You never really understand how inefficient North American cities really are until you’ve seen their East Asian counterparts.

There’s a logic to it. We have this gigantic interior, we have tons of cars, so of course our cities are laid out so that everything is really far apart. But the mountainous terrain of Japan and the Republic of Korea means that cities have to be built up, not out. Even geographically massive China has cities like this.

This is the impossible dream of the walkable city, where car ownership is truly optional. Shame it’s still inconvenient in many ways. You’d think that one of these buildings would contain a supermarket, wouldn’t you? There’d be several of them in a Chinese city…

Andrew Johnston
Everything Shortform

Writer of fiction, documentarian, currently stranded in Asia. Learn more at