November 1, 2011

"Megapolitan Areas" Seen as New Economic Engines of a Changing America

CHICAGO — Ten clusters consisting of 23 "megapolitan areas" — networks of metropolitan centers fused by common economic, physical, social, and cultural traits — are the emerging economic engines of the U.S., with substantial growth predicted in population, construction and jobs in the next 30 years.

Megapolitan AmericaThose are among the promising findings of Megapolitan America: A New Vision for Understanding America's Metropolitan Geography, a book published today by the American Planning Association (APA), and authored by Dr. Arthur C. Nelson, FAICP, professor at the University of Utah and founding director of the Metropolitan Research Center; and Dr. Robert E. Lang, professor at the University of Nevada — Las Vegas, and director of the Brookings Institution Mountain West.

Megapolitan America is a new way of looking at the changing face of the USA. It is the first comprehensive book on the full extent and importance of U.S. megapolitan regions based on 2010 census data and proprietary analysis.

The authors say that "the sooner the United States recognizes it has evolved into a nation of 20-some very densely settled economic engines, the better able it will be to sustain long-term economic development to mid-century and beyond."

Census figures from 2010 show that since 1970, megapolitan areas absorbed 70 percent of the 48 states' growth.  By 2040, the 10 megapolitan clusters will, as a group, form the world's third most populous country, behind China and India. The authors say, "the U.S. is the only developed country that is on track to add substantial population."  The U.S. is also "the fastest-growing industrialized nation in the world."

But how will the megapolitan areas be able to accommodate the large growth in population? Transportation and the use of land, water and air resources are key implications of megapolitan America.  For example, in both Southern California and Florida, at the current rate of farmland lost per new resident, the agricultural economies of these areas could be eliminated by 2040.

Nelson and Lang believe that megapolitan areas present new governance challenges.

They see the growing convergence of major metro areas and smaller towns in between as an opportunity to promote better regional planning and cooperation rather than leading to individual cities acting as rivals for new investment.

As their analysis looks long range, through 2040, the authors' assessment is relatively upbeat considering the current state of the economy.

The 10 megapolitan clusters and 23 megapolitan areas of the contiguous 48 states

Nelson and Lang say that in the megapolitan areas, "much of the existing built stock needs to be rehabilitated, if not replaced entirely, at a fairly rapid pace. We estimate that between 2010 and 2040, the nation will spend more than $40 trillion on development, with up to $30 trillion of that spent on megapolitan clusters and their megapolitan areas."

The book predicts growth between 2010 and 2040 in total new jobs in megapolitan areas, ranging from nearly six million in the New York-Philadelphia area to about 900,000 in the Willamette area encompassing Portland, OR.

The 10 megapolitan clusters are Cascadia, Sierra Pacific, Southwest, Mountain, Texas Triangle, Twin Cities, Great Lakes, Florida, Piedmont, and Megalopolis. The authors identify 23 megapolitan areas within the clusters.

That some urban areas of the United States are linked, often creating systems of metropolitan areas functioning as their own economic engines, has long been accepted. One of the megapolitan clusters, Megalopolis, was the focus of a seminal 1961 book of the same name.  There is also wide agreement that these areas are of growing importance to the nation's long-term economic health.  "What is missing" Nelson and Lang say, is a way to define these areas "to guide the next generation of planning and policy making."

Image: The 10 megapolitan clusters and 23 megapolitan areas of the contiguous 48 states.


Roberta Rewers, APA Public Affairs; 312-786-6395;