The United States is on the horizon of our third century of growth and development. Our first century was founded on Thomas Jefferson's national plan calling for westward expansion, and the second century was stimulated by Theodore Roosevelt's vision for an improved and expanded energy and natural resource infrastructure designed to encourage and support industrial expansion. A Third Century Strategy is needed to contend with the expected population growth and the challenges of competing in an increasingly global economy.
Forecasts of United States population growth show total population increasing 40 percent to 430 million people by the year 2050. Throughout the nation, this new growth will primarily be concentrated in eight to 10 emerging "Megaregions" – large networks of metropolitan areas connected by cultural, environmental, and economic characteristics, as well as infrastructure. The Megaregions will experience key challenges in the coming decades, including: rapid population growth, expansion of suburban landscapes, aging infrastructure, equity, strained ecosystems, and uneven and inequitable inter- and intra-regional growth patterns. These challenges reach across traditional jurisdictional boundaries, making the current planning strategies inadequate.
A Megaregions approach can provide the United States with a spatial planning framework for directing and implementing investments and policies to address these challenges. Similar networks of inter-jurisdictional metropolitan areas have emerged as globally competitive units in the European Union and Asia , which have used major public and private infrastructure investments to strengthen transportation, communication, cultural, and economic connections between their major cities. Without similar investments, Megaregions in the United States will fail to capitalize on their potential for economic growth and environmental preservation as they encounter challenges commonly associated with the accelerating population growth.
This is the beginning of a nascent, grassroots national initiative to develop a framework for our third century of growth in the United States. This vision aims to meet the challenges of accommodating growth in metropolitan areas that are stifled by congestion, as well as those places that have lost population and become economically distressed under current trends and policies. Strategic nationwide investments at the Megaregions level will enhance capacity for growth and ensure competitiveness in a global environment. Throughout the nation, initiatives have begun exploring what the emerging Megaregions framework might mean for people and the country. In 2007, we and others hope to rally the many Megaregions to continue the national dialog of a third century strategy that focuses on global competitiveness, and environmental and social interests.
- Regional Plan Association, 4 Irving Place, 7th Floor, New York, NY 10003; t: 212.253.2727, f: 212.253.5666; www.rpa.org.
- Southern California Association of Governments, 818 W. Seventh Street, 12th Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90017; t: 213.236.1800, f: 213.236.1825; www.scag.ca.gov.
- Center for Quality Growth and Regional Development, 760 Spring Street, Suite 213, Atlanta, GA 30308; t: 404.385.5133; f: 404.385.5127; www.cqgrd.gatech.edu.