1. Transport
June 13, 2017

This map shows how much the world has shrunk in the last century

By Jack May

Globalisation has become the simmering political issue of this generation. The heaving, tumultuous forces of anti-globalistion diatribe con artists such as Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, and Nigel Farage. Or the sheened, smiling polish of unashamedly pro-globalisation prophets (think Emmanuel Macron and the artist formerly known as Nick Clegg).

The phenomenon can feel like something that’s suddenly blown up quite recently – since the 2008 financial crash, or perhaps since the end of the Cold War in 1990. From the point of view of transport, however, the key moment must be the beginning of powered airplane flights, mastered by the Wright brothers in 1903. 

But it wasn’t until 1914 that aeroplanes came into their own, with flights across the channel and around Europe as part of the battle of the First World War. Which, helpfully, is where this map starts:

The world in 1914 from London. Click to expand. Image: Rome2Rio.

This is an isochronic map. Parts of the world are shaded in different colours relative to how long it takes to get there from the centre of the world – aka London. 

Western Europe, the southern parts of northern Europe, the coast of North Africa, and European Russia are all within a five-day journey from London – shaded in dark pink.

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The next level out – in light pink – is a five to ten-day journey. That includes more of Russia, Turkey, the Red Sea coast, the Caucasus, and the east coast and mid-west of the US. Ten days to get to New York. Imagine. 

Orange shows how far you can get if you invest ten to 20 days of long train and boat rides. Suddenly, most of North and Central America opens up, along with the Brazilian coast, South Africa, India, Korea, a whole load of Siberia, and Shanghai and its environs. 

(By this point, going around the world in 80 days is starting to sound quite impressive.)

Green is where we get into serious long-haul territory – 20 to 30 days’ journey. Here lies Japan, Hong Kong, western Australia, Zanzibar and more of the inland areas of Africa, Madagascar, Hong Kong, Iran, and today’s Malaysia. 

Pretty much all of the world opens up by a 30 to 40-day-journey – coloured light blue on this map. Australia’s almost totally covered, as are the Americas, Arabia, Siberia, the Pacific islands and New Zealand. By this point, the regional discrepencies in the quality of infrastructure to take you inland from the big ports and coastal regions are becoming horribly clear.

Dark blue shading indicates the longest journeys from London – over 40 days long. It’s only at this point that the inland areas of South America (the Amazon), Africa (the Sahara and central African rainforests), Asia (the eastern Chinese steppes) and the Australian outback open up. 

Fairly obviously, these are the places where agressively penetrating railroads – normally built by European imperial powers – couldn’t get to so easily. Where North America has the great railways criss-crossing the continent, travelling to South America lands you on a boat heading up the Amazon. Slow going. 

Compare that to the situation today (well, 2016 to be exact). 

Both maps put together, so the differences can be seen in tandem. Click to expand. Image: Rome2Rio.

If the team from Rome2Rio, the transport search engine company behind the map, had used the same scale, the entire map would have been in that dark pink shade. 

But, they didn’t. Which is understandable. Dark pink on the 2016 map is where you can get to in half a day. 

The situation in 2016. Image: Rome2Rio

Again, Europe and European Russia are covered, but so are the east-coast cities of the US, a few choice west-coast cities, West Africa, most of Arabia, and a speckling of locations through India and up into Central Asia. 

If you’re willing to spent a half to a three-quarters of a day travelling, you can get to most of North and Central America, much of the Brazilian coast, a whole lot of Africa, and basically all of south and east Asia excluding Tibet and Mongolia. You can even get to Alaska. 

In under a day from London, the world is pretty much your oyster, as shaded in orange – with the notable exception of Australia and New Zealand. 

A journey of one to one-and-a-half days (look for the light green shade) opens up coastal Australia, New Zealand, southern Greenland, and most of the interior of South America and Africa. 

It’s worth dwelling on the fact that the most far-reaching shade here – the mid-blue indicating a journey of more than one and a half days – covers a time period so much shorter than those of a century earlier. Where journeys in 1914 could easily be in excess of 40 days, you’d feel hard-pressed today if you wanted to get somewhere and it took three days. 

So, yeah. Globalisation, huh? Cool stuff. 

Jack May is a regular contributor to CityMetric and tweets as @JackO_May.

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