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  • Capital Problems March 19, 2013

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Ancient, Contemporary, Medieval , trackback

    huge head

    Capital cities should represent a country. They should be the head that directs and controls: unless you live in a properly federal society and there are none of those left. But what happens when capitals come to outweigh and dominate the country that they stand in? Take an example from close to this blogger’s home. London has, for the last five hundred years, been too big for its own and for Britain’s good. About a sixth of the country live there now: this means that perhaps a quarter of Britons spend some of their life in London. These numbers were not as impressive in the seventeenth century but they were still striking: with perhaps a tenth of the population living in ‘the big smoke’ and one in six Britons spending part of their life there. London is a reality sui generis. It is just not that British: a despairing Briton might sometimes ask if the British government would not do better if it did not decamp en masse (or perhaps NOT en masse because that is part of the problem) to Brighton or Lancaster. The Canadian or Australian solution… Find a smaller, more scenic better-situated place and avoid the fleshpots of finance and all those awful musicals.

    Beach had idly been wondering if other countries had a worse situation. He thought about Dublin that certainly dominates the Republic, but that has a one in six ratio like London. Vienna climbs up to one fifth of the population of Austria. Athens  climbs up to a quarter or even a third of Greece, if you count the population within the entire metropolitan area. There must be more striking examples from outside Europe: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com.  For the purposes of this exercise pretend countries like the Vatican and Monaco do not count: apologies to Francis. Beach also played around with historical examples. But, naturally, in pre-urban times they cannot compete with some of the modern behemoths. Ancient Rome with a population of about one million was another sui generis reality, about one in five of the population of Roman Italy lived there, but only one in a eighty or one in a hundred of the population of the entire empire.  Perhaps the best candidates would be the city states of Greece or pre-Roman Italy or for that matter late medieval Italy. There the city really was head, shoulder and torso with the contado (the countryside) standing in as feet with a third or a quarter of the population.


    22 March 2013: Mac writes in:  I think one of the most obvious examples of this would be  Seoul, a relatively small geographical area that comprises more than half of South Korea’s population. You’d be hard pressed to find a foreigner capable of identifying anywhere else in the country.  Mac is backed up by this with Chris C: I’ve been spending a lot of time in Seoul and so it came first to mind.  According to Wikipedia, 25,000,000 live in the Seoul metro area out of a total South Korea population of 50,000,000. Wade offers Cairo: Taking a quick dive into Wikipedia, the greater Cairo population (Cairo governorate, Giza city, Shubra el-Kheima, 6 October city and Helwan) is listed at 17,816,000 against a total Egyptian population of 82,000,000+ for a percentage of 21.7%. John B writes in: I have spent some time in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The population of the metro area approaches 13 million while the country itself has just over 41 million. BA truly dominates the country. Norm looks north: Guatemala City in Guatemala may get the prize, I thinking better than half the people of Guatemala live in the city.Then John G: Baku has about 25% of the population of Azerbaijan. Thanks to Norm, Wade, Mac, John, Chris and John!

    31 Mar 2013: Sword and Beast writes in: I ve just read your post on capitals. I think Paramaribo is a strong contester. Set amidst a pristine amazon forest, it holds at least 75 percent of Suriname’s population: around 380000, in a country of half a million, not counting the diaspora in Holland. Thanks S&B!!