The Rise of the Mega-Region

November 29, 2010

Bullet trains are on their way. Earlier this week, the application process began for 13 billion dollars worth of federal money – chiseled out of the nearly $800 billion President Obama allocated for the federal stimulus package – including $8 billion for this year and another billion each year until fall 2016. Florida and California are expected to receive much of the money to tackle transportation issues of (in Florida’s case) traffic-congestion and (in California’s) extreme distance. Building ultra-fast train systems makes travel easier, more efficient and more comfortable, making states receiving grant money attractive locales for developing or expanding businesses; aside from the long-term benefits, designing the structure, laying track, and running the rail-system itself will create many well-paying jobs during and after the construction.

One of the major ideas behind bullet trains was proposed by Richard Florida in a 2007 paper entitled “The Rise of the Mega-Region.” In the paper, Florida and his associates suggest that contemporary geography shift its focus from the nation as a basic cultural unit to the "mega-region,” which Florida defines as “an integrated set of cities and their surrounding suburban hinterlands…[that] perform functions that are similar to those of the great cities of the past – massing together talent, productive capability, innovation, and markets. But they do this on a far larger scale.”

The rhetoric of bullet trains' construction presently relies on this concept: like a city-bus system that stops every few blocks rather than at every corner, bullet trains will connect regions, not adjacent cities. By slimming the number of routes (for example, you might take a bullet train from SoCal to NorCal, or from Bos-Wash to Dal-Austin, but probably not from Miamo to Orlando), much of the time spent in stations or at a changeover can be effectively eliminated.

One wonders at what this will do for the American sense of place. Is the rise of mega-region the end of localism – cuisine, language, customs and so forth – or does it herald a time when travel and place will become looser, more interesting, and more available for exploration?

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