America’s Metro Regions Take Center Stage

Analysis by the Citistates Group. To view the original report, click here.

METROPOLITAN REGIONS are the dominant demographic and physical form, the citistates of the 21st century. They’re the critical base for the globalized economy. In a world of expanding trade flows and borderless economies, they represent a framework—flexible, organic, creative—that makes practical sense. Some metros are far larger in population than entire states (or even nations). Yet because of their relative compactness, metros—even those with millions of population—offer more opportunities for direct connections, to deal pragmatically with shared challenges, than either states or nation states. Face-to-face contact makes it possible for metro economies, universities, transportation, environmental systems to work in tandem. Metros can bring many sectors to the table and forge widely supported agendas. They are arenas to build relationships and trust—respect, empathy, inclusiveness— in stark contrast with the divisive partisanship and ideologies that easily paralyze decision-making
at the level of states and nations.

Metros can bring many sectors to the table and forge widely supported agendas.

Collectively, metros now represent an overwhelming share (the largest 100 alone are 66 percent) of the United States’ population—and even more of its economy. They’re home to all but a few corporate headquarters and financial institutions. They’re centers of innovation, the site of most of the nation’s great universities, the 21st century’s hotbeds of innovation and talent building. Without them, the United States would be a pale shadow
of its present self.

But—metros are also well described as “messy.” Regional problem-solving is usually complicated, difficult, frustrating and full of surprises. Each multi-jurisdictional issue has its own scale and scope, its own “region”—sometimes the same as, sometimes quite different from regions designated by state governments. Many challenges are made all the more complex when the physical region actually spreads across state lines. (There are actually 30 such regions in the U.S. today). Regional accords don’t always come easily—they’re more often the fruit of grit and public interest vision. They’re about working through
competing interests and values, dealing with disagreements but also searching out new synergies, compatible goals. An essential component: broad-minded regional leadership—political, business, university, foundation or other, that can
see beyond differences to mutual gain.

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