Megalopolis Research Paper Starter


(Research Starters)

This paper examines the term "megalopolis" and presents an overview of the theoretical framework examining the phenomenon, while also expanding on definitional constructs, meaning, and the term's use in theory and as applied to situations. This paper compares Gottmann's view with those of other theorists and their interpretations of the term and its use. In addition to examining the phenomenon, issues are identified that examine the megalopolis in California and in Israel, presenting both a short overview of applicability in both national and international realms. Lastly, the conclusion of this paper suggests additional research in terms of definitional application and potentiality for use of the term in other areas.

Keywords Conurbation; Megalopolis; Megalopolitan; Postindustrialism; Postmodernity; Urbanization

Population, Urbanization,


The term megalopolis was first used by Jean Gottmann (1961) to describe the urbanized area of the northeast region of the United States. He first described this region as "an almost continuous stretch of urban and suburban areas from southern New Hampshire to northern Virginia and from the Atlantic shore to the Appalachian foothills," (p. 3), which consisted in 1960 of a total population of 37 million people. Johnston and Sidaway (2004) describe Gottmann's work as "lying outside the project of postwar Anglo-American human geography" (cited in Pawson, 2008, p. 441). In 1957, Gottmann first used the term in English, and in order to construct the term, Gottmann utilized a government survey that categorized different economic regions of the United States. The survey classified key "metropolitan state economic areas" in which "the nonagricultural economy of such areas is a closely integrated unit and is distinctly different from the economy of the areas which lie outside the orbit or close contact with the metropolis" (Bogue, 1951, p. 2).

Moreover, Gottmann (1957) indicates that based on Bogues' 1951 report, the megalopolis "showed clearly the continuity of an area of metropolitan economy from a little north of Boston to a little south of Washington" (p. 1890). Vance (1963) further describes the megalopolis as an "accepted truth" in academia (p. 1984). Additionally, Nelson (1962) indicates that the term broke "new ground by closely examining a major region whose distinguishing and delimiting feature is urbanization" (p. 307). According to Pawson (2008), the megalopolis region comprises one-tenth of the global manufacturing and commercial activity (p. 441). It should be noted that theorists argued that Gottmann's work is highly important, and the term megalopolis was thus introduced into the urban studies glossary (Vicino, Hanlon, & Short, 2007).

One Great System

In the regional area from Greater Boston to Greater Washington DC, Gottmann envisioned "one great system" in which the "old distinctions between rural and urban do not apply…anymore" (1961, p. 5; 1987, 1). The father of the "metropolas" term, Gottmann also indicates that this region "may be considered the cradle of a new order in the organization of inhabited space" (1961, p. 9) and "an incubator of important socio-economic trends" (1987, p. 2). In Gottmann's seminal works, he describes the Eastern Seaboard cities as the continent's "economic hinge" and the "main gate," "Main Street," "crossroads," and as "the main debarkation wharf of crowds of immigrants" (1961, p. 695). Moreover, Gottmann states: "Despite the relative lack of local natural riches, the seaboard has achieved a most remarkable concentration of labor force and of wealth" (p. 46). He attributes this phenomenon to the region's "network of overseas relationships" and from maintaining the "reins of direction of the national economy" (p. 161).

Years after his book appeared, Gottmann indicated that the pinnacle of his book is in Chapter Eleven, which is entitled "The White-Collar Revolution." This chapter provides an emphasis on the "office industry" whose "essential raw material is information (1961, p. 597). Drawing attention to the 1960 Census, Gottmann indicates that "the Eighteenth Census of the United States will rank as a great landmark in history" (1961, p. 567). Morrill (2006) points out that Gottmann's chapter on the white-collar revolution is "probably the most important and prophetic analysis in the book, already predicting the basic remaking of American society, with the Boston to Washington, DC Megalopolis leading the way" (p. 156). He also indicates that Gottmann seems to acknowledge the "diversity and segregation of the population along ethnic, racial, religious, and class lines; the high level of inequality that characterizes creative cities; and, finally, the difficulty of coordinating planning across utter jurisdictional complexity" (p. 156).

It can also be evidenced that the megalopolitan map has changed since its inception. For example, in 1970 Wilmington, Philadelphia, and Trenton merged, as well as Boston, Lowell, and Lawrence. However, at this time, no other urban areas seemed to merge, but suburbanization seemed to be occurring, especially around New York and Washington, DC with new urbanized areas. By the year 2000, an urban settlement structure for the megalopolitan areas was well established, including a smaller Washington, Baltimore, Aberdeen area; a larger Wilmington area encompassing Springfield and Norwich; and with additional links to areas such as Atlantic City, Allentown, Lancaster, York, Harrisburg, and Poughkeepsie (Morrill, 2006, p. 158). With additional research needed in this area, it is interesting to consider the fluidity of the maps, seemingly indicative of the potential transience attributed to urban environments and linked to suburban environments. This seems to support the claim by researchers that there is an ongoing mutability in racial-ethnic segregation and diversity in given geographic areas and cities (Massey & Denton, 1993; Katz & Lang, 2003).

According to Morrill, the "second half of the twentieth century was an era of continuing metropolitan expansion in the United States," signifying changes in the megalopolitan map. Factors that may have created expansion and settlement include:

  • Demographic and economic growth;
  • Suburbanization due to physical decentralization;
  • Expanded community fields between physically separated areas;
  • Restructuring formerly distant satellites, and
  • Revitalized and restructured metropolitan cores (Morrill, 2006, p. 158).

These factors have interplayed with three specific time domains, which Morrill (2006) indicates were pivotal in urban and suburban expansion and minimization. First, Morrill (2006) points out that "1950 to 1970 was characterized by rapid growth and even more rapid suburbanization." Second, he indicates that "1970 to 1990 was one of some inner metropolitan decline and racial conflict." The third pivotal timeframe could be argued that "since 1990, [many areas] saw metropolitan core resurgence and gentrification, inner suburban maturing, and far-suburban and exurban and satellite city growth" (p. 158).

Post–World War II Expansion

High fertility rates and the post–World War II baby boom, as well as significant migration from rural to urban areas and suburban growth increases can all be considered as relevant factors in the metropolitan expansion. As a result of increases in urban areas, industry expanded, cities grew with postwar recovery efforts, and new products and services were developed and available to the masses. All of these issues were consistently underscored by government interventions such as the Federal Housing Administration and GI Bill. Lastly, the expansion of the Interstate Highway System increased opportunities for and availability of new and different types of goods and services, as well as a period of African American migration from regionally discriminatory areas and simultaneous flight of Caucasians the suburbs, including around Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York (Morrill, 2006). Morrill writes:

The attractive pull of suburbs, both for families and jobs, dominated throughout the baby boom period until 1965; then by the late 1960s the partly perceived and partly real problems of inner city decline and disinvestment became very strong motivators for suburbanization (2006, p. 159).

Morrill (2006) concludes that the idea of Gottmann's (1961) megalopolis can be described as the "Main Street of America." He points out that as the megalopolis expands, California might be the "trend setter of the nation in many ways," but the megalopolitan areas continue to be the nerve center of information, economy, urban settlement and change, and preeminence. In the year 2000, the map identified a...

(The entire section is 3885 words.)