1. Christopher Snape.
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    Christopher Snape. Member

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    Impact of having a moderately low population density.

    Discussion in 'Research' started by Christopher Snape., Oct 15, 2014.

    The setting of my WIP is an island with a population of ~10,000. I would like to showcase the effects this has on the story, such as fewer secondary characters, less traffic, less settlements etcetera.

    My main query is: what other impacts would a low population have? I haven't finalised the details, but let's just say that the island community is fairly isolated from the outside world with minimal ferrying and air travel. I know there would be economic effects, but what exactly? Would it be benefitted or would the local markets be struggling?

    I have researched this somewhat already, but would appreciate more suggestions/ideas to help me make the most of this plot point. Thanks.
     
  2. plothog
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    plothog Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I guess it's a relatively large island if the population density is low? I noticed Tuvalu has a similar population to your island, but their density is relatively high, so maybe not the best case study.
    I guess if they don't get many visitors they would attempt to be as self sufficient as possible. How well that works out for them depends on the hospitability of the landscape. A lot of areas with low population density are that way because they're not the nicest places to live, such as islands in North Canada.
    A lot of island countries eat a lot of seafood.
    I can imagine your characters waiting for some fairly everyday sounding items in a shipment, could be a plot point.
    Is your island an independent nation, or a dependency of another country? That likely makes a difference to how things are run.
     
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  3. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Try Googling "Population of the Hebrides"...might give you some pointers.
     
  4. Christopher Snape.
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    Christopher Snape. Member

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    - It's based on the Isle of Man, which has an area of 572 km as opposed to Tuvalu's 26 km. Considering that the regular IOM has a population of 85,000 and is not overly crowded, my setting should be very sparse in comparison.
    - The landscape is diverse, with a small mountain range, tundra, wasteland, and plains so I'd imagine there would be much to take advantage of. Not necessarily the most realistic landscape I imagine, but there are supernatural undertones.
    - It's self-sufficient and self-governing, being fairly isolated from the rest of the planet.
     
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  5. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    IOM has a population density of 149 per sq. km.
    Tuvalu (10,000 in 26 sq. km.) has a density of 385...so nowhere near as sparse as IOM

    Tuvalu, at 26 sq. km., would be something like 3 miles long and wide...and you're planning a small mountain range, tundra...the IOM has a remarkably diverse range of habitats in a small space, yours is sounding incredibly varied. Also, unless you've got some beaches, it's going to be hard for somebody to land...and that's some more of your limited acreage gone on non-productive land.

    "... a small mountain range, tundra, wasteland, and plains..." doesn't sound as if it's offering much in the way of productive resources (IOM's mountains support sheep, and their plains are OK for regular farming) in that wasteland is not much use (that's why it's waste) and tundra is, by definition, too cold to support much more than reindeer, although how they would migrate on an island 3 miles long...incidentally, there are a couple of islands off Abersoch, North Wales called St. Tudwals East and St. Tudwals West - the owner of one (who has since sold), a few years ago, conceived the idea of using one of them to raise deer for venison. He got done by RSPCA because there wasn't enough to support them, in starvation they swam for the mainland and were drowned. My point, small islands aren't good at supporting life...most small islands survived by fishing, at least in addition to crofting.
     
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  6. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    Generally there would be a stronger sense of community, with active community halls and lots of social events. There would be less services of various types, depending on how far away they were from a larger urban center, especially legal and medical. With a small pop in a large area, the small communities that naturally form would be self sustaining. There would be more small gardens, animals, and the population more skilled in a variety of practical matters. There'd also simply be less stuff. Less choice.
     
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  7. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Like @Shadowfax I have a bit of doubt about the range of terrain in such a small space. A mountain range AND plains? Tundra and wasteland are dependent on climactic conditions, but if these are added into the mix, that's a bit hard to envision. Can you think of any small islands anywhere in the world that exhibit a mountain range, tundra, plains and 'wasteland' ...presumably desert or bare rock? (Meadows, maybe, but not plains. Plains are generally large and all-encompassing—like the Great Plains of the American West, or the Puszta in Hungary, or the Steppes in Central Asia.) And as somebody else mentioned, any island has a lot of shoreline thrown in as well? This can be cliffs, rocks or beach, or a combination of these.

