New York City has about 8.5 million people living in an area of 300 square miles which gives a population density of 28,300 people per square mile. The food required to support such a high population density is mostly grown outside of that 300 square mile area. Likewise, the fresh water required to support that population is not collected within that area.

How much land outside of NYC is effectively dedicated to supporting it? More generally, how much reasonably productive land does it take to feed and hydrate a human being on average?

  • $\begingroup$ @Chris_Mueller: Do you also want to include waste disposal? I heard something on the radio 2 days about some of the waste disposal issues NY has & that some trash gets transported to Ohio. $\endgroup$
    – Fred
    Apr 24, 2015 at 14:20
  • $\begingroup$ @Fred That is an interesting issue. I would also be interested in hearing how much land is needed for waste disposal, but I'm not going to edit it into the question for fear of making the question's scope unmanageable. $\endgroup$ Apr 24, 2015 at 14:25
  • $\begingroup$ How about the land needed to mine the natural resources for all the non-essential goods New Yorkers consume, and the travel they do? Do you mean the minimum land needed if they all become vegans getting around by walking or perhaps cycling, or the land needed to support their actual way of life? $\endgroup$
    – gerrit
    Apr 24, 2015 at 15:46
  • $\begingroup$ I'm more interested in the amount of land needed to support their way of life. The question stems from the broader question of: Is Earth currently over-populated? $\endgroup$ Apr 24, 2015 at 15:50

2 Answers 2


The average ecological footprint of a US citizen has been estimated as 8.00 global ha.

Multiplying 8.5 million by 8.00 hectare gives 680,000 km², or around 5 times the area of New York state.

Of course, this calculation contains a lot of assumptions and simplifications. This doesn't mean you could simply allocate 680,000 km² around New York City and use this to support the lifestyle of their inhabitants. There is a considerable uncertainly around the calculation, and the land is spread all over the world (New Yorkers want their bananas, almonds, and iPhones too, even if none of those are local).

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    $\begingroup$ Obviously. It's way too cold to grow iPhones that far north. $\endgroup$
    – corsiKa
    Apr 24, 2015 at 18:00

City Green Space

Within New York city, 14% of the city, 29,000 acres (11,735 ha) is parkland.

Water Supply

The Management of New York City Water Supply Lands document, by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, states the surface water supply system yields 1.3 billion gallons (4.92 GL) of unfiltered drinking water each day to approximately 9 million people.

The watershed that supplies this water occupies 2000 square miles (5178 sq km) spread across 8 counties in upstate New York, it is 73% forested. This is an area twice the size of Rhode Island.

Electricity Supply – If it was 100% Wind Powered

According to the School of Engineering at MIT, New York's five boroughs use 60 billion kWh each year. If this were to be supplied by 5 MW wind turbines, 4000 such turbines would be required. An offshore wind farm for 4000, 5 MW turbines, would be 4000 square kilometres, an area 40 miles by 40 miles, which is the equivalent of half of Yellowstone National Park.


New York city is planning on reducing its waste output by 90%, which is 3 Mt. This means the city is currently producing 3.3 Mt each year (388 kg or 856 lb for each New Yorker). Currently the city's garbage is transported to south Carolina, Virginia, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and upstate New York.


In March 2015, the New York State Comptroller release a report that stated that as of 2012, New York had 35,500 farms covering an area of 7.2 million acres (2.9 million ha)

  • $\begingroup$ this doesn't actually answer the question, land can be outside the municiplaity and still be vital to supporting it. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Jul 18, 2021 at 5:02

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