(June 2000) Since 1949, the Office of Management and Budget has defined metropolitan areas for statistical purposes, such as the allocation of federal funding. The first areas defined were called standard metropolitan areas.

Future New York – Newark, NY-NJ Megapolitan Area?

The metropolitan area standards have been reviewed and revised several times since the first areas were defined. Now most individual metropolitan areas are called metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs). Some of the largest areas are called consolidated metropolitan statistical areas (CMSAs), composed of primary metropolitan statistical areas (PMSAs). And some metros have unwieldy titles such as Los Angeles-Riverside-Orange County.

A review underway has produced recommendations for creating core-based statistical areas (CBSAs), built not on central cities of 50,000 or more, but on urbanized areas (UAs) of 50,000 or more and on smaller areas of 10,000 or more called settlement clusters. A UA is not a city proper (with a government), but a continuously built-up territory with a given population density. Settlement clusters, proposed for Census 2000, also are based on density but are smaller than UAs.

Under the current definition, the New York PMSA consists of just the city itself and a few suburban counties. The CMSA encompasses no fewer than 15 PMSAs, some of which have names like Middlesex-Somerset-Hunterdon, and Nassau-Suffolk.

The new New York CBSA would be larger than the current PMSA. Although that new view of New York might make sense to many, the loss of identity for some smaller nearby cities, currently in separate PMSAs, may be jarring.

The new terminology may be even more unsettling. Under the proposed system, CBSAs with a core of 1 million or more population will be called “megapolitan” areas. The next rung down — a core of 50,000 to 999,999 — will become “macropolitan.” Finally, the newest, littlest areas — not included now at all — will get the dubious moniker of “micropolitan.” At the very least, computer spell checkers will stop and take notice.