Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Virtual Geography Convention 2012: Megapolitan America Review

Welcome to the Virtual Geography Convention 2012!

Eddie Beaver is a Geography Graduate Student at UNC-Greensboro.

Lang and Nelson's Megapolitan America offers a revised take on a 20th Century obsession of urban, political and economic geographers, the mega-city and its environs. They present a detailed vision of a developing state of urban affairs while crafting a compelling case for the America of 2040-2050 that builds on the efforts of researchers and exceeds the efforts of pop-urbanists such as Joel Kotkin (The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050) most prominently. It is a declaration of a new geography, fueled by commuting and migration patterns, the endemic growth and recognition of regional problems and the increased pressures of national and global competitive talent, production and service rivalries. Marshaling a mini-library of substantial data encompassing everything from economic development to population migration, the authors amply support their proposal of a megapolitan America.

This megapolitan geography is comprised of 23 megapolitan areas (from Florida Atlantic to Chesapeake) that link up with contiguous megapolitans to form 10 megaregions (ala Texas Triangle and the Piedmont). Based on the working definition of the Census' 'Combined Statistical Areas' (itself a combination of multiple metropolitan statistical areas), the megapolitans can comprise a large number of contiguous metropolitan and even micropolitan areas into massive configurations of millions of people in areas the size of small European countries. This last point is important since Lang and Nelson emphasize that since more than 2/3 of the country's population resides among the 10 megaregions, the actual population density of most of America is comparable to European levels, a resounding rejection of significant myths popular among both the left and right about small towns and sprawl alike.

'Regional Governance, Not Government'

This Megapolitan concept is grounded in a vision of public-private linkages and flexibility. Much as successful regional planning organizations emphasize concrete problems and opportunities to solve and exploit in cooperation with the many interest and power groups under their voluntary umbrella, so follows the megapolitan concept.  Enabling legislation, a change in definition in transportation legislation by Congress (shifting funding from 'metropolitan' areas to 'combined statistical areas') and loosening of funds sharing regulations appear to be the only legislative/government actions that would be called for to help interested metropolitan areas align with one another into megapolitans on the issues of the present and future.  Above all else, megapolitan America is about cooperation in economic development, maximizing increasingly scarce public resources and private capacities. Of course, there are intriguing possibilities for improved environmental protection (watersheds and natural lands), land-use reforms (the minimization of leap-frog development and compelling market pressure to redevelop brownfield sites and other infill) and transportation efficiency (the authors do not mention it but regional deregulation of transportation options such as MegaBus would have a significant impact on congestion).

'Geography Has Such Power...'

Geographic constructs have enormous potency in the imaginations and actions of business and civic leaders. The Census Bureau/OMB's restructuring of geographies into micropolitan and metropolitan regions in 2003 exemplifies this as numerous micropolitan regions in particular adapted their new identities with the fervor of a convert as they trumpeted their micropolitan regions' proximity to metropolitan areas and key infrastructure, abundant land for development and other location advantages. Time will tell whether megapolitan regions and areas have a similar impact but if ongoing developments on the ground (from commuting patterns, business investment flows and governmental cooperation at different levels from mayors to regional planning organizations to governors to county councils) are worth accounting for, the concept or something approximating it is well on the way towards realization in policy and planning.

This book is certainly time well spent. The only concern is with the price. Since it contains so many detailed color maps, the price is significantly more than the common hardcover, more akin to a mid-priced textbook ($55). Ideally, an E-edition will be released that more fits the budgets of most readers.

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