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Commuters and Computers: Mapping U.S. Megaregions

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US Megaregions Map

us megaregions urban map

Commuters and Computers: Mapping U.S. Megaregions

From California’s Bay Area to the highly-integrated Great Lakes Economy, megaregions are a dominating aspect of human geography and commerce. It should be no surprise then, that 85% of corporate head offices in the US and Canada are overwhelmingly concentrated in the core cities of great megaregions.

We tend to think of cities as individual economic units, but as they expand outward and bleed together, defining them simply by official jurisdictions and borders becomes difficult. After all, many of the imaginary lines divvying up the country are remnants of decisions from centuries ago – and other county and state lines exist for more counterintuitive reasons such as gerrymandering.

What if there was a more data-driven approach to examine America’s urban networks?

Computer, Take The Wheel

By ignoring borders and looking purely at commuter data, geographer Garrett Nelson and urban analyst Alasdair Rae looked to map the relationship between population centers in their paper, An Economic Geography of the United States: From Commutes to Mega-regions.

Minneapolis Map
Researchers used visual and algorithmic approaches to build their map.

The study used network partitioning software to link together 4 million commutes between census tracts. This gives us a very granular look at the “gravitational pull” of America’s population centers, and helps us better understand the economic links that bind a region together.

By combining visual and mathematical approaches, and some creative place-naming, the researchers created a map that they hope reflects America’s true economic geography.

megaregions us map

Algorithmic Insights

The concept of megaregions is hardly new, and there are already definitions for global megacities that use everything from infrastructure systems to light patterns derived from satellite imagery.

That said, this research is fine example of using data and an algorithmic approach to look at systems in a new way, unburdened by our political and cultural preconceptions.

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Demographics

Mapped: The Dramatic Global Rise of Urbanization (1950–2020)

Few global trends have matched the profound impact of urbanization. Today’s map looks back at 70 years of movement in over 1,800 cities.

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The Dramatic Global Rise of Urbanization (1950–2020)

In the 21st century, few trends have matched the economic, environmental, and societal impact of rapid urbanization.

A steady stream of human migration out of the countryside, and into swelling metropolitan centers, has shaken up the world’s power dynamic in just decades.

Today’s eye-catching map via Cristina Poiata from Z Creative Labs looks at 70 years of movement and urban population growth in over 1,800 cities worldwide. Where is the action?

Out of the Farms and Into the Cities

The United Nations cites two intertwined reasons for urbanization: an overall population increase that’s unevenly distributed by region, and an upward trend in people flocking to cities.

Since 1950, the world’s urban population has risen almost six-fold, from 751 million to 4.2 billion in 2018. In North America alone, significant urban growth can be observed in the video for Mexico and the East Coast of the United States as this shift takes place.

Global Urban Population vs. Rural

Over the next few decades, the rural population is expected to plateau and eventually decline, while urban growth will continue to shoot up to six billion people and beyond.

The Biggest Urban Hot-Spots

Urban growth is going to happen all across the board.

Rapidly rising populations in megacities and major cities will be significant contributors, but it’s also worth noting that the number of regional to mid-sized cities (500k to 5 million inhabitants) will swell drastically by 2030, becoming more influential economic hubs in the process.

global cities by size 1990 to 2030

Interestingly, it’s mainly cities across Asia and Africa — some of which Westerners are largely unfamiliar with — that may soon wield enormous influence on the global stage.

It’s expected that over a third of the projected urban growth between now and 2050 will occur in just three countries: India, China, and Nigeria. By 2050, it is projected that India could add 416 million urban dwellers, China 255 million, and Nigeria 189 million.

Urbanization and its Complications

Rapid urbanization isn’t only linked to an inevitable rise in city populations.

Some megacities are actually experiencing population contractions, in part due to the effects of low fertility rates in Asia and Europe. For example, while the Greater Tokyo area contains almost 38 million people today, it’s expected to shrink starting in 2020.

As rapid urbanization continues to shape the global economy, finding ways to provide the right infrastructure and services in cities will be a crucial problem to solve for communities and organizations around the world. How we deal with these issues — or how we don’t — will set the stage for the next act in the modern economic era.

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Debt

How Much Student Debt Does Each State Hold?

