Out of Control Policy Blog

More on the 'Megalopolis'

A follow-up to yesterday's post on the push for a new definition of trans-metropolitan geography -- the "megalopolis" (note: I incorrectly called it 'megapolis' in the previous post). A new article in the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy's Land Lines newsletter goes into much more detail about the concept:

    Megapolitan areas are integrated networks of metro- and micropolitan areas. The name "megapolitan" plays off Jean Gottmann's 1961 "megalopolis" label by using the same prefix. We find that the United States has ten such areas, six in the eastern part of the U.S. and four in the West [...].

    Megapolitan areas extend into 35 states, including every state east of the Mississippi River except Vermont. As of 2003, megapolitan areas contained less than one-fifth of all land area in the lower 48 states, but captured more than two-thirds of total U.S. population, or almost 200 million people. The 15 most populous U.S. metropolitan areas are also found in these megapolitan areas.

    [...]

    A megapolitan area as defined here has the following characteristics:

    • Combines at least two existing metropolitan areas, but may include dozens of them
    • Totals more than 10 million projected residents by 2040
    • Derives from contiguous metropolitan and micropolitan areas
    • Constitutes an organic cultural region with a distinct history and identity
    • Occupies a roughly similar physical environment
    • Links large centers through major transportation infrastructure
    • Forms a functional urban network via goods and service flows
    • Creates a usable geography that is suitable for large-scale regional planning
    • Lies within the U.S.
    • Consists of counties as the most basic unit

As I suggested, along with the push for this new conceptual unit of geography is likely to come a call for megapolitan land use and transportation planning. In fact, here's the first that I've seen:

    Any new geographic category can reshape public policy. Given that megapolitan areas as proposed here redefine the space where two out of three Americans reside, their impact could prove significant. There are countless ways that megas may alter the policy landscape, but this discussion focuses on two issues: urban sprawl and transportation planning.

    [...]

    This analysis indicates that there is a Southland versus Piedmont style of megapolitan sprawl, which could affect regionwide strategies for addressing future growth. For example, given that Southland is already densely built, altering its pattern of sprawl could mean better mixing of land uses to facilitate pedestrian or transit-oriented development. The same strategy would not work in Piedmont where densities are low.

    [...]

    If officially designated by the U.S. Census Bureau, megapolitan areas would be the country's largest geographic unit. Their rise could spark a discussion of what types of planning needs to be done on this scale. In Europe, megapolitan-like spatial planning now guides new infrastructure investment such as high-speed trains between networked cities. The U.S. should do the same. The interstate highways that run through megapolitan areas, such as I-95 from Boston to Washington, DC; I-35 from San Antonio to Kansas City; and I-85 from Raleigh to Atlanta, would benefit greatly from unified planning. A new Census Bureau megapolitan definition would legitimize large-scale transportation planning and trigger similar efforts in such areas as economic development and environmental impact.

    Federal transportation aid could be tied to megapolitan planning much the way it has recently been linked to metropolitan areas. The Intermodal Surface Transit Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) required regions to form metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) in order to receive federal money for transportation projects. In a similar vein, new super MPOs could result from future legislation that directs megapolitan areas to plan on a vast scale.

It's useful to remember here that there were numerous regional planning agencies nationwide that eventually took on the MPO duties dictated by the 1991 ISTEA. So it is not unreasonable to suggest that the creation of Super MPOs could ultimately spawn the reverse -- super-regional planning agencies that attempt to coordinate land use policies across wide geographic areas. Given the extent to which current regional planning agencies promote regional anti-sprawl policies, it seems likely that the smart growth movement would make a concerted push to impose their anti-choice, regulation-heavy agenda on a large scale.

As I mentioned yesterday, what we've seen so far with regional planning indicates that the likely result would be a diminishing of local land use control (and hence, representativeness), upward pressure on land and housing prices, and reduced housing affordability. Once you cede policy authority to some remote governmental body, it is far easier to impose anti-market, anti-choice policies on a public that is so far removed from the process.

Leonard Gilroy is Director of Government Reform


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