Image of the United States taken at night from space.

New Book on Megaregions Provides a Framework for Large-Scale Public Investment

By Will Jason, March 17, 2022


Stretching from Portland, Maine, to Norfolk, Virginia, the Northeast megaregion is a powerhouse of the knowledge economy. Yet it struggles with grinding congestion, escalating climate change risks, and skyrocketing housing costs—problems that too often fall to the region’s more than 1,500 individual cities, towns, villages, and boroughs to solve. 

The Northeast and a dozen other U.S. megaregions will shape the country’s future over the next century. Each one is a network of metropolitan areas united by history, culture, economics, and shared infrastructure and natural resource systems. They contain only 30 percent of the nation’s land, but most of its people. As a new book makes clear, they face complex challenges that require planning, policy, and governance that cross traditional political boundaries. 

Written by planning scholars Robert D. Yaro, Ming Zhang, and Frederick R. Steiner, Megaregions and America’s Future explains the concept of megaregions, provides updated economic, demographic, and environmental data, draws lessons from Europe and Asia, and shows how megaregions are an essential framework for governing the world’s largest economy. 

Far from being a substitute for a strong national government, megaregions are, in the authors’ view, the perfect geographic unit for channeling federal investment and managing large systems such as interstate rail, multistate natural resource systems, climate mitigation or adaptation, and major economic development initiatives. 

“Creating national, megaregional, and metropolitan governance systems will require a reinvention of the federal system and a nationwide program of innovation and experimentation unlike any that the country has undertaken since the New Deal almost a century ago,” the authors write. 

The book pays particular attention to defenses against sea-level rise and storm surges, calling for regional alternatives to the “go-it-alone approach” of cities like Boston and New York, and to high-speed rail, which could open access to opportunity as it has in other highly industrialized countries. Building better rail networks within cities and regions is critical to the success of high-speed rail, the authors write. 

Geared to urban and regional planners and policy analysts, staff and decision makers in transportation, environmental protection, and development agencies, faculty and students in related fields, as well as business leaders, Megaregions and America’s Future includes a case study of the Northeast—the nation’s oldest megaregion and the source of the concept—but delves deeply into every megaregion, from the Great Lakes to the Gulf Coast to Southern California. 

The book builds on two decades of Lincoln Institute scholarship on megaregions, including several books on the European model and Regional Planning in America: Practice and Prospect, a foundational text in the field of regional planning.

“This ambitious book makes the case for recognizing American megaregions as a driver of policy, planning, and investment,” said Sara C. Bronin, a planning professor at Cornell University. “It provides a road map for breaking down jurisdictional boundaries to address urgent needs in affordable housing, ecosystem vulnerability, and transportation-system connectedness—and it is essential reading for anyone hoping to broaden their thinking about our national trajectory.” 



Will Jason is director of communications at the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.

Image: DKosig/iStock.