    The Outer Hebridean island of Barra is tiny. The road that encircles the island is only 14 miles long, and easily walkable in a day. However there is a range of low mountains in the middle. Lots of beach, and some arable land as well as marshland, etc. That's an environment worth looking at. And a hell of a grand place to visit, too, by the way. You can get there by ferry from Oban, but the most spectacular way to arrive is by tiny plane from Glasgow (55 minute flight) that lands on a beach! The people who live there all know one another, and incomers remain incomers for generations. The island was the home of the Clan MacNeill, and many people who live there today are descendants of that family.

    One writer who has written at least three books set in this kind of scenario is Margaret Elphinstone. Her book Hy Brasil is set in a fictional modern-day island which might be similar to the Canaries or Madeira ...very mountainous. She also set one of her historical books, Light, on the Isle of Man—or rather on a tiny island just off the coast of the Isle of Man. And of course her excellent book The Sea Road is set in medieval Iceland, for the most part. I know she does meticulous research, so you can pretty much believe what you read. I'd highly recommend her. Especially Hy Brasil, if your story will be set in modern times in a northern-European setting.
     
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2014
  8. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    You might also consider looking at places like Newfoundland. That's an island which is sparsely populated and has some of the features you seem to be needing for your story ...minus 'plains.' The climate there is harsh, and communities are scattered, with only one main small city (St Johns.)

    One of its principal writers is Wayne Johnstone, who grew up there. Any of his books will give you an authentic flavour of the place. And of course the international bestseller The Shipping News, by Annie Proulx is also set in Newfoundland ...although she is not a native of the place. But her writing is very evocative, and does give a notion of what living in a small community in a place like that is like.

    People who live in these kinds of fringe communities often do several jobs to make ends meet. Nobody gets rich, but everybody gets by. And while people squabble and have feuds, nobody allows anybody to just vanish into obscurity either. That's a huge plus of living in a place like that. You are unlikely to be overlooked or ignored.

    Something else that might impact your story ...how long have the settlers lived on this island? Do they go back hundreds or thousands of years, like Iceland, or are they recent incomers? In other words, do they have an indigenous culture, or are they still culturally tied to some mainland existence?
     
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2014
  9. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    You might want to look at BC (Canada)'s Gulf Islands - I think Salt Spring has around 10K people on it, and it's got a nice mix of small mountains, forest, and grasslands/agriculture. http://www.saltspringisland.org/

    But it has more tourism that it sounds like you're looking for, and it's pretty close to the city, so it can share a lot of services with them.

    I think the big thing that comes to me would be the lack of medical infrastructure. If this is a modern story, with industrialized medicine, you won't have the population to support a lot of what people expect from a modern hospital. Anyone with cancer, anyone needing a surgery beyond the very basic, probably anyone needing higher-end diagnostic services would be out of luck and have to travel.

    If you're looking at a less modern civilization, I don't think you'll have to change much.
     
  10. Christopher Snape.
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    Christopher Snape. Member

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    Apologies for not making it clear. If I'm not mistaken, I led you to believe that my island was the area of Tuvalu and I was conflating landmass with population density. What I meant was that it has the area of the Isle of Man, with less than an eighth of its population. Leaving it with a density of >19 people per square km.

    If you did get it right the first time, sorry for me sounding like an idiot!

    There is a palpable livestock industry with sheep and cattle grazing in the countryside. I guess fishing would need to be included in the port area. Also, it probably would need to be less isolated than I earlier planned to be sustainable. That, and avoiding the other elephant in the room (*cough*inbreeding*cough*).

    Yeah, I have visualised the education system and general workforce to be more geared towards practical services and trades with less of the "follow your dreams" mentality in many western societies. I also hoped to develop the townsfolk with their own characters and collective zeitgeist, so the communal attitudes you brought up make sense.

    Thanks for mentioning those titles; I'll add them to my reading list. My island is definitely based around European culture, with each town serving as an allegory/microcosm of notable European countries and their roles in history.

    Reminds me of The Crucible. If the plotlines I have brainstormed are any indication, that is by no means a bad thing.

    Eh, the history is still a WIP, just as the book. All that's set in stone is that there is an ancient culture reaching back several thousand years. The general population used to be larger but was whittled down in several disasters since 0 AD. One involving the main villainous forces I won't spoil, another probably being a reference to the Black Death and a volcanic eruption.

