Sunday, July 24, 2005

Houston = the Gulf Coast Megapolitan Area?

USA Today has an interesting article on the new concept of "megapolitan areas" or super-regional cities based on research by the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech and a coalition of other universities.

...the world is no longer about towns, cities, counties, metropolitan areas or even states. Those traditional boundaries may become even more parochial as a booming nation of 295 million braces for another 125 million people by 2050.

If current development patterns continue, millions more will settle around metropolitan areas, along interstate highways and near major airports. They'll form giant urban areas linked by common culture, economy, geography and ecology:

Ten megapolitan areas have more than 10 million residents or will have that many by 2040, according to a new study by Virginia Tech. They extend into 35 states and include parts of every state east of the Mississippi River except Vermont. They incorporate less than a fifth of the land area in the continental USA but house more than two-thirds of the population. Four states are completely megapolitan: Connecticut, Delaware, New Jersey and Rhode Island.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania's Department of City and Regional Planning predict that by 2050, more than 300 million people, about 70% of the population, will live in eight "super city" regions that today have about 175 million people.

They have a nice table I can't duplicate here (and is unreadable in the graphic above) with the 10 areas listed along with their current population, biggest city, signature industry, and political leaning. Houston is included in the Gulf Coast Megapolitan area along with New Orleans and Mobile, with 12.1 million people today focused on the energy industry and backing the GOP.

I think they're really on to something. Not that people daily commute across these super-regions, but that they do have pretty tightly linked and integrated economies, and I think people are more willing to move within a region where they can stay a half-day's drive away from extended family and friends, i.e. "weekend driving trip range".

From what I can tell, their coalition of universities doesn't include any from around Texas, and it shows in their city clusters. I buy their definitions of the pacific northwest, northern CA, southern CA, the midwest, the northeast corridor, Piedmont/Atlanta, and southern Florida. I only have a minor quibble with the way the put Las Vegas with SoCal, but put Phoenix by itself. Either Vegas belongs with Phoenix, or they all belong together in one giant blob in the southwest (with a Death Valley gap) - probably the latter. But their Texas clusters make no sense. Kansas City goes with San Antonio, but Houston goes with New Orleans and Mobile? Come on. Anybody who knows anything about Texas knows that the core regional economy is the Texas Triangle of San Antonio, Austin, Ft. Worth, Dallas, and Houston. People travel back and forth among these cities all the time. Houston is far more linked to any one of them than to New Orleans or Mobile, and San Antonio-Kansas City definitely fails the "weekend driving trip" test. They need to create that Megapolitan area and spin off Oklahoma, Kansas and Louisiana to the unaffiliated status they have for most of the country (which is by no means a condemnation, since it includes pretty vibrant cities like Denver, Salt Lake City, Albuquerque, Boise, and Minneapolis). When you look at UPenn's list of 8 super-cities, it does break down this way, with the Texas Triangle as a stand-alone mega-metro:
California will have two supercities — one stretching from San Diego to north of Los Angeles and the southern Central Valley, the other encompassing the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley and reaching inland to Modesto and Sacramento. A third supercity will permeate the Pacific Northwest, including Portland, Tacoma, and Seattle. A fourth, in Texas, will encompass San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, and Houston. Almost all of Florida will be a supercity. The South’s supercity will reach from Birmingham through Atlanta to Charlotte and Raleigh/Durham. The Midwest’s will start in Cleveland and include Detroit, Chicago, and Milwaukee. The East’s will reach from Richmond all the way up the Atlantic Coast to Portland, Maine.

One minor item I found amusing: every region gets a nice export-focused "signature industry" except Phoenix, which got "home building." Not really an export industry. I think it might be a politically correct proxy for "people retiring/escaping from California and living off the bundle they sold their CA house for." That's certainly one way to bring money and economic vitality to a region...


At 12:48 PM, July 26, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tory -

There's a pretty strong (though perhaps declining) link between Houston and New Orleans from an energy perspective. Actually, it's not just between Houston and New Orleans, but all those points in between too, like Lake Charles and Beaumont. I've often thought of Louisiana's cultural sphere of influence as extending well into Texas past Beaumont and Port Arthur up to the Frenchtown area of Houston's 5th Ward (where the term "zydeco" was believed to have originated).

I think the dilemma of how to categorize Houston is representative of what a crossroads the city truly is, because there are convincing arguments to be made about the Texas triangle relationship you raised (though I wonder whether the economic link between Houston and San Antonio is all that meaningful).

At 3:55 PM, July 26, 2005, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Fair point. It would not be unreasonable to add southern Louisiana to the Texas Triangle. Besides, that makes Houston seem even more central ;-)

As far as the connection between Houston and San Antonio (and the other triangle cities for that matter), the Dallas/Houston Fed wrote two great reports on how the triangle cities' economies are very complimentary, each with their own specializations and rarely competing with each other. They essentially form a single megopolis.

At 9:13 PM, July 26, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tony -

as a current Delaware resident (moved here from Houston), i'd have to wonder how VaTech (VPI&SU) can get away w/calling Delaware completely megapolitan. I won't deny that the I-95 stretch that connects DC/Baltimore w/New York is part of the megalopolis, but that includes maybe 20-30% (my guess) of the land even if 70-80% of the population. The rest of the state (lower/slower Delaware) is not on any major route to anywhere except for the DC vacationers to the Delaware Beaches.

maybe i'm just being picky.

yet another rice alum


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