Megaregions: Planning for Global Competitiveness

Megaregions: Planning for Global Competitiveness

by Catherine Ross

View All Available Formats & Editions

The concept of “the city” —as well as “the state” and “the nation state” —is passé, agree contributors to this insightful book. The new scale for considering economic strength and growth opportunities is “the megaregion,” a network of metropolitan centers and their surrounding areas that are


The concept of “the city” —as well as “the state” and “the nation state” —is passé, agree contributors to this insightful book. The new scale for considering economic strength and growth opportunities is “the megaregion,” a network of metropolitan centers and their surrounding areas that are spatially and functionally linked through environmental, economic, and infrastructure interactions.

Recently a great deal of attention has been focused on the emergence of the European Union and on European spatial planning, which has boosted the region’s competitiveness. Megaregions applies these emerging concepts in an American context. It addresses critical questions for our future: What are the spatial implications of local, regional, national, and global trends within the context of sustainability, economic competitiveness, and social equity? How can we address housing, transportation, and infrastructure needs in growing megaregions? How can we develop and implement the policy changes necessary to make viable, livable megaregions?

By the year 2050, megaregions will contain two-thirds of the U.S. population. Given the projected growth of the U.S. population and the accompanying geographic changes, this forward-looking book argues that U.S. planners and policymakers must examine and implement the megaregion as a new and appropriate framework.

Contributors, all of whom are leaders in their academic and professional specialties, address the most critical issues confronting the U.S. over the next fifty years. At the same time, they examine ways in which the idea of megaregions might help address our concerns about equity, the economy, and the environment. Together, these essays define the theoretical, analytical, and operational underpinnings of a new structure that could respond to the anticipated upheavals in U.S. population and living patterns.

Editorial Reviews

Department of Planning and Urban Form, Lincoln Institute of Land Policy - Armando Carbonell

"What are megaregions good for? As this book amply demonstrates, the megaregion construct of linked metropolitan areas set within their environmental context has provoked new thinking about urban planning, infrastructure, economic development, ecology, and social equity. In short, megaregions are helping us to organize responses to the challenges of the 21st century at an effective scale."
president, Regional Plan Association - Robert D. Yaro

"Ross's book investigates the origins of megaregions, and ways that transportation, economic development, social justice, and environmental and climate strategies must be formulated at this new scale. This book is essential reading for policy makers, planners and others interested in learning about these places that are now home to nearly three out of four Americans."
American Public Transportation Association - William W. Millar

"As the contributors to this timely and valuable book make clear, America's continued strength in the global economy is dependent on our ability to rethink the spatial and functional infrastructure that links our communities into larger networks—megaregions. Together, the chapters in this book elucidate this complex and essential underlying force in our lives, and offer guidelines for going forward."
Professor of city and regional planning, University of California, Berkeley - Robert Cervero

"This book deftly navigates through the largely uncharted waters of megaregions in 21st century America. With contributions from some of the best minds in the field, it challenges us to pursue public infrastructure investments that increase global competitiveness, redress spatial inequalities that occur when trade-sheds expand, and forge new forms of governance that protect natural habitats and resources across multistate regions."

Product Details

Island Press
Publication date:
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
File size:
10 MB

Read an Excerpt


Planning for Global Competitiveness

By Catherine L. Ross


Copyright © 2009 Catherine L. Ross
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-61091-136-8


Scale Matters

Rethinking Planning Approaches across Jurisdictional and Sectoral Boundaries

Cheryl K. Contant and Karen Leone de Nie

American cities and metropolitan areas have reached an important crossroads in their growth and development. Will continued population growth and development be managed through local planning units based on current municipal and county boundaries? Or will cities, metropolitan areas, and states work cooperatively to address social, economic, and environmental challenges and opportunities? Can American prosperity be retained through competition between nearby metropolitan areas or suburban areas for growth opportunities? Or will cities, suburbs, and metropolitan areas work together to seek greater shared economic gains in total? Are there alternative geographic or functional scales that permit greater economic competitiveness, better opportunities to address social inequities, and enhanced protection of vital and limited natural resources?

All these questions occur in a context of unparalleled population growth and development in the United States. By the mid-twenty-first century, an additional 140 million people are expected to live in the United States, with much of that increase occurring in major urban areas (Carbonell et al. 2005). The U.S. Census Bureau (2004) projects a nearly 50 percent increase in population over current levels by 2050. Population and employment projections at the county level suggest that 70 percent of the population and economic growth will occur in extended networks of metropolitan regions linked together by transportation networks, environmental systems, economic activities, and culture. Along with this overall growth, the United States will witness significant demographic changes caused by aging of the population and increased racial and ethnic diversity (Regional Plan Association 2006).

Compounding this rapid growth are three sets of issues that are critical to our nation's future. First, globalization and its impact on American economic prosperity stand as key challenges for the twenty-first century. How will we adapt to a changing economic base in the United States? In what ways can we capture a niche in the global economy and do so without inefficient competition between regions within our own country?