    Sometime before 1000, the natives adopted a feudalistic society in a new settlement. In the early 1400s, after the settlement's destruction, the oldest of the present towns was settled. Beginning with the late 17th century, white explorers began to prospect the island, booming the island's population and gradually settling the port, desert village and urban centre in the 1710s, 1860s and 1930s respectively.


    Hmm...I'll definitely need to address this somehow.
     
  11. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Random thought: I live in a relatively small town, and one result of that seems to be that many businesses aren't big enough to give a person full-time employement, so some people have two or three jobs--roofer AND cabbie AND picking up an occasional shift at a retail store.

    In your case, with all that land, you might also want to research subsistence farming--which I define as farming (well, also hunting and gathering) to feed yourself and your family, rather than growing big crops for sale. Any large-scale crops for sale would presumaly need to have a substantial value, since most of them would need to be shipped off the island.

    I find myself thinking that Alaska might be worth researching--not that the climate or indigenous culture have any resemblance, but the low population density, the subsistence activities, the expense of importing and exporting materials, and so on. At least, that's my impression from Dana Stabenow's novels.
     
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  12. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Do you mean keeping chickens?...sorry, couldn't resist!

    What you're describing sounds like self-sufficiency rather than subsistence farming...although there's not much difference. But are you talking self-sufficiency in addition to a day job? In earlier times, it would have been common for, say, a farm labourer to work on the farm during the day, but keep a pig to fatten, etc. It was only really with the Industrial Revolution and massive movements into towns that people got away from that - in earlier times, even town-dwellers would have a small "garden" (and even that would have been 10 times the size of the typical garden on a new home nowadays) which wouldn't have been a place to grow flowers and have barbecues!

    Looking at the IOM, agriculture and fishing are no longer major contributors to the economy...tourism and offshore banking are the new flavours...but with a density 1/10th of IOM, your island is probably too under-manned to support either. What's the climate like? If you're including tundra, it sounds pretty cold, rather more like the Aleutians, and that would limit potential crops and potential livestock, although (broad generalization which may be wrong) it seems that the colder the water the more the fish...but the weather will be worse for most of the year...and that near to the pole will have longer days in the summer and longer nights in the winter.

    Re-reading the settlement's back-story, it sounds a bit like the Viking settlements on Greenland were re-discovered.

    Just a few random thoughts.
     
  13. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    Australia always comes to mind. Their population density (in terms of the whole continent's number of inhabitants) is abysmally low, but due to geography and climate, people pooled into cities and towns, mainly dotted along the coastline, but you also get very sparsely populated middle. Even the coastal towns are expansive, though, with massive avenues and houses, and everything is at least 20 minutes walking away, even the 7/11. Everything is stretched out and there's loads of space everywhere, in schools, hospitals, shops, everywhere. Also, the sky is enormous, due to the curve if the Earth but also, due to everything being so far apart, not much obscures your vision in the distance.
     
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  14. TWErvin2
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    TWErvin2 Contributing Member Contributor

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    10,000 people would not necessarily mean that inbreeding would be a concern, unless something cultural would bring that on.

    Also, if you're looking at the population per square km, consider that the tundra, mountains and especially the wasteland would not factor heavily into that equation. Very few communities/people would likely occupy those areas.

    Consider natural resources as well. Will there be mining, for example? Thus, what metals would be available? What sources of energy would be available?
     
  15. Christopher Snape.
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    Christopher Snape. Member

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    I was wondering about a possible increased risk, being a small population that grows slowly over the course of 2000 or so years. As for the mining point, it does (or used to, still deciding if it's an abandoned mine) occur in the desert, but for a fictitious metal I came up with that plays a role in the plot.

    The populations of each major town have been mapped out. They add up to roughly 10,000, and while there are expected to be other individuals living off the grid, they are not enough to dramatically throw off the number.

    Another can of worms I'm about to open is: the entire world population might be only 70 million, one-hundreth of our current number. This could explain the limited immigration, as well as limited references to events in the outside world. Also, it would explain why the largest settlement in my island is considered a 'city' despite only having 4000 people. Cities would be smaller in my universe, but are still called cities due to remaining the same relative to the overall population. It's only a thought but it could happen.
     

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