Crippling student debt in the U.S. has reached a record high of $1.5 trillion nationwide. Today’s map breaks down which states bear the highest burden.

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How Much Student Debt Does Each State Hold?

Education may be priceless, but the costs of obtaining it are becoming steeper by the day.

Almost half of all university-educated Americans rely on loans to pay for their higher education, with very few graduating debt-free. Total U.S. student debt has more than doubled in the last decade—reaching a record high of $1.5 trillion today.

Today’s data visualization from HowMuch.net breaks down the average student debt per capita, to uncover which states shoulder the highest burden in this growing crisis.

Students are Paying Through the Nose

Before diving into the graphic, let’s take a quick look at why student debt is racking up. The ballooning costs to attend college today compared to thirty years ago is one driving factor.

College Tuition
Source: The College Board 2018 report.

What’s more, these figures don’t include the expenses for accommodation and other supplies, which can add another $15,000-$17,000 per year.

The United States of Student Debt

In the state map above, it’s immediately obvious that Washington D.C. tops the list. While the nation’s capital is the most educated metropolitan area in the country, it also suffers from $13,320 in student debt per capita.

At approximately 147% above than the national average of $5,390, Washington D.C.’s debt burden per capita is almost double that of the state in second place. Georgia comes in with $7,250 debt per capita, 34.5% above the national average.

StateStudent Debt per CapitaDifference from Average
U.S. Average$5,390
Alabama$4,920-8.7%
Alaska$4,030-25.2%
Arizona$5,170-4.1%
Arkansas$4,330-19.7%
California$4,530-16.0%
Colorado$6,18014.7%
Connecticut$5,8909.3%
Delaware$6,04012.1%
District Of Columbia$13,320147.1%
Florida$4,940-8.3%
Georgia$7,25034.5%
Hawaii$3,780-29.9%
Idaho$5,050-6.3%
Illinois$5,8007.6%
Indiana$5,300-1.7%
Iowa$5,300-1.7%
Kansas$5,4801.7%
Kentucky$4,870-9.6%
Louisiana$5,360-0.6%
Maine$5,340-0.9%
Maryland$6,74025.0%
Massachusetts$6,14013.9%
Michigan$5,8007.6%
Minnesota$6,28016.5%
Mississippi$5,8708.9%
Missouri$5,270-2.2%
Nebraska$5,080-5.8%
Nevada$4,170-22.6%
New Hampshire$5,8608.7%
New Jersey$6,09013.0%
New Mexico$4,070-24.5%
New York$6,09013.0%
North Carolina$5,240-2.8%
North Dakota$5,5102.2%
Ohio$6,22015.4%
Oklahoma$4,540-15.8%
Oregon$5,7606.9%
Pennsylvania$6,21015.2%
Rhode Island$5,3900.0%
South Carolina$5,8708.9%
South Dakota$5,170-4.1%
Tennessee$5,050-6.3%
Texas$4,970-7.8%
Utah$4,350-19.3%
Vermont$5,4801.7%
Virginia$5,8208.0%
Washington$4,270-20.8%
West Virginia$4,020-25.4%
Wisconsin$4,850-10.0%
Wyoming$3,610-33.0%

Rounding out the five states with the most student debt per capita are Maryland, Minnesota, and Ohio, in that order. On the flip side, Wyoming has the least debt per capita ($3,610), which is 33.0% lower than the national average. Hawaii follows right behind at $3,780, and 29.9% below the national average.

Interestingly, a growing population on the West Coast helps to lower the debt burden for states like California, even despite the strong presence of prestigious schools. Home to Stanford, USC, UCLA, CalTech, and more, the Golden State surprisingly only has $4,530 in debt per capita.

The Last Straw?

Today’s Americans are more educated than ever before, but the sticker shock is causing some whiplash. This overall trend of spiraling student debt has significant implications on a person’s life trajectory. With many graduates unable to repay their loans on time, more of them are delaying major life milestones, such as starting a family or becoming a homeowner.

In efforts to curb this crisis, many 2020 presidential hopefuls have already started proposing plans to cancel or forgive student debt—with close attention on mid- to low-income households that would benefit the most from reduced loans.

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