Laura Bliss is CityLab’s West Coast bureau chief. She also writes MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Sierra, GOOD, Los Angeles, and elsewhere, including in the book The Future of Transportation.
Ever been to the “Corntassel” corridor?
Ever been to Entrelacs? Or visited Mayflower in winter? (Don’t—it’s wicked harsh.) A new interactive map will let you take trips to the American megaregions you never knew.
Garrett Dash Nelson, a postdoctoral student in geography at Dartmouth College, and Alasdair Rae, an urban data analyst at the University of Sheffield, analyzed 4 million point-to-point commutes, representing 130 million travelers, sculpting the data to show the heaviest volumes of daily flows. (Sound familiar? CityLab wrote about it: Read more about their methods here.) This process revealed constellations of neighboring cities, connected by interlocking workforces—a new way of visualizing America’s megaregions, a concept that has lately gained steam among planners and economists. Nelson and Rae mapped and published their findings in PLOS One last December.
Now they’ve stitched the megaregions together in a playful interactive map. You can zoom in state by state, zone by zone, to see how urban economies transcend city limits. Some are no-brainers—San Francisco, Sacramento, and San Jose are close buddies—while other alliances are more intriguing. For example, Danville, in central Illinois, is more closely connected to Des Moines, which is hundreds of miles away in Iowa, than it is to Chicago, which is much closer and in the same state.
That’s not necessarily because there are tons of Danville commuters trekking to Des Moines. Rather, Nelson and Rae’s methodology shows they are both more tightly linked to the necklace of cities in between them—Urbana, Bloomington, Peoria, etc.—than they are to the cities that fall outside the entire zone. “The goal is to figure out the best possible places to put the breaks, in a way that interrupts the least numbers of commutes,” says Nelson.
It’s not necessarily a perfect approach, but Nelson says he was excited when Reddit users chimed in during an AMA to say they were familiar with the commute patterns that his and Rae’s megaregions reflect.
The researchers also labeled their megaregions with some, um, unconventional names. The Los Angeles-Long Beach-San Bernardino area, land of paved paradise, gets the cheeky moniker El Asfalto. Des Moines-Springfield-Peoria is Corntassel. The Denver Front Range is dubbed Zebulon, which sounds galactic, but is actually a nod to Zebulon Pike, the military explorer for whom Pike’s Peak (one of the highest in the Rockies) is named. Other labels come from Native American place-names (Haudenosaunee, or Upstate New York), past influences (Terrebonne, AKA the New Orleans area), famous locals (Chicagoland is dubbed Sandburg), old regional names (Pennyroyal, for the Louisville area), and natural features (Cuyahoga and Champlain, for Cleveland and Albany-Burlington, respectively).
Nelson writes in an email that most of these labels are “deliberately meant to re-establish a sense of the region as such, beyond just the identity of the dominant city.” They’re just suggestions, of course—suggestions that might offend a proud Angeleno or three. But they do drive home the critical takeaway of this research: Distant cities are more connected than they might appear from ground.
What would you call your home megaregion? Offer names (and arguments) in the comments below.