Weekend Open Thread: Meet the Megaregions!

I’m not normally a fan of attempts to divide the U.S. into “superstates” or the like; they seem ad hoc to me.  However, a new study by the Regional Plan Association, a New York-based urban research institute, does do a seemingly credible job of describing what it calls “megaregions” — looking at the connections among and consistency in attitudes between various metropolitan areas.  This better allows us to do what Shakespeare called “carving nature at its joints.”

Here’s a diagram describing the “megaregions.” (One thing I like about it is that many parts of the country simply aren’t in megaregions, meaning that there isn’t so much quibbling to be done about precise boundaries.)  To quote the authors: “Megaregions are areas where large cities and the spaces in between share ‘interlocking economic systems, shared natural resources and ecosystems, and common transportation systems.'”

Megaregions map

That’s you in yellow in the middle left, second largest circle.

As seems to happen almost every time someone tries this kind of stunt, the Pacific Northwest is called Cascadia.  It includes not only Vancouver — we spit at international borders! — down to Eugene, but also areas as far afield as Spokane and Boise.  Its 2010 population was almost 8.4 million; its projected 2050 population is almost 11.9 million.

California, of course, gets lopped in half — but at least at the logical place, between Fresno and Bakersfield.  Normally, I don’t like that — but in discussing regional planning as opposed to political representation, it makes some sense.  (And it explains some of the problems we have with the political will for high-speed rail.)  Northern California includes Sonoma south to Monterrey and east through Sacramento to Reno — we spit at domestic borders too! — and down I-5 as far as Fresno.  Its 2010 population was just over 14 million; in 2050 it’s projected as just over 21 million.

Southern California includes Santa Barbara through Bakersfield to Las Vegas, down through LA, OC, the IE, and San Diego to Tijuana.  Sounds about right!  Our 2010 population: just over 24 million; in 2050 we’re projected to break 39 million.

I was surprised to see the Arizona Sun Corridor (perhaps better known as “Arizona”) make the megaregions list, but the area from north of Phoenix to south of Tucson did contain over 5.6 million in 2010 and is projected to exceed 12.3 million in 2050 — so if that’s true, welcome to the megaregion club, little brother!

The Front Range includes the Salt Lake City region, but mostly the corridor from north of Denver through Albuquerque.  It was about 5.5 million in 2010, but is projected to grow to just over 10 million by 2050.

Over 70% of the population of Texas in 2050 is projected to be within the Texas Triangle, a region that is named for the San Antonio-Austin-Dallas line that connects to Houston, but that in this model also includes the detached area from Oklahoma City to Tulsa.  This region’s population was just under 20 million in 2010; in 2050 it is projected as just passing 38 million.  Obviously, this is Southern California’s rival — except in livability.

Houston is actually in two regions — I don’t know whether its population got counted twice — the second being the Gulf Coast, which stretches from Brownsville (and the Mexican areas nearby) through Corpus Christi, and then past Houston from New Orleans and Baton Rouge to Pensacola.  This region had about 13.5 million people in 2010, expected to grow to 23.5 million in 2050, largely by siphoning population from the Midwest.  So you can think of this as the population equivalent of Northern California.

For the last four regions, let’s jump up to the Great Lakes, which at south includes Kansas City through St. Louis to Louisville, as well as Minneapolis to Buffalo in the north — well, actually into Toronto and Montreal — then curving down west of the Alleghanies to Pittsburgh before curving through Ohio back down through Cincinnati to Louisville.  (I skipped over some notable cities including Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, Columbus, and Indianapolis there.)  Obviously this is a huge region — 55.5 million in 2010, projected to reach past 71 million in 2050 — and there’s a case to be made for dividing it up into two or more, but it’s not clear where one make the cuts, which suggests that it may really be one mega (or should it be giga?) region.  If I had to draw a line, it would separate the region north to south, with Iowa City, Gary, Fort Wayne, Columbus, and Pittsburgh being the southern border of the north.  (Maybe they’ll try this and see how it works.  It seems at least as intuitive a cultural divider as that between Northern and Southern California.)

Southern Maine to southeastern Virginia, then inland as far west as the Alleghenies, constitutes the Northeast.  (Yes, Norfolk is now “Northeast.”  I’d have expected that of Arlington and DC, maybe even Richmond, but apparently it’s continuing to creep southward .)  This is the other huge megaregion:  over 52 million in 2010, expected to hit almost 71 million by 2050.  Looking at that region, though, it gets even harder to explain why Southern California gets cleft in two.  (The best explanation for that is one word: “Tehachapi.”  But one can get past it, right?  Or one can take the 101!)

Birmingham through Atlanta to Charlotte and then the Research Triangle is the heart of the Piedmont Atlantic megaregion — basically the urban South — which also includes detached Memphis and Nashville to the northwest.  Its 2010 population was over 17.6 million; its 2050 projection is over 31.3 million.

Finally, there’s Florida — but it’s not all of Florida.  This megaregion includes almost nothing west of a line between Jacksonville and Tampa.  So it has nothing that might even nearly be called a panhandle, but it does include Orlando, Miama, and such.  This was almost 17.3 million in 2010; it it projected to reach over 31 million by 2050.

So, to tabulate it all up and sort by size (in millions):

  • 55.5 in Great Lakes
  • 52 in Northeast
  • 24 in Southern California
  • 20 in Texas Triangle
  • 17.6 in Piedmont Atlantic
  • 17.3 in Florida
  • 14 in Northern California
  • 13.5 in Gulf Coast
  • 8.4 in Cascadia
  • 5.6 in Arizona Sun Corridor
  • 5.5 in Front Range

So let’s add that up: 233.4 million people (by 2010 population) live in “megaregions,” which includes two small regions of Canada and three in Mexico — and it may be counting residents of Houston twice.  If you live anywhere else, such as most of the Rockies and Great Plains and upper South, you don’t matter.  Now you, OJB reader, have new knowledge.  So, it’s time to put away your notes and prepare to take the exam.

This is your Weekend Open Thread.  Talk about that, or anything else you wish, within reasonable bounds of decency and decorum.  A Dearthwatch may or may not follow.

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-disabled and semi-retired, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally ran for office against jerks who otherwise would have gonr unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.) His daughter is a professional campaign treasurer. He doesn't usually know whom she and her firm represent. Whether they do so never influences his endorsements or coverage. (He does have his own strong opinions.) But when he does check campaign finance forms, he is often happily surprised to learn that good candidates he respects often DO hire her firm. (Maybe bad ones are scared off by his relationship with her, but they needn't be.)