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Megaregions: Planning for Global Competitiveness 2009/12/09

Posted by drewsclues in Transportation Planning.
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A Review by Drew

Overview

With millions of American’s out of work, inflated gas prices, and the United States falling behind in the global marketplace, whatever we are doing is not working.  Due to our national design, America is governed locally, and therefore planned locally as well.  With some responsibilities left up to the states, and others left up to the national government, most planning dollars are shelled out among the local political players who have the charisma and political capital to negotiate federal spending in their areas.  Historically, our national transportation plan intended to connect military bases and cities with populations greater than fifty-thousand.  While it seemed logical at the time, we have since learned that many more variables should be considered when conducting a national transportation planning strategy.

To snap us out of this self-defeating, territorial mentality, Georgia Tech professor Dr. Catherine Ross has compiled a gathering of thoughtful articles and essays explaining the importance of shifting our focus to the newly recognized economic structure coined ‘Megaregions’.  Megaregions are defined by economic activity, cultural connectedness, and environmental resource similarity – rather than the traditional method of clustering municipal units or designating nearby states into a region.  This book presents an alternative for policy-makers that could save our economy:  Should we remain conducting business as usual or consider the bigger picture for once?  The bigger picture is the global economy.  Our traditional methods of local competitiveness have indeed stimulated bits and pieces of our nation’s economy, but as Europeand Asia continue preparing for leadership of tomorrow, America has its work cut out to ensure a piece of the pie.

Context

By the year 2050, America’s population will grow by another fifty percent, topping out at nearly half a billion people.  Growth trends suggest that seventy percent of this population will live in networks connecting urban clusters and metropolitan designations arranged together based on their environmental systems, culture, transportation networks and economic transactions.  As population cohorts continue growing and diversifying over the next fifty years, a range of issues such as intensified globalism, deepened inequalities, and natural resource depletions will begin to emerge.  Maintaining the mindset of preserving the way things are in society may prove to have a catastrophic effect on America’s global economic standing.

To prevent this, a new approach is needed to develop a national strategy to improve efficiency and productivity.  Studies have shown that local economies resume a false sense of strength in choosing only to acknowledge their own goals.  To capture the big picture, cooperative innovation between thousands of local and regional jurisdictions will be required to promote an efficient national plan for global competitiveness.

Global Competitors

Though the European Union is technically not a megaregion, it has certainly been utilizing megaregional planning strategies for some years now.  American planners have identified EU’s approach, acknowledging political feat of superior cooperation between many different countries, while America cannot seem to adopt this proven strategy into its own economic and infrastructural vision.  America certainly has a diverse range of natural, economic and cultural resources, but its lack of desire to produce an all-inclusive national plan is additionally embarrassed by what several neighboring nations with deep political histories can do in a cooperative effort to stake their competitive claim into the global economy.  And as we idly wait, the EU has developed its first megaregional framework of five major cities enclosing an area rich with economic activity – the Pentagon.  Anchored by London, Paris, Milan, Munich and Hamburg, the Pentagon megaregion represents twenty percent of EU’s land, forty percent of its population and half of its gross domestic product.  Pushing forward, Europe is using megaregional strategies to secure its place in tomorrow’s economy.

Panning across the Pacific Ocean lays Eastern Asia, a massive continental space occupied by cultural ideologies which cultivate an accepted importance for national leadership.  Through its historic Confusion context, Eastern Asia has evolved with top-down government systems which promote planning at the megaregional scale.  Local systems do exist, but localized jurisdictional and territorial issues have virtually no major influence in planning because their funding and design are generally handed down from national or super-regional government agencies.  Density is the separate factor between American and Asian megaregional realities.  America’s expansive land mass of relatively low population density has historically required local-regional planning approaches, but today’s global economy demands more than traditional governance.

Conclusion

Among justifications for megaregional focus include that their larger influence can promote faster development than individual metropolitan areas.  Planning transportation systems and natural resource management cannot be truly effective if focused within the parameters of a small jurisdiction such as a regional development center.  Ross argues that megaregional focus must translate into new policies if America is to adopt this strategy.  Some implications require development of a national transportation plan, a commodity and people-moving system such as high-speed rail, shifting urbanization away from resource-rich lands not suitable for development, and educational partnerships addressing the economic development needs of a specific megaregion.

Clearly, Megaregions: Planning for Global Competitiveness presents our dilemma as well as our solution.  For such as time as this, America has the opportunity to invest in its own national infrastructure – a process that will create millions of jobs to stabilize our strained workforce.  Western Europe is ready; Eastern Asia is ready.  Will America be ready?

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