You can get there from here. At least if you live within spitting distance of a big city, as a new map of global accessibility makes abundantly clear. The map’s glowing webs of terrestrial connectivity and thin wisps of sea borne traffic paint a picture of a strikingly connected world.
So it may surprise (or delight) some to discover that there are still isolated places where travel time to a large city is measured in days, not hours. Still, the scales are tipped towards connectedness—95 percent of the world’s population live on just ten percent of the land, but only ten percent of the Earth’s land area is more than two days from a city of 50,000 or more people. Though some inhabitants of those areas are just a mouse-click away from the Internet, it’s clear that physical connectivity still matters greatly in the flow of goods and ideas.
Geographers at the European Union’s Global Environmental Monitoring Unit compiled eleven data sources to create a “friction” map of the world. Here friction is not the literal coefficient of friction of a particular place on the globe, but rather a measure of travel difficulty to population centers based on the data they had available, including road networks, water bodies, elevation, and more. Imagine if the map were a table top onto which water was sprinkled. Population centers would be depressions in the table’s surface into which water would pool, while transportation corridors would be steeply sloped groves that would channel the water toward the depressions. Areas where travel is difficult would be nearly flat, causing the water to pool on the surface.
The geographers created the map for the World Bank Development Report 2009, which examines the effects of geographic concentration on income and production.