More “super-commuters” in America

A new report says the number of “super-commuters” increased across the United States from 2002 to 2009:

New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation reports from 2002 to 2009 the number of super-commuters grew in eight of the 10 largest U.S. metropolitan areas. They grew in the Philadelphia area by more than 50 percent during that period.

The growth of super-commuters has occurred not just on the East Coast, but in cities such as Seattle and Houston, which had the greatest increase. The typical super-commuter is under 29 and more likely to be in the middle class.

The super-commuter is defined as someone who works in the central county of a given metropolitan area, but lives beyond the boundaries of that metropolitan area…

Many super-commuters are willing to take a plane to get to work or drive long distances because they can’t sell homes that have lost value and move. They often travel to another city on Monday, then return to their homes and families at the end of the work week.

Americans tend to go to where the jobs are. Here are several thoughts about this:

1. It would be nice to have an overall number of super-commuters in the United States. The full report gives figures by city and some of these are interesting: 59,000 for Manhattan, 233,000 for Los Angeles, 99,000 in Chicago, 251,000 in Houston, and 175,700 in Houston. On the whole, it doesn’t look like we are talking about a large number of Americans though the rise in this practice is noteworthy.

2. Is this more of a function of the size of the actual metropolitan area (New York has a broader metro region) or about the ease of transportation into a city or a mismatch between the number of jobs and affordable/reasonable housing?

3. This definition of a super-commuter is limited. For example, if a worker from Champaign, Illinois commuted to a job in Oak Brook, located in DuPage County, it wouldn’t count as a super-commute. This seems problematic since the job distribution in metropolitan regions is quite more diffuse today than in the past. If this definition was expanded to include all long trips from one metropolitan region to another, the numbers would be even more noteworthy.

4. One of the maps (Figure 7) from the full report reminded me of the idea of the megalopolis:

This is a reminder that urban and transportation planning needs to be broader in scale.

5. Are these “super-commuting corridors” long-term realities? If the economy improved, would these numbers drop or because of technology plus the realities of the globalized, post-industrial economy, are these corridors only going to continue to grow?

Plans for real megalopolis in China

The idea of a megalopolis dates back to the middle 1900s when people started thinking that collections of large cities, such as the large American cities on the Eastern seaboard including Boston, Hartford, New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington D.C., such be considered as a larger grouping. But even this good example has cities separated by decent distances.

China is planning its own version of a megapolis near Hong Kong. The plans including merging nine cities with a combined population of 42 million:

The “Turn The Pearl River Delta Into One” scheme will create a 16,000 sq mile urban area that is 26 times larger geographically than Greater London, or twice the size of Wales.

The new mega-city will cover a large part of China’s manufacturing heartland, stretching from Guangzhou to Shenzhen and including Foshan, Dongguan, Zhongshan, Zhuhai, Jiangmen, Huizhou and Zhaoqing. Together, they account for nearly a tenth of the Chinese economy.

Over the next six years, around 150 major infrastructure projects will mesh the transport, energy, water and telecommunications networks of the nine cities together, at a cost of some 2 trillion yuan (£190 billion). An express rail line will also connect the hub with nearby Hong Kong.

“The idea is that when the cities are integrated, the residents can travel around freely and use the health care and other facilities in the different areas,” said Ma Xiangming, the chief planner at the Guangdong Rural and Urban Planning Institute and a senior consultant on the project.

This sounds like a sizable project. The article suggests that this is being done for several reasons: to achieve economy of scale in certain things (like medical services) and the ability to create unified policies for the region (including transportation and pollution initiatives). And this grouping of cities could conceivably grow even larger if Hong Kong was ever added to this mix.

The article calls this a “mega city” but I think it would fit the definition of a megalopolis perfectly. In fact, compared to most examples of a megalopolis, this one would be much better suited to the idea: the cities are relatively close and will be highly connected. Additionally, the cities are laid out more in a circle pattern rather than a line, allowing a variety of connections between urban centers.

I wonder how many planners around the world would approve of such a project. Combining certain infrastructure has its appeal as planning can be done on a broader scale and without cities constructing competing systems.

Interestingly, there are no plans to give the region a new name: “It will not be like Greater London or Greater Tokyo because there is no one city at the heart of this megalopolis.” Will future residents identify themselves as residents of the region or their specific city?