England & Arizona: A Comparison

When Chris’s parents came to Arizona, it made me think a bit more about how the UK and Arizona compare. For instance, my mother-in-law watching some of the local news found out it was meant to snow somewhere in Arizona. This got me thinking about what that even means in the context of the state of Arizona.

I had always known, or at least assumed, that big states like Alaska, California and Texas were bigger than Britain. I had not realized that Arizona at 113,990 square miles is actually larger than all of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland with its 93,628 square miles. For anyone interested, New Mexico, Montana, Nevada, Colorado, Oregon, Wyoming, and Michigan are also all individually bigger than the UK. For a more detailed look at this, this is quite a fun blog post of someone else’s take on the topic.


Britain superimposed on top of Texas

I’m not sure why, but Arizona being bigger than Britain was a very odd thought to me. I realized that saying it’s snowing in Arizona could be as meaningful to one’s local context as saying it’s snowing anywhere in the UK. Like the UK, there are parts of Arizona were it is far more likely to snow than others. The mountains and the north are obviously stronger candidates than the Phoenix area in the same way that Brighton very rarely got snow (it snowed 2-3 times in the 5 years I lived there and just a dusting that soon melted) but the North of England and Scotland get it much more frequently.

As Arizona is much less densely populated than Britain by a long shot with the UK’s population density at 661.9/sq m and Arizona’s at 57/sq mi, we get nearly the whole state’s news on the local news even though much of it could be happening hundreds of miles away. This is especially true when it comes to weather as weather happens everywhere, whereas somewhere sparsely populated is just going to produce fewer news stories. For instance, the local news on the channel ABC 15 offers this map on their website for the divisions of news they offer:


It does look like their main focus is the Phoenix area, but they take up much of the rest of the state just for convenience I imagine as Arizona has only one other large-ish city not in the Phoenix area, Tuscon with its 520,116 residents. The second biggest city outside of the Phoenix area is already down to only 65,870 in Flagstaff.

With further research, I discovered that there is a concept of designated media market. Even being hundreds of miles away, Flagstaff falls into Phoenix’s media market due to being too small to create its own. Here is a map from the fab folks at wikipedia of US media markets:

Screenshot from 2016-05-18 11:08:59

By 7.11brown – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33183158

As can be seen, many of the big western states have very few of these media markets compared to the much more densely packed eastern states and some stretch hundreds of miles.

The UK is actually a bit similar, but for different reasons. If Arizona were more densely populated, it would no doubt have more media markets. If one day Flagstaff becomes a huge city, it will no doubt get half a dozen of its own stations. The UK is just more centralized and has its own large national broadcaster of course, the BBC. The BBC does have concepts like BBC Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but generally, most of the programming and news are similar across the country even having a much more massive population than Arizona. This is also true of the private news and media sources.

Basically, even after traveling 20,000 miles and experiencing the expansiveness of the US first hand, somehow finding out our new state is bigger than the whole of the last country we lived in really made it hit home that much more how enormous it is. Granted, Arizona is the 6th biggest state, but it’s not like they start to get properly small until about 2/3 down the list.

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Phoenix itself is also just astonishingly big. It is very spread out with its population density of only 308.2/sq mi in the Phoenix Metropolitan area compared to London’s 14,070/sq mi. We have mainly hung out in the South East as that is still a fairly large area to cross. We are about a mile from the nearest Lego store. The other Lego store in the Phoenix area is nearly 50 miles away in Glendale in the West Valley. The whole metro area is 14,598.63 sq mi. Phoenix does just keep going as an unbroken urban area for miles and miles.

Although we lived fairly near to London, we did not live in it and therefore rarely experienced its massiveness as Brighton isn’t a suburb of London. It’s a separate city about 50 miles away from London depending on where you are going in it. There is proper countryside in the form of the South Downs in between, so though England is very urban, it’s not like Brighton just turns into London. It feels properly separate (or at least it did to me). Some people do commute into London from Brighton, but it is a doozy of a commute that usually takes something like 3 hours on a train to get there and back.

Living somewhere this much bigger has been a bit of a change as Brighton is actually quite small (31.92 sq m) and very densely populated (9,000/sq mi). This meant getting around on foot was pretty easy as there was good reason to dot shops around everywhere with all those people, but getting a big flat was pretty much impossible unless you happened to be rich.

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A view from the sofa in our former front room in Brighton

Chandler itself is actually bigger than Brighton at 57.9 sq mi, but much less densely populated at 4,202.2/sq mi. I was surprised to learn it was even that dense considered there are several empty fields near out apartment community. Halving the number of people in an area really does make a difference to the kind of place you can have. Our place would cost a small fortune in Brighton with how many people want to live there and how little extra land is available. Having a less densely populated place also means stores a bit further away. They are actually very close by American standards, but most are not easily walk-able, though several are easily bike-able and certainly very easily drive-able.

2015-09-23 09.27.23Another big difference for us has been the physical landscape. Obviously they look different in that England gets loads of rain and is green and Arizona gets very little rain and is dry with cactuses. Brighton in particular gets about 1766 hours of sunshine a year, while Phoenix receives around 4041 hours of sunshine per year. This map from wikipedia may give an idea of the comparison:

Screenshot from 2016-05-18 08:42:28

There is more than the obvious though. We met an English woman working at Trader Joe’s who has lived here 20 years and she said when she goes back to Britain, she feels a bit claustrophobic. It turned out she didn’t just mean that the housing and shops are all much smaller, but rather being used to the big open spaces and mountains in the far distance, England felt comparatively closed in even outdoors. I remember Chris once telling me he felt like we lived in a dome when we were by the seaside on a cloudy day in Brighton, so I wonder if we will be able to relate in the future. The sky does feel higher and bigger here. I realize it’s all the same sky, but any clouds often seem to be flush with the mountain tops, and therefore, much higher up than they were in Brighton. It’s also just much, much rarer to get a fully cloudy sky. Even the cloudy days here have often just been a few wisps of cloud what looks like a mile up and make the sunsets look especially nice:

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Here is a short video showing a few nice things from our life here in Arizona including an up-close video of a humming bird enjoying our basil plants:



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