About a week and a half ago, I touched down in China after a little over two weeks in a rural part of Mongolia. If you know much about Mongolia, it’s essentially Montana x100. It’s large open views of the sky, green meadows, mountains, few roads, and very few people. The population of Mongolia is somewhere around 3 million people, and around half of those people live in Ulaanbaatar, effectively Mongolia’s only city. The country’s area is about 1.5 million square kilometers.
China’s population: 1.4 BILLION people across 9.6 MILLION square kilometers. But that doesn’t really matter at the end of the day if I’m only seeing one city, right?
Beijing’s population: at least 21.5 MILLION people in 16,800 square kilometers. Regardless of any mishaps in my calculations there (inclusion of people/area in suburbs or not), I think you can see that 21.5 million > 3 million.
Compare and contrast….
I’ll indulge and also add that Portland, OR hosts about 600,000 people in 375 square kilometers. Also < 21.5 million any way you cut it.
I am glad for my opportunity to see different ends of the spectrum of Asia in a mere several week span. Both countries still have issues with major air pollution and clean water. Both also have some really great qualities. For China, data availability is not one of them.
I am working on a project with Jasmine in the CADG office centered around the assessment of a particular park in Beijing. With the information we collect, we can set a standard for park assessments in 10 different Chinese cities, which will help urban designers understand what qualities of design encourage park use for Chinese people. Initially, I wanted to make a quick GIS (geographic information system… mapping software that urban planners use) map for our site visits, so I started looking around the Internet for some map layers. I found some very limited options, downloaded, and opened them up in QGIS – simply city block shapes, roads, bodies of water, and some outdated parcel information. My colleague saw what I was doing and was flabbergasted that I was able to do so. I have a VPN, which is Internet software that helps me circumvent China’s “Great Firewall” that blocks information from many useful sites. My colleague told me that she never uses GIS because you only get to receive the files from the government if you apply for them for use with a very large planning or architecture project. Sure makes you appreciate the multitude of data sources at our fingertips in the U.S. As we’ve learned, data can be used in many ways to shed light on inequities, and that is one of the major reasons I value GIS. You have probably seen lots of maps, charts, graphs, etc. (your “infographics”) all over the Internet bringing attention to police brutality, crime, poverty, and what have you all over the U.S. Imagine if we did not have the capability to map that information. Knowledge is power, people!