One Percent of Greenland Lives in a Single Building

On May 25, 2010 · 4 Comments

[UPDATE: Block P was torn down in 2012]

I received the July 2010 print edition of National Geographic in the mail over the weekend. It had an interesting article on Greenland as it struggles with the effects of global warming, with all the usual excellent photography, maps and narrative that one would expect from this publication.

A minor trifling, a nearly throw-away comment somehow lodged itself in my mind more than anything else I read in the entire article. I’ve long since learned to live with this predisposition towards nonsense. It’s why my family calls me the "master of useless trivia." The article mentioned,

Block P, Nuuk’s biggest apartment building, which alone houses about one percent of Greenland’s population.

After poking the recesses of the Intertubes, primarily by examining geotags included within Panoramio and Flickr shots, I think I have located the elusive building in the capital city of Nuuk. It is called Blok P in Danish.

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Zoom out one or two clicks and see the large array apartment blocks that wouldn’t look out of place in the old Soviet Union, architecturally speaking. Examine this photo or that photo and see if you agree. The Danish government emptied many of the smaller coastal villages of Greenland a generation ago and moved their inhabitants to these concrete Bloks. The article further states,

The sprawling, rundown apartment blocks are a legacy of a forced modernization program from the 1950’s and 1960’s, when the Danish government moved people from small traditional communities into a few large towns. The intent was to improve access to schools and health care, reduce costs, and provide employees for the processing plants in the cod-fishing business, which boomed in the early 1960s but has since collapsed.

I couldn’t find a source for the one percent "fact" although various places on the Web make the same non-attributed claim. I’m willing to believe it’s been vetted sufficiently by the National Geographic fact-checkers but let’s conduct a quick order-of-magnitude examination.

The July 2010 population estimate for Greenland is 57,637 according to the CIA World Fact Book. One percent of the population is 576. I see six very long floors completely crammed with apartments. Do I believe that 576 people might be able to live there? Yes, that seems entirely plausible to me.

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It’s easy and fun to play these kinds of games with Greenland’s diminutive population. Consider those 57,637 people again. If everyone in Greenland wanted to take a trip to the United States then the entire national population would fit almost perfectly within the stands of Arizona Stadium, home of the University of Arizona Wildcats (capacity 57,803).

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If Greenland’s national population would rather visit the UK then they would fit within Emirates Stadium, formerly Ashburton Grove, home of the Arsenal Football Club with plenty of room to spare (capacity 60,355)

I know what you’re thinking: Yes, some of us still read print magazines.

On May 25, 2010 · 4 Comments

4 Responses to “One Percent of Greenland Lives in a Single Building”

  1. Craig says:

    Sure, they’d all fit onto the stands of Arizona Stadium, but chances are that they’d be arrested and deported first. 😉

  2. Taber says:

    This immediately made me think of your post on Superlative Tunnels, where you mentioned the Whittier Tunnel in Alaska that does double duty as a rail and car tunnel. The tiny town (population 182) that tunnel leads to has two massive condominium buildings left over from its days as a military installation, both of which were at the time of their construction the largest building in Alaska. One of them, called Begich Towers, houses more than half of the town’s population today. Here’s a street view of the building, which has 198 apartments.

    It looks very strange compared with the rest of the low-slung town. Back when I stumbled on this after your post, I found a copy of the most recent comprehensive plan for the city, which gave more exact numbers about how many people lived in that building vs. in other residences throughout town. I can’t find it again, but it was on the order of 80% or more.

    An isolated town in Alaska isn’t on the order of an entire sovereign nation, but still pretty wild!

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