Did you wake up this morning in the megaregion of Chesapeake? If you woke up in Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan Area 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.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.
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 Baltimore-Washington metro area falls within the megaregion of Chesapeake which stretches north past Baltimore, west to Winchester, south to Fredericksberg, and east to Ocean City. The map shows the region in exciting sparks of green with each line representing commuter paths.
Well, for one, Baltapolis, DC 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 “Chesapeake” comes from both the bay and the Native American tribe who once inhabited southeastern Virginia. 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.
In other megaregions he might use the name of a famous resident or a geographic signifier. The Chicago metro area, for example, has become Sandburg. The designation 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. For obvious reasons, the Philadelphia metro area becomes Franklin (although “Alwayssunny” would have been an acceptable alternative).
Are commuter paths the best way to define a megaregion? Can you come up with a better name for your megaregion?