Wednesday, July 20, 2022

SearchResearch Bonus Challenge (July 20, 2022): What's a large US city with very low population density?

 As I mentioned last week, I'm in a place with very slow WiFi... 

... so it's tricky to write up a detailed answer for you from last week. 

BUT a question came up in conversation about "what large US city has the lowest population density as of 2020?"  

There are tables one can find that will tell you one answer, but I'd like you to solve this Challenge in a more direct way--a way that will teach you how to download data directly into a table and then manipulate it yourself.  

Can you do this hands-on data manipulation Challenge? 

Here's what I want you to do:  

1.  Search for a table of the largest US cities by population.  You'll want to find a table with at least 330 entires in it.  

2. Download that table into a spreadsheet. 

3. Compute the population density (if you need to... it might be a column in the data set).  

4. Sort the table by density, and then tell us what the city name is!  

Your table should look like the one above (hint: I got it from Wikipedia, but you can find your own source if you'd like--the diversity of data sources might be interesting).  

This might feel like a bit of an odd Challenge, but it's a bit of a sensemaking exercise--can you get yourself through all the steps and get to the correct answer?  

Everything you need to know is pretty easily discoverable, and knowing how to do this will put you in good standing as a beginning data analyst--you'll know how to find data, import it, transform it (as needed), and then validate it.  

Can you do it?  

Let us know in the comments below!  

Search on!  

P.S.  My view at the moment.  Will wait to upload this post until I get close to good wifi.... 


  1. OKC,OK used your inquiry - large city: Population density (per square mile): 1,080.3 — not data massaging…
    do we get to know the pic location?

  2. 5 minutes or less! First I did a search for "largest cities" "population density" filetype:xls and quickly came up with a site: "" with a file "List of Largest Cities of US by Population". I downloaded this - but it was old - from 2010 and you wanted 2020. Looking at this and sorting it I saw that Anchorage had the lowest population density. So I tried to find 2020 figures - but no luck. The census ( didn't quickly give me anything. I did find the 2010 data but not 2020. (I'm sure it's there if I went to and searched there - but I was lazy). I tried searches naming cities i.e. including key word like "population density" with several US cities and still came up with 2010 figures.

    I then noticed that the tab on the first spreadsheet I'd downloaded was "List of Largest Cities in the US" so I just put this in for my search and up came this Wikipedia site: that was an update to my first table. The table here can be sorted by population density giving Anchorage again for 2020, with a population density of 171 people / sq m (for the municipality) followed by Buckeye and Goodyear Arizona (with pop densities of 233 people and 498 people per sq mile). Compare that with the most densely populated cities of New York, Jersey City and Paterson, New Jersey with pop densities over 19,000 people per sq mile (i.e. over 38 times more people for Paterson versus Goodyear).

    The Wikipedia page gives links to and appears to be a composite from several sources. Looking at the sources and editors it is kept up to date and so appears reliable.

    In the good old days I'd have downloaded this and used fusion tables to create a spreadsheet - if it had been needed. (Now, a cut and paste with some small amount of editing gives a workable spreadsheet and there are some alternatives to fusion tables e.g. to create custom maps).

  3. Very interesting, Dr. Russell. I am also thinking about Mexico.

    While I do the steps you asked us. In a mobile is complicated. I did the following.

    Opened your image and read the name of the city.

    Then, searched [largest city by density United States]

    Finding: 2019, The Most (and Least) Densely Populated Cities in America.

    Small city: Norman, OK
    Medium city: Anchorage , AK
    Large city : Oklahoma City, OK

    They also provide the how. Of course, it's much more interesting doing

    Beautiful sunset

    1. Out of topic of Challenge and related to the Blog.

      Dr. Russell, I'm subscribed in Google Chrome, in section following, to your Blog. Also with the other options we have to subscribe so I don't miss anything.

      However, in following, even when you have created Challenges, the section doesn't show the Challenges. The last ones were 6 and 7 weeks ago. Today's Challenge it is shown. Maybe something different was done when publishing or why Chrome doesn't show all the posts? Even today, it shows this new one but not the ones missing.

  4. trying again —
    OKC,OK used your inquiry - large city: Population density (per square mile): 1,080.3 — not data massaging…
    do we get to know the pic location?

  5. [500 biggest UD cities] founds all sorts of data but this is the bestest and completest.
    I had guessed this is where the winner wd be and so it is according to this chart:
    Anchorage; pop 288,000 land area 4,420 km2 which gives a density of 88/km2. I do not know how to convert #of people to metric.

    And I thought this wd have a huge learning curve.

    Nice change of pace.

    PS most densest of course is NY.

  6. US cities not my fumble fingers UD as above

  7. For searches such as this - that require tables I usually add filetype:xls to get spreadsheets i.e. list of largest cities of US" filetype:xls. This gave me and also an excel file of the same data. However the data was old - from 2010 so it doesn't count. Adding 2019..2022 to restrict on years didn't help.

    I then tried to look at but nothing jumped out (although as I found later, the data IS there).

    So I went back to basics and removed the filter operators for years and filetype - to get which gave me a list that was easily sorted by population density. The clue was the worksheet title - i.e. "List of Largest US Cities" And remembered your tip that adding "List of" to a search often turns up what you want.

    This gave Anchorage as the city with the lowest population density (171 people per sq mile) followed by two cities in Arizona (Buckeye - 233 per sq mile, and Goodyear - 498 per sq mile). These are really spread out compared to the most densely populated cities - New York, Jersey City and Paterson - with over 38 times the numbers per sq mile of Paterson.
    The Wikipedia page gives sources as the US census with links to the census pages - seeming to show there is not one single table with all the data.

    Interestingly if you search for List of Cities by Population Density you get a different list - from 2010 census figures.
    This would seem to be the right page unless you read the descriptions - apart from that it's 2010 data. This states that it is a list of "Incorporated Cities with over 75,000 residents which have a population density over 10,000 people per square mile." So apart from it being from 2010, I think this excludes itself as it's not separate cities but metropolitan areas i.e. boroughs which may be part of a city.

    Another link that came up was which also gives Anchorage with the 171 people per sq mile. It doesn't include the 2 Arizona cities - as they are too small. It's the top 200 cities by size. It does seem to confirm the other cities – with Oklahoma City and Chesapeake, Virginia and Jacksonville, Florida up there although the figures differ slightly from the Wikipedia page – probably because the source given, also the, is based on 2017-2018 data. (The page includes a link to source data).

    In the old data, Fusion Tables would have helped for analysis like this. However you can cut-and-paste the Wikipedia page into a spreadsheet if wanted although not really needed.