Region Forward Blog

Will megaregions be the major players in the 21st century?

Dec 2, 2011


Headlines are currently dominated by major failures on the part of nation-states around the world. Take your pick: there’s the unyielding political gridlock in the United States the relentless attack of markets on countries in Southern Europe and a string of dictators in the Middle East and North Africa using violence to oppress their own people. These depressing realities – and sadly there are many others – lead to the conclusion that something is amiss in the nation-state system.

Are nation-states – the dominant form of governance since the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 – no longer effective means of organization? Enter Haya El Nasser an urban affairs reporter at USA Today who authored a great piece earlier this week on the rise of “megapolitan areas.” Megapolitan areas consist of groups of large geographically concentrated metropolitan areas that have become so fluid when it comes to jobs housing transportation and natural resources that they essentially form one larger “megapolitan” area.

Nasser who inspired a previous post here at RF on the future of smart growth notes that these regions are where the vast majority of the nation’s dynamism – economic intellectual and cultural – is found. Professors and urban thinkers argue that jurisdictions within these megapolitan areas need to focus on how to compete with other megaregions in the US and around the world rather than ruthlessly competing with each other. The points raised in Nasser’s piece recall a post of our own from a year ago in which we pondered whether these megaregions (the modern equivalent of city-states) would resurface as a prevailing form once again this time as a primarily economic rather than political entity.

As nation-states appear to flounder at the task of tackling major challenges are regions the model for the future? In the US regions are already at the forefront of the fight against climate change largely because of federal inaction on the issue. Are today’s city-states – these megapolitan regions – becoming the dominant form of economic entity in the world? If so is this a positive evolution? And what will be the impact for places outside of these regions?

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