Second, rising inequities between individuals and groups in the United States threaten the stability of our nation, question our commitment to all of our citizens, and challenge all of us to think creatively and purposively about distributive justice in our policies and plans. How can we address growing inequities between the haves and the have-nots within regions, within states, and within metropolitan areas? How can we plan for greater redistribution of economic resources among our citizens when we face structural features in our political economy that promote these inequities?

Third, the nation and the planet face new threats, including climate change and natural resource depletion. These threats all result, at least in part, from population growth and the actions of humans that capitalize on nature's abundance without taking into serious account the long-term negative consequences of resource extraction and use. Can we continue our economic prosperity in a manner that is less destructive to the planet and its resources? Is it feasible to create new human settlements that are prosperous, equitable, and more sustainable environmentally? All three of these issues call for more intentional planning at scales that rarely occur in U.S. planning practice and that may be better suited to address these critical questions.

The Need for New Planning Approaches

Population growth, an increasingly complex marketplace, social inequities, and the interrelationship of environmental, social, and economic systems are just a few of the challenges facing the United States in the twenty-first century. Many analysts have suggested that current planning efforts are not addressing these issues. This lack of success results in part from both the complex nature of the problems and the institutional structure of our current planning approaches.

Consider globalization, for example. Globalization no longer relies on proximity to raw materials, suppliers, and purchasers of manufactured goods. Instead, advanced communication technology, cheap oil (until recently) for moving goods, and knowledge-based and inexpensive labor allow workers, suppliers, and customers to be geographically dispersed. Salet et al. (2003) suggest that "regional economies have become more dependent on their position in global networks than on the traditional powers and investments of local industries and local entrepreneurs." This makes an area's competitiveness in a globalized economy reliant on its concentration of internationally linked and clustered knowledge resources and of inexpensive and rich labor pools, issues often not addressed through current local- or county-level planning.

As metropolitan areas expand and merge in economic activity and function, relationships between transportation systems, land consumption, housing availability and affordability, environmental quality, and natural resource availability become more complex. As a nation, we have more clearly recognized these relationships between human activities, social equity, and environmental degradation in the past decade. We understand that decisions to develop a parcel of land in one jurisdiction will probably have consequences for the mobility, wealth, environmental quality, and health of citizens both within that jurisdiction and in surrounding areas. Climate change researchers have even provided evidence that the type of development actions in a particular jurisdiction can have broader regional air quality and urban heat island effects (Stone 2008; Stone and Rodgers 2001). However, policy and planning solutions to these problems are often enacted independently by individual jurisdictions, with little cooperation and coordination across the borders.

Why have communities failed to plan for these problems that cross jurisdictional boundaries? First, the traditional U.S. scale of authority for regulating land use activities and impacts often rests at the local level, in municipalities or counties. Second, funding of local governments is linked to property values and the wealth of its citizens. Local governments therefore have an incentive to promote activities that increase property values and wealth even if they result in the export of pollution, congestion, and poverty to other nearby areas. When all local jurisdictions behave in this manner, the ability to think about interrelationships, social inequities, and clustering of economic resources becomes challenging, if not impossible.

This increased competition between nearby jurisdictions can result in regional inefficiencies. Levine (2001) suggests,

Local decisions are often driven primarily by highly localized interests, which can result in minimal improvements in productivity and competitiveness at great cost: that is political autonomy creates a false sense of economic autonomy and produces decisions that are often zero-sum or even negative-sum for the region as a whole.

Without incentives to address broader spatial and functional implications of local decisions outside local political interests, there is little hope to expand overall economic activities and quality of life. In fact, Barnes and Ledebur (1998) found that interjurisdictional cooperation is rare and occurs in instances where significant economies of scale in service provision exist, significant spillover effects demand cooperative action, external threats force a collective response, or federal or state programs provide incentives for cooperative action.

Wheeler (2002) suggests that the current complexity of metropolitan areas in both physical form and social structure leads to jurisdictional fragmentation and piecemeal approaches to interrelated issues. He further suggests that this complexity would be best addressed through the integration of traditional disciplines of planning (economic development, housing, transportation, environmental protection) and the integration of various scales of planning (site, neighborhood, local, metropolitan, state, and national). This growing spatial mismatch between the existence of problems and the location for their potential solutions creates a demand for planning at scales larger than those of traditional planning approaches.

Given all the rationale for and theoretical benefits of planning at regional scales, why have new regional approaches been so slow to develop and slower to achieve success? Wheeler (2002) argues that fundamental political difficulties work against regional planning. Local and state governments are unwilling to relinquish power to a regional entity. Suburban voters are unable to see how their interests are tied to the well-being of the central city, and progressive voting blocs in central cities are reluctant to see their power base diluted by regional perspectives. In other words, the mismatch of local political power base and regional dilution of power further prevents the implementation of regional approaches to enhance economic competitiveness and address social inequities. Hershberg (2001) amplifies this point by stating that issues of race, class, and politics drive the existence of social inequities and environmental degradation. These same issues prevent the implementation of regional approaches to resolve these issues.

