25 July 2012

Megaregions: New Ways of Thinking About the Modern United States

It appears that States, Counties, and Cities are having a smaller and smaller influence on the development of the United States. People today commute father to work than ever before, and in most central cities hold much less relevance than they once did. Suburbs and Exurbs have spread the population across huge areas such that it is often difficult to distinguish where one city or region ends and another begins. 

Historically, the central business district of a city demanded the highest rent and therefore was home to highly productive economic activities (technology, manufacturing) and small, expensive housing units (apartments). As distance from the city center increases, housing costs typically decrease and economic activity becomes less dense and lower profit.

Housing Availability vs. Distance from city center.
Attribution: The Tyson's Corner

Once the industrial revolution and the automobile made commuting either, both residents and business fled the city for cheaper rents out in the country. The megaregion is the natural extension of this trend: proximity to a major city center is having less and less affect on locations selected for homes and businesses, and workers are increasingly expected to commute long distances or work remotely.

Instead of defining areas by city or county, it may be more accurate to group areas into larger, inter-state 'regions.' Recent research by the America 2050 initiative has concluded that eleven so-called 'megaregions' are poised to become the default unit for grouping people and places. 

According to Wikipedia

A megaregion is a large network of metropolitan regions that share several or all of the following:
Environmental systems and topography
Infrastructure systems
Economic linkages
Settlement and land use patterns
Culture and history

Essentially, a megaregion is anywhere with strong ties to surrounding areas. Megaregions are seperated by areas of low population density and less progressive economic activities. The map below really shows that the vast majority of land area in the United States has little to no population. Shaded megaregions account for 26% of land area in the U.S., but over 74% of the population!

Megaregions of the United States
Attribution: Maps of America 2050*

Viewing Megaregions as cohesive units can allow for more effective urban planning, as it allows entire urban ecosystems to be taken into account at once. In the day and age of megaregions, planning for a single city or country simply does not make sense anymore, as good urban planning requires every aspect of the urban ecosystem to be evaluated and accounted for.

 *Map Attribution:
Creative Commons License
Maps by America 2050, Regional Plan Association are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.
Based on a work at www.america2050.org

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