The Metropolitan World Atlas presents a huge amount of data in an easy-to-understand way thanks to the book's good graphic design. The atlas can be divided roughly into three sections. First there's an overview of major global trade networks with lists of the world's biggest metropolises, biggest seaports and airports, and telecommunications hubs. Most striking of all is a map of the telecommunications network on which countries like Russia and China are blanked out. On this map the Randstad turns out to be an important pivot and even enjoys third spot on the world list in terms of megabits per second (244,796 Mbps), behind London (855,187 Mbps) and New York (1,498,345 Mbps).
The core of the book consists of 101 ground plans of metropolises drawn to the same scale and complemented by data on population density, transport, pollution, crime and life expectancy. At the back of the book are well-designed maps that present all metropolises in the global urban network clearly next to one another according to subject. That makes the book more of a reference work of statistics than a cartographic atlas.
Arjan van Susteren, the man behind the book, defines the metropolis as an urban area where global information flows and transport routes come together. What's more, a metropolis is only a metropolis if it exerts some influence on world politics or the global economy. The biggest metropolises are, as always, still located in river deltas or along major rivers.
The Randstad Holland, number 38 in terms of population, is an important metropolis thanks to Schiphol Airport and the port of Rotterdam. But a flick through the atlas soon reveals the relative position and size of Randstad Holland. With a population density of 4,651 inhabitants/ km², excluding the Green Hart, we are thinly spread in comparison to metropolises like Rome (16,447 inhabitants/ km²) and Seoul (16,725 inhabitants/ km²). Crime in the Randstad is also not that extreme. With only 11,850 crimes per 100,000 inhabitants we lag far behind Stockholm (19,810) and Frankfurt (19,530). Crime figures are much lower in Asia, by the way. The improbably low figure of 10 crimes per 100,000 inhabitants is recorded for Bombay. Air pollution in the Randstad (257.5 ton/km²) also turns out to be modest compared to the figure for Stockholm (1339.4 ton/km²), although Houston (77.6 ton/km²) surprisingly produces much less pollution.
The big question raised by the Randstad map in this context is whether this typically Dutch entity shouldn't be turned into one administrative unit or city state so that certain matters can be better dealt with in the future. And after the annexation of Brabant-City and the KAN cities (Arnhem and Nijmegen), the Netherlands can even form one big state within Europe!
What is shocking is the compact nature of Third World cities like Lagos and Bombay compared to Western metropolises. Bombay is a metropolis of twenty million inhabitants, boasts the largest slum on earth that stretches alongside the railways, and has a periphery share (percentage of inhabitants in suburbs) of only 4% as opposed to 80% in London and 62% in the Randstad.
Another fascinating entry is the 'change in area' list that shows how the built area of American cities has increased enormously because of sprawl, with places like Washington and Atlanta topping the list. Yet another chart reveals that between 1965 and 2000 the number of city-centre inhabitants in metropolises in America, Australia, South Korea, Japan and Europe (except Berlin) has almost halved while the figure for the rest of the world has more or less remained unchanged. The chart 'commuting time' reveals that the Asian urban dweller takes an average of 20 minutes more for his daily commute from home to work through his relatively compact city compared to his American counterpart. The reason can be found a page later on a chart devoted to road speed.
The rapidity with which urbanisation can occur is illustrated by the rapidly growing metropolises in Asia. Guangzhou in China must have earned a place in the atlas by now, and the publication should therefore be seen as a snapshot in time.
With such a huge amount of statistical and cartographic information, something's bound to go wrong of course. The docks of Amsterdam, for example, are shown to be in Nieuwegein. Yet only a sourpuss would quibble over such details. Compiling data remains sheer drudgery, but thanks to the diligent work of the compiler and the designer, the Metropolitan World Atlas is a pleasure to leaf through and is sure to provide hours of enjoyment comparing places.