Sometimes it’s good to be a little fish in a big pond—especially if you’re a municipality yearning for recognition on a mapmaker's globe.
It’s easy to miss the cut if your metropolis juts up against another, larger megalopolis, or a capital city. Or perhaps your hometown falls right in the path of a big, bold continent label. In either case, you might never locate your home, no matter how many libraries you visit.
At the other end of the scale are the obscure cities in the sparsely populated expanses of eastern Siberia, northern Africa, northern Canada and most of Australia. Just as nature abhors a vacuum, globe makers abhor empty space on their spherical canvas. With the choice between placing another dot on the map or leaving the space empty, globe makers tend to err on the side of more detail.
Here are a series of tiny towns you'll see on nearly every globe you can find—and some major cities that are almost always left off.
Fewer than 300 residents. Abandoned by the railroad. Accessible only via hundreds of miles of unpaved roads. And on just about any globe you can find.
Why it makes an appearance is no mystery: There’s nothing else there. A sign on the Pink Roadhouse, a gathering place for locals and tourists alike, proclaims the town to be “the driest town, the driest state, of the driest continent.” Although the town was formerly a stop on the narrow gauge Central Australian Railway, stretching from Darwin in the north to Adelaide in the south, the town was bypassed by the new standard gauge railway in 1981.
If there’s one hard-and-fast rule of globe making, it’s this: When it comes to capital cities, size doesn’t matter. Montpelier, with fewer than 8000 residents, is the smallest capital in the United States. It’s less than 60 percent of the size of the next smallest capital (Pierre, SD).
In addition to being committed to rote memory by every elementary school student in America, Montpelier is also well known for something it doesn’t have—it’s the only state capital in the United States without a McDonald’s.
Seriously, any of them. The capital, Nuuk, is home to fewer than 17,000 residents. After that, the next-largest city is under 6000. In all, there are just 13 towns in Greenland with more than 1000 residents, and all of them are on the coastline.
Depending on the age of your globe, you might find an entirely different set of municipal names. Following the establishment of the Greenland Home Rule government in 1979, names of Danish origin were changed to names derived from the three Inuit languages spoken in Greenland.
The world’s 11th most populous city is rarely seen on large-scale maps, let alone globes. But its lack of notoriety is through no fault of its own. With over 10.5 million residents in the city proper, Shenzhen would be in the upper third of national populations, falling in line between Greece and Rwanda. Shenzhen’s misfortune is to be located across the river from Hong Kong—a city with 3.4 million fewer residents.
Shenzhen and Hong Kong built each other in the latter half of the 20th century—Shenzhen as the manufacturing hub providing goods to the West, and British Hong Kong as the capitalist trade and financial center tapping directly into communist China’s factories and labor. In the world’s eye, though, Hong Kong wins out. The Globalization and World Cities Research Network labels Hong Kong as an Alpha+ City, where its larger neighbor to the north is deemed merely Beta-.
The largest city in Kentucky is the focus of the horseracing world each May, but good luck finding its location on a standard globe. Despite 610,000 residents within city limits, Louisville is usually the largest American city regularly missing the cut on globes.
There's a perfect storm working against the Derby City. Globe makers place higher importance on capitals (even state and provincial capitals) than population. Frankfort, with barely more than 25,000 residents, elbows its way to the front of the line. Meanwhile, the Ohio River, connecting the Rust Belt with the Mississippi, needs to be labeled somewhere in its relatively short run. Doing that in southern Ohio would make sense, if labels for Cincinnati and the state’s capital, Columbus, weren’t taking up space. More often than not, the northern border of Kentucky is the landing place for the river’s label, and Louisville finishes out of the money.
Dortmund may not be the first name that comes to mind when thinking of German cities—it may not even be in your top ten. But it’s the largest city in the Ruhrgebiet, Germany’s largest urban agglomeration and home to more than one out of ten Germans.
Most globes are designed with an eye toward relaying discrete units of information: nations, provinces, cities, rivers, and oceans. When cities grow together to form conurbations like the Ruhrgebiet, the whole may be greater than the sum of each part—even though none of the component cities are significant enough to appear on a standard classroom globe.