the population density of 8.4 people per square Km (or 21.8 per square mile) is one of the lowest, by far the lowest of ant country with over 40 Million inhabitants. So, in theory, they have plenty of room to spread around and not be bothered by neighbors.

But, in reality, they seem to be such a social people that they love to gather and live all together in ever expanding cities. This is, of course, a world-wide phenomenon (called urbanization), but, as it is often the case, Russia manages to set itself apart from the rest and establish a few records.

Let’s look at some numbers and let’s make a few comparisons, so that they are not too boring.

1 000 000

First of all, Russia is “only” the 9th country in the world by population, having just shy of 147 million inhabitants. Yet it is the fifth by number of cities with over 1,000,000 people.

Cities with over 1,000,000 inhabitants. Source: The World Atlas

It means that there is more than one city with a million people for every 10 million citizens of Russia. By the same ratio, the United States (population 327 million) should have between 37 and 40 such cities. It has 10. India, with about 1.35 Billion (1,350 million) people, should have between 135 and 150. It has 46. And so on.


100 000

A very similar consideration can be made for cities with over 100,000 people

With 171 cities over 100,000 people strong, Russia is again not only (and by far) the number one in Europe in absolute value, but also amongst the top compared to the total population. In Russia there is a city with more than 100k inhabitants every 860,000 citizens. The most urbanized countries are Spain (one city over 100k for every 746,000 Spaniards) and the United Kingdom (one for every 791,000 inhabitants), while the least urbanized are France (one every 1,675 million people) and Italy (one every 1,131 million Italians). The nation with the closest ratio to Russia is Germany (one every 1,038 million), but the population density is over 27 times as high (232 Germans per square Km or just over 600 per square mile)!.

Urbanization trend

The urbanization of Russia is nothing new. It actually was particularly strong during the time of the Soviet Union, and especially after WWII with the industrialization of the country in full swing.

Urban population ( in % of total population) in Russia. Source

In 1960 just over one half of the total population was living in cities (53,9%), while in 2018 that percentage had grown to almost three quarters (74%). While this is not a world record, it is still very significantly more than the globe average, which in 2018 was 55%. In other words, the world urbanization has just caught up with Russian levels in the 1960s.

It is also interesting to see how this trend had all but stopped after the dissolution of the USSR, but has again started in more recent years.


Cities that keep on growing

What is most interesting is not to look at the urbanization rate growth in general, but to focus on the largest cities, which are expanding at a much quicker pace.

The growth of Russia’s cities with over 1,000,000 population. Source.

With the exception of Volgograd, all 14 cities in Russia with over 1 million inhabitants kept growing, a lot, in recent years. Of these 14, a half grew by more than 7% in 7 years. Voronezh (+16,87%) and Krasnoyarsk (+11,20%) are the expansion champions, but the general trend seems to be that the larger a city already is, the faster it keeps on growing.

The megacapital

Moscow is a very impressive city under a lot of different aspects.

First of all, it is truly immense, with an area of 2,511 square kilometers (970 square miles) it is as big as a small European state (Luxembourg is 2,586.4 km square or 998.6 sqare miles) and it is home to more people than a lot of sovereign states. In fact, if Moscow was an independent state it would be the 59th in the world by population, as 20 million people live in its metropolitan area (17 million in the urban area).

An aerial view of Moscow from the plane. Photo by me.

That means that one Russian every 7,35 lives in the Moscow metropolitan area. By the same ratio the US capital of Washington DC should have 44,9 million inhabitants (it has 702,000) and even its largest city by population, New York, is under 8.5 million. Even the US most populous state, California, misses the mark by about 10 million people, having only 39 million inhabitants!

If one every 7,35 Chinese or Indians were to live in the state capital, like Russians do, then both Beijing and New Delhi shoulda have over 190 million inhabitants (they have 24 and 26,5 respectively). Again, if we consider their largest city, the numbers are not that different (Shanghai has 34 million and Mumbai is just shy of 21 million, not much bigger than Moscow while India has almost 10 times as many citizens as Russia).

If we consider just the second largest city in Russia, Saint Petersburg, we see that with its almost 5,5 Million people is the largest city in Europe behind Istanbul, Moscow and London!

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