As the U.S. economy grows and morphs, people are finding themselves living not just in cities or suburbs or towns, but also in much larger “megaregions.” Economists, geographers, and planners are only just beginning to understand these highly interconnected areas, the boundaries of which are still being debated.
This intriguing new interactive map attempts to put geographic borders on the country’s megaregions—and names them all as well.
“We hope that people can learn more about how the U.S. looks from a different perspective,” says urban studies scholar Alasdair Rae of the University of Sheffield in England. “We know that political boundaries are important, and lines drawn on maps really do matter. But they often don't reflect the realities of day- to- day life when it comes to people's activities.”
According to the map, people living in Denver also live in the Zebulon megaregion. While this sounds right out of a sci-fi novel, it’s actually named after Zebulon Pike, the famed explorer for whom Colorado’s Pikes Peak is named.
Almost everyone in Minnesota is a denizen of the Laurentide megaregion, named for the massive ice sheet that carved out the Great Lakes and covered the area—and all of Canada—on and off over the last 2.5 million years.
Citizens of the greater Los Angeles region are also living in the El Asfalto megaregion. You can probably guess what inspired that name.
“One of my goals in naming the regions was to not just name them after their primary cities,” says historical geographer Garrett Nelson of Dartmouth College. Instead, he used old maps; historic, literary, or natural descriptions of the areas; and his own imagination to come up with the names. “I also tried to give voice to the cultural diversity of the U.S., using Spanish, French, and American Indian names.”
Nelson and Rae of used data on 4 million commutes, along with algorithms and visual analyses, to divvy the contiguous U.S. into megaregions. Their research, which we wrote about in November, was published in the journal PLOS ONE.
The colored lines on the map represent work commutes. The white borders represent how the country might be divided up based on the economic ties between cities and surrounding areas represented by those commutes.
“It’s actually been surprising how many people have said they “recognize” the megaregions, since it was a computer algorithm that spit out the results on which we drew the boundaries,” Nelson says. “That tells us commuting patterns really do correspond to some degree with how people intuitively feel the country is connected together.