So, this is pretty cool: a map showing every the size of every local economy in Europe.
This one graphic contains myriad different stories. But by far the most obvious is quite how much of the European economy is concentrated in the area that is, faintly nauseatingly, known as the “blue banana”: the arc of urbanisation stretching from Liverpool to Rome, covering England, the Benelux countries, western Germany and northern Italy.
Some explanatory notes before we proceed. The map is taken from this exciting EU report, Mapping European Territorial Structures & Dynamics, which was published in November 2014. (We won’t give away the ending.) It covers 32 countries in all: the 28 in the EU, three more in the European Economic Area, and those awkward buggers in Switzerland. That, faintly confusingly, means that white areas sometimes mean “sea”, and sometimes mean “countries we haven’t included”.
The map uses Eurostat data, and despite initial appearances, it doesn’t just show cities at all. In fact, it shows every “NUTS 3” region (don’t ask) across the whole of Europe. On much of the continent that’s the equivalent of a city, or a county, but in some places it isn’t. That leads to slight oddities such as the way that the map draws direct comparisons between the city of Rome, the London Borough of Redbridge and the state of Cyprus.
As to what he boxes themselves mean, their size represents the size of their economy, not the size of the population (although there is some correlation). Darker boxes are richer than the European average; lighter ones are poorer.
Mix it all together, and here’s what you get.
A few observations…
1. Certain cities leap out at you: Madrid, Barcelona, Rome and Athens in the south; Dublin, Stockholm, Berlin and Helsinki further north.
2. Other cities, though, look more like thick clusters of boxes. The Île de France region, which is basically Greater Paris with a bit added on, contains no fewer than eight different NUTS 3 regions; consequently it looks like a whole mess of blue. There’s something similar going on with Vienna (albeit on a smaller scale).
3. In other areas though – in England, the Benelux, the Rhine Valley – it’s surprisingly difficult to pick out individual cities. Partly that’s a quirk of the structure of local government, and how (still not over this name) the NUTS work. Partly, too, it’s because these places are so densely populated all the boxes are piled on top of one another.
4. By and large, cities are richer than their hinterlands. Compare the cities of southern Europe to the smaller, lighter boxes around them. The most extreme example is probably Athens, which looks like an economic giant, surrounded by midgets.
5. The economic divisions in certain countries look pretty bloody pronounced. Britain is an obvious example – compare the dark cluster around London with the paleness of Cornwall, or the contrast between Aberdeen and Fife. But there’s a north-south divide at work in Italy, too, and parts of East Germany are still a long way behind the country’s rich west and south.
6. The Nordic countries are really, really rich.
The big story, though, is that economically vibrant arc across the middle of the continent. It’s worth noting that the population density of Europe looks like this:
Image: Dbachmann/Wikimedia Commons.
That’s probably not a coincidence.
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