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“It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn't feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.” – Neil Armstrong (1930-2012)

Fresh Reads from the Science 'o sphere!

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Six And A Half Million

As the National Day approaches, it's a good time to look towards the future of our country.

The government is planning for a population size of 6.5 million people in about 40 years.

What's it like to live together with 6.5 million other people in a small island nation?

Here at Fresh Brainz, we are not content just with presenting numbers - we want to show you what having a population of 6.5 million people really means.

How much space does every person get?

The best way to visualize this is to use population density data.

Imagine a piece of land in Singapore that is exactly 1000 x 1000 metres in size.

That's one square kilometre.

Let's represent this area using an image file that's 1000 x 1000 pixels in size.

Inside this picture, we'll use one black pixel to represent one person.

For the ease of counting the people, let's ask them to stand close together in neat rows, similar to the marching contingents in the National Day Parade.

Back in 1961, the population density in Singapore was 2,540 people per sq km.

So, this was how the situation looked like (click picture for full size) :

Plenty of space isn't it?

Well, that isn't an accurate reflection of the actual living space that you'd get, because most of the land area in Singapore is not used for residential purposes.

I can't find a land allocation chart for 1961, so I used the Year 2000 data (PDF file) as a guide.

The various land uses are represented as coloured bars that take up proportionally correct amounts of space in our one square kilometre.

Only about 12% of the total area is allocated for housing, which is represented as a white bar at the bottom of the picture:

Clearly less space.

Still, you can see that our "pixel people" had enough room within the white bar to run around randomly and build single-storey homes to house their all tiny families.

Besides, there was also plenty of room for them to roam about in the other coloured bars, at work or at play.

Aww... all these happy peeps.

Today, our population density has shot up to 6,489 people per sq km.

At this point in time, we have the third highest population density in the world.

As you can see, even though they are standing fairly close together, the people themselves are already occupying a significant chunk of space for housing.

If we assume that a family of four lives in a four-room flat of 90 sq metres each, then the 120,000 sq m living space only has enough room for 5,333 individuals - less than the population density.

Thus, the only way out is up - it has become impossible to fit all of our people without high-rise housing.

Welcome to Singapore: population 6.5 million.

If there is no substantial increase in our land area and no change in land allocation patterns, then this is the situation in 2050.

With a population density of 9,286 people per sq km, standing room is starting to get scarce in the living space category. High-rise flats are an absolute necessity, and they will only get higher and higher.

Just imagine these people going to work in their 3-pixel long cars or 12-pixel long buses, filling up the space inside the grey bar.

Or how a weekend would look like when they go to the green bar for a picnic, or the yellow bar for a shopping spree.

Space would become very precious.

You are thinking: "Chay, not so bad what. If you spread out the little peeps throughout all the coloured bars, then there is still plenty of space to go around."

True... but it will still be much less space than 99.6% of the other countries in the world.

Just take any neighbouring country - say Malaysia, for example:

Can you even see the people in this picture?