Planner jargon de-coded: What is a Megapolitan?

The concept of  megapolitans in the U.S. is the subject of a new book and has cropped up recently in articles about the future of planning. What do they mean by “megapolitan”?

Megapolitans in the U.S. are clustered networks of American cities where the population is projected to be between 7 and 63 million by 2025. (See map of emerging U.S. megaregions) If combined, the population of these megapolitan areas would form the third most populous country in the world, behind China and India.

In the U.S., planning is often dominated by a narrower view of geography. The megapolitan concept poses an interesting question  –  should we be thinking beyond the borders that separate our cities, towns and even states? This would mean going beyond even a regional focus (à la MAPC) and looking at investments that may benefit the long term health of a region composed of several metropolitan areas.

Taking a megapolitan long view could have implications in at least three areas: land use/development patterns, infrastructure and the environment.

1. Land Use/Development

The U.S is still growing, and projections show us having a population with 90 million more people between 2010 and 2040. Where will these people live? How will our megapolitan areas be structured so that they can support a population that is both growing and becoming increasingly diverse? We need to be thinking about how exurbs, suburbs and central cities interact with each other. How we can develop housing, jobs centers and schools so that people can easily travel between the places where they live, work and play?

 2. Infrastructure

Infrastructure investments (particularly transportation) could also benefit from being looked at within the larger, megapolitan context. How can we better move people from city to city? Over the last few years we saw an increased investment in high speed rail and money to repair our crumbling infrastructure. More should be done to analyze transportation routes and develop better options for connecting economic sectors. One megapolitan-view project currently in development is the proposed high-speed rail connection between Hartford, Conn., and Springfield, Mass., which offers the opportunity for new economic development prospects between two struggling cities in different states.

3. Environment

Finally, thinking about environmental impacts on a larger scale would help in planning for water use, watersheds, wetland areas, open space, recreational areas, and agricultural lands. We should be thinking about the consumption of water resources at the megapolitan level, where many large water resources and aquifers are often serving populations across state lines. This also links back to where we site housing, industrial and commercial development in relation to our natural environment.

This idea is being applied through a 2010 Sustainable Communities award granted to the New York-Connecticut Consortium, which is looking at better options for integrating housing, economic development, transportation and environmental planning across nine cities, two counties and six regional planning organizations. This grant covers New York City, coastal Connecticut, Long Island, and the lower Hudson Valley.


The megapolitan concept is about smart planning choices that can have positive effects beyond our municipal, regional and state borders, and answering questions about which kinds of investments we can make to benefit larger populations across the US.

Eric Halvorsen, MAPC Transit Planner