Megaregions and Megaregional Planning Approaches

Clearly, no one scale of planning can fully and effectively address the array of problems, opportunities, and challenges described here. Recently, numerous scholars and practitioners (Carbonell and Yaro 2005; Regional Plan Association 2006; Dewar and Epstein 2007) have suggested that planning at the scale of a megaregion may provide useful approaches to enhance future economic competitiveness, sustainability, and quality of life.

Megaregions are linked networks of metropolitan areas that serve as a functional unit for economic activity. Megaregions also consist of the areas that are tied to these economic engines by the natural environment (watersheds and drainage basins); flows of goods, services, and people; shared infrastructure, funding sources, and labor pools; and a social and cultural identity. The boundaries of megaregions are not fixed but are as dynamic as the functional relationships that create the megaregion.

America 2050 (Regional Plan Association 2006) defines a megaregion as a large, connected network of metropolitan areas that are joined together by environmental, cultural, infrastructural, and functional characteristics. Specifically, America 2050 states,

The emerging megaregions of the United States are defined by layers of relationships that together define a common interest; this common interest, in turn forms the basis for policy decisions. The five major categories of relationships that define megaregions are: environmental systems and topography, infrastructure systems, economic linkages, settlement patterns and land use, and shared culture and history. (Regional Plan Association, 2006)

The definition of a megaregion comes on the heels of several alternative regional definitions. Perhaps the first to engage in this scale of analysis in the United States was Jean Gottmann (1964) in his book Megalopolis. His megalopolis combined counties in the metropolitan areas in the northeastern United States. Scott (2001) proposed the use of the term city-regions, consisting of spatially overlapping or convergent urban areas with a surrounding hinterland. Hall and Pain (2006) identified an emergent development pattern of clusters of towns and cities that are highly connected by information flows, which they defined as global mega-city regions.

Our definition of the construct megaregion builds on these earlier definitions by characterizing a connected set of activities with common resources, cultural identity, and economic opportunities. As such, a megaregion contains the economic, social, and population core of a region and delineates the natural, economic, and social connections between cities, metropolitan areas, and rural places. As a concept, it captures key features missing in earlier regional definitions. It explicitly recognizes the economic functionality of a region; the social and political character of the place and therefore the implicit inequities associated with race, class, and politics; and the environmental features that define the landscape and the impact of human activities on the region's future.

Can the megaregion be a useful construct for understanding and solving planning challenges in the twenty-first century? As a new concept in the regional planning field, megaregions hold great promise as a spatial unit for addressing problems, defining solutions, and implementing policies. However, the effectiveness of the megaregion construct has not been examined in any depth, except perhaps by its proponents in the America 2050 movement.

A New Call for Innovation in American Planning

The megaregion construct is not unlike the regionalism efforts of earlier decades. Recognizing the erratic success of past attempts at regionalism, it is reasonable to ask, "Why are we revisiting this subject?" We are revisiting it because our present context and projections for the future, some bleak, call for new ways to respond. The convergence of the aforementioned challenges facing the United States—population growth and demographic change, new construction, and expanding economic opportunity; a strained natural environment and limitations on natural resources; an evolving and more complex marketplace; and limited public resources and funding—necessitates the exploration of innovations in American planning.


The Megalopolis, the Blue Banana, and Global Economic Integration Zones in European Planning Thought

Andreas Faludi

"National planning in this country is widely believed to be an un-American activity, an exercise in bureaucratic hubris best left to the French," says Fishman (2007) in the opening sentence of a paper on the history of national planning in America. Subsequently he sets out to demonstrate that national planning is "as American as the family farm, the transcontinental railroads, the great hydroelectric dams of the South and West, and the interstate highway system." This chapter is about planning on a similar scale, which is that of the European Union (EU), strongly influenced as it is by French—and also Dutch—thinking. The reader needs to be aware that the EU is a much looser grouping of sovereign member states and with less of a common identity than the United States. In referring to planning on this scale, national planning would not be the right term to use. For planning efforts spanning the EU, this chapter uses the term European spatial planning as distinct from spatial planning at the level of the EU member states and their subdivisions, often called regions or provinces.

Indeed, European planners have formulated an overall vision as a framework for integrating various spatially relevant policies pursued by the EU or the member states and their regions. The outcome is the policy document called the European Spatial Development Perspective (ESDP) (Commission of the European Communities [CEC] 1999). The making and application of this document have aroused the interest of a small but lively academic community reflecting on the meaning and practical effectiveness of such an undertaking (Faludi and Waterhout 2002; Jensen and Richardson 2004; Waterhout 2008).


Excerpted from Megaregions by Catherine L. Ross. Copyright © 2009 Catherine L. Ross. Excerpted by permission of ISLAND PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Catherine L. Ross is Harry West Professor and Director of the Center for Quality Growth and Regional Development at Georgia Institute of Technology. Previously she was the first executive director of the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >