Did you wake up this morning in the megaregion of Sandburg? If you woke up in Chicagoland a fascinating and beautiful new map thinks you did.

When hearing the word “megaregion” thoughts might first turn to science fiction: William Gibson’s Neuromancer had the Boston-Atlanta Metropolitan Axis, the comic series Judge Dredd has Mega-City One which at one point stretched from Quebec to the Florida panhandle (depicted below), and the classic Wesley Snipes film Demolition Man gave us San Angeles stretching from San Diego to Santa Barbara.

Mega-City One by Dave TaylorDave Taylor for 2000AD
But megaregions are real concepts used to define a series of adjacent metropolitan areas. For example, the idea of the “Megalopolis” has been around since at least the turn of the 20th Century to describe the Northeastern United States. The descriptor has been expanded to include any network of regions that share common traits including economic linkage, environmental topography, infrastructure, or culture and history. Regional planners and economists use it for regional economic organizing but there’s also been a question of where to set boundaries.

Enter the new “Megaregions of the US” map. This map uses commuter paths to break up the country into 50 new megaregions.

United States of MegaRegionsand Sheffield Universities

The map was developed by Garrett Nelson of Dartmouth College and Alasdair Rae of the University of Sheffield. Using census data they were able to determine 4 million commuter paths to create the megaregions. According to National Geographic’s Betsy Mason, the white lines define the borders of the megaregions based on algorithms that consider “the strengths of connections between nodes.” Mason adds that Nelson and Rae further tweaked these connections to rule out excessive commutes (you know, those New York City to Los Angeles commuters) and weak connections.

The result is a beautiful map that makes typically mundane commuter data (unless you’re into that sort of thing) look like exploding supernovas.  

The Chicago metropolitan area falls within the megaregion of Sandburg which stretches north to Rockford, west to Sterling, south to Watseka, and east to Michigan City. The map shows the region in sparks of light blue with each line representing commuter paths.

Chicago - SandburgDartmouth and Sheffield Universities
Why do you live in Sandburg and not Chicgaryford?

Well, for one, Chicgaryford might be fun to say but it’s a ridiculous name. Nelson told National Geographic he used “old maps; historic, literary, or natural descriptions of the areas; and his own imagination to come up with the names.”

The designation “Sandburg” is likely taken from the writer, journalist, and poet Carl Sandburg who spent a significant amount of his life in Chicago and wrote a series of nine poems about the city.

Nelson often uses the megaregion names to call back to the Native Americans who once occupied those regions. For example, upstate New York has become the megaregion of Haudenosaunee which is the designation Iroquois prefer to use when referring to themselves. Nelson also uses the naming convention as an opportunity to give Wisconsin back to the Ho-Chunk by renaming most of the state “Winnebago.” This is a much better name than the obvious “Beercheese.”

Are commuter paths the best way to define a megaregion? Can you come up with a better name for your megaregion? Wouldn’t it make more sense to rename Michigan “Mitten”? 

Just one more...