Map Monday: The Great Twin Cities Megaregion

Via James Russell on Twitter, here’s a bottom-up map that was generated from analyzing 130 million commuter patterns and narrowing those trips into a series of “megaregions” around the country.

The end result, in multi-color glory:


And another one showing clear delineations:


A brief description of the methodology:

Previously megaregions have been typically identified by an interpretative method that links large metropolitan regions through similar environmental and infrastructure systems, economic links and cultural similarities. These approaches are often based on a ‘best guess’ kind of approach, and do not rely on the analysis of large datasets.

Now Dr Alasdair Rae and his co-author Dr Garrett Nelson have developed an empirical approach to identify megaregions using a dataset of more than 4 million ‘commuter flows’ involving the travel to work patterns of 130 million Americans.

The data comes from five-years worth of data from the American Community Survey between 2006 and 2010. The yearly nationwide survey of 3.5 million employees asks where they worked ‘last week’.

Using algorithmic ‘community partitioning’ software developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and cloud computing powered by Amazon Web Services, these commuter flows were mapped out and revealed massive labour market areas across the US that form distinct megaregions.

“In addition to identifying broad US megaregions, we also conclude that there is no replacement for a common sense interpretation of any results generated through computational approaches. We believe the megaregions we identify are a true reflection of the economic geography of the United States but of course they need to be tested and validated in the real world for them to have real use.”

us-megaregion-map-2-cuAs you can see, the Twin Cities’ “megaregion” extends pretty far into Western Wisconsin, including Eau Claire, La Crosse, and Superior. To the West, it reaches about 1/3 of the way into North Dakota, though South Dakota escapes its clutches. Eventually the line gives way to one of the few megaregion vacuums extending over the Rockies.

I guess we already knew about the economic “watersheds” formed by different large urban areas. But it’s interesting to see actual bottom-up commuting data back it up.

4 thoughts on “Map Monday: The Great Twin Cities Megaregion

  1. cobo Rodreges

    Im a little surprised by the size of the Milwaukee mega region as well as the reach of Albuquerque & Eureka.

    I Love maps like these

  2. Ted Hathaway

    Another way to look at the TC’s megaregion is the follow the outlines of the 9th federal reserve district. The late John Borchert, for whom the U named it’s map library, long argued that this boundary is the real definition of the TC’s “area of influence.” Instead of a “vacuum” in Western N. Dakota, the economic influence of the cities extends into Eastern Montana, as far is Sidney.

  3. Mike Hicks

    I guess I’m a little dubious about how unified the Twin Cities megaregion is, but it does provide some validation of the statewide rail network idea I posted about a few months ago:

    You can also compare the interconnectivity shown in this megaregion map to the way Amtrak is set up now — there’s very poor correlation between their system and the ways that people typically travel. They could have a much denser network, particularly through west coast states and throughout the eastern half or so of the country.

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