I am still trying to process the mammoth Brookings "State of Metropolitan America" report. I plan to dig deeper into the chapter about educational attainment. For now, the big story is how Brookings has boldly served up a novel perspective on US geography:
In fact, my Brookings colleagues and I identify seven categories of metropolitan areas based on their population growth rates, their levels of racial and ethnic diversity, and the rates at which their adults have earned college degrees. Together, these indicators say a lot about not just these three dimensions of metropolitan populations, but also factors such as development patterns, age, household structure, economic history and trajectory, and income inequality. Associating metro areas in this way breaks them out of their traditional regional boxes, bringing together areas as far flung as Allentown and Jacksonville, Portland and Atlanta.
"Traditional regional boxes" describe an economy dominated by manufacturing. The post-Fordist world (if there is such a beast) is dominated by a network of global cities. World regional geography no longer makes any sense. I wish postsecondary education would wake up to that fact.
I argue that there are two geographic camps trying to map globalization. Richard Florida and his evangelizing of megaregions champions the old ways, simply retooling the contiguous abstraction for today's world. Brookings deconstructs Char-Lanta:
As leaders in these regions seek policy solutions and on-the-ground practices to capitalize on their demographic strengths and address their population challenges, they might think about looking beyond the metro next door. Indeed, Greenville may have more to learn from Little Rock than from Charleston, and Orlando might look to Phoenix rather than Miami. These leaders can also make common cause on the federal issues that matter most to their populations, such as expanding affordable housing supply (Next Frontier), educating immigrant children (Diverse Giant), or strengthening American manufacturing (Industrial Core).Metro areas are where the demographic meets the economic. Our traditional regional identities will probably persist, but like Red Sox Nation, we have much to learn and gain from affinities that stretch across the national map.
Like Red Sox Nation. Like Steelers Nation. Like a diaspora.
Brookings identifies seven urban tribes. I'm having Joseph Campbell flashbacks. I'll call them metro cohorts. Indianapolis shouldn't be comparing itself to Cleveland or Detroit:
Those characteristics are redefining the Indianapolis area, making us less like industrial cities such as Cleveland or Detroit that we've been grouped with in the past and more like fast-growing Charlotte, N.C., or new immigration gateway Portland, Ore., the Brookings Institution says in a new report.
Sorry Indianapolis, there hasn't been a Rust Belt to unbuckle for some time. I don't know if Indianapolis was ever in the same boat as Cleveland or Detroit. I wouldn't be so smug. How do you compare with your new cohort?
Regional and megaregional thinking is a dead social science. It's a relic of late 19th-century British imperialism. It was popular among Nazi sympathizers. In the United States, the champion was Carl Sauer. If I'm confusing you, then I recommend you read this.
I don't know how it happened, but Brookings has come a long way in short time. Remember the Great Lakes Economic Initiative? John Austin's vision is buried six feet under. I think that's a good thing. The suggested megaregion was never coherent. More importantly, US politicians need a new geography to better understand a metro nation (if not an urban world). See Saskia Sassen.
In my opinion, Brookings has successfully pushed the geographic metanarrative forward. Get busy writing the next generation of textbooks for college students. Introducing the mental map of an urban-centric America.