New York vs. San Francisco: The population density between the two densest cities in the United States

2 minutes, 10 seconds Read

Despite San Francisco being the second-densest city in the United States after New York – it always feels empty when compared to New York City. There just never seems to be as many people out and about in San Francisco compared to New York, so I was curious to see what population data was out there to quantify the differences.

Without using the internets, I knew that New York City’s population in the 8 million range. With that, I would have made a snap guesstimate that Manhattan housed half of those residents.

I was dead wrong. Manhattan barely comes in third place, right above the Bronx, in terms of actual total population:

Borough Population Square Miles
Brooklyn 2,592,149 71
Queens 2,296,175 109
Manhattan 1,626,159 23
The Bronx 1,418,733 42
Staten Island 472,621 68

Though that was eye-opening, what I was looking for is more than just pure population numbers. The fact that Manhattan is the smallest borough by square miles (by a long shot), that led me down the path to look at population density (per square mile). Here’s the population density of both cities:

Population Density Per Square Mile
City Population Density
New York, N.Y. 27,012.4
San Francisco, CA 17,179.2

According to those numbers, there are ten thousand more people per square mile in New York City than San Francisco. That’s a significant divide between the two, but that’s not the difference I expected. That’s much lower than I would have estimated.

That’s because the 27,012 number represents the average population density for all five boroughs in New York City. Not just for Manhattan, but that density number includes Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, and Staten Island.

Since I was more interested in the people density between Manhattan to San Francisco. Here’s what I should be looking at, the population density of Manhattan vs. San Francisco:

Population Density Per Square Mile
City Population Density Sq. Miles
Manhattan, New York, N.Y. 66,940 23
San Francisco, CA 17,179 49

Wow. No wonder it always seems as if Manhattan is packed, the borough has nearly 3x the population density of San Francisco. The city by the bay also boasts more than double the area in square miles than Manhattan.

So not only are there more people in Manhattan (1,626,159) than in San Francisco (837,442), but they’re all packed in a much smaller space — thus the population density data.

You think Manhattan’s 66,940 people per square mile is a lot? Here’s a little tidbit to put those numbers in perspective:

In 1910, at the height of European immigration to New York, Manhattan’s population density reached a peak of 101,548 people per square mile


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  1. avatar
    BTinSF says:

    No. If you want to compare only a part of NYC–the borough of Manhattan–to SF, it should be to the northeast quadrant only. This is the highrise, densely populated part of SF. The rest is more like Queens or Staten Island: mile after mile of tightly packed single family homes.

    1. avatar
      stuarte says:

      I disagree on a couple points — the main point is being is that when people talk about New York vs. San Francisco, they’re not talking about how Pac Heights compares to Midtown or Mission vs. Lower East Side (unless they’re specifically asking), they want SF vs. Manhattan.

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