November 11, 2011
(November 2011) Exactly 50 years ago, geographer Jean Gottmann coined the term “megalopolis” to describe the sprawling regional mega-city taking shape between Boston and Washington, D.C., gobbling up rural areas in its wake.1
“BosWash” is the nickname futurist Herman Kahn gave this potentially 400-mile urban area in the late 1960s. He called the urbanizing swath from Chicago to Pittsburgh along the Great Lakes and Ohio River “ChiPitts,” and the California coastal development stretching from San Francisco to San Diego “SanSan.”2
In a 1967 book, he predicted that by 2000 one-half of the U.S. population would live in those three megalopolises and that any examination of U.S. population trends in the 21st century “would largely be a study of BosWash, ChiPitts, and SanSan.”3
But a somewhat different story has unfolded over the past 50 years, says Mark Mather, co-author of PRB’s Reports on America: First Results From the 2010 Census. “The three megalopolises’ share of U.S. population actually declined somewhat between 1960 and 2010,” says Mather. “Rather than growing to encompass one-half of the U.S. population, the three areas are only home to about one-third of all U.S. residents.”
|1960 Population||% of U.S. Total||2010 Population||% of U.S. Total|
|Total U.S. Population||179,323,175||100||308,745,538||100|
Note: See References below for definitions of the megalopolises.
Sources: U.S. Census Bureau, 1960 Census of the Population, Vol. A, Part 1 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1961) and for 2010 Census data, PRB’s DataFinder, accessed at www.prb.org/DataFinder.aspx, on Oct. 24, 2011.
Mather and his co-authors highlighted several key population trends that observers in the 1960s had not fully anticipated:
The U.S. population has shifted to the South and West since the 1950s. Today the South is the most populous region, followed by the West, Midwest, and Northeast. In 2010, the West overtook the Midwest as the second most-populous census region—just as it overtook the Northeast in 1990.
Old industrial cities in the Northeast and Midwest–often called the Rust Belt—lost population, as manufacturing declined and people left in search of better jobs. Many metro areas in ChiPitts–such as Detroit, Buffalo, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh—have been plagued by high rates of out-migration since the 1970s.
The fastest growing areas have been mainly outside the three megalopolises. These fast-growing areas included suburbs of metropolitan areas in the South and West, such as the region around Orlando, Fla.; the “Research Triangle” area of North Carolina; and the areas surrounding such cities as Las Vegas, Atlanta, and several cities in Texas (Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio, and Austin). The northern Virginia exurbs of Washington, D.C. —at the southern end of BosWash—are an exception.
Population aging has fueled growth in retirement destinations, which tend to be outside the three metropolises. During the 2000s, retirement-destination counties—ones that are attractive to people age 60 and older—were among the big demographic “winners.” One-third of the 440 retirement counties grew at least twice the national average between 2000 and 2010. Two of the large, fast-growing retirement destinations are Maricopa County, Arizona, and Clark County, Nevada.
But Gottmann’s main message—sprawling urban growth– reflects population dynamics still at play today, Mather noted:
Paola Scommegna is senior writer/editor at the Population Reference Bureau.