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Computers say we’re wrong about the real boundaries of U.S. metropolises

(TECH NEWS) When you say you’re from Atlanta, do you live downtown, or OTP? Does a New Yorker hail from Manhattan, or from an outer borough? Metropolises aren’t always well represented by a traditional map.


Finding the boundary

I grew up in Kansas City. Now that I live elsewhere, people often approach me with confusion about my hometown. “So… is it in Kansas… or is it in Missouri… or both?” I usually explain that it’s one metropolitan area that shares a newspaper and a football team, but has separate school boards.

I say that I lived and went to school in Kansas, but had summer jobs and violin lessons in Missouri. I explain that I can walk to the state line from my school in ten minutes. So I’m pretty used to thinking of metropolitan areas as their own unit of geographical divisions that don’t necessarily end at the state line.

But the fuzziness of these boundaries can sometimes be confusing.  When you say you’re from Atlanta, do you live downtown, or O.T.P. (“outside the perimeter”)? Does a New Yorker hail from Manhattan, or from an outer borough? And what exactly is the deal with the “Twin Cities?”

Defining the megaregions

Using computational algorithms, researchers have created a new map designed to display some of these ambiguities. Garret Dash Nelson, a historical geographer from Dartmouth, and Alasdair Rae, an urban analyst from the University of Sheffield used data about the commutes of 4 million workers to draw the map showing the economic connections between rural, suburban, and urban areas. These large metropolises are known as “megaregions.”

Which metropolis do you live in?

One map color codes the metropolitan areas and looks like a rainbow of interwoven spiderwebs. Another map labels and even renames metro areas. The Bay Area and Sacramento are lumped into one megaregion.

Much of the Gulf Coast is grouped into the New Orleans-Delta metro. The Albuquerque Plateau dips into four different states, Texas is divided into six megaregions, and parts of Tennessee, Mississippi, Georgia, and Florida make up the Deep South megaregion.

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[clickToTweet tweet=”Algorithms will improve maps to better show geographical, social, and economic connections.” quote=”Perhaps in the future, algorithms can be used to create more accurate maps that show the true geographical, social, and economic connections between areas.”]


Ellen Vessels, a Staff Writer at The American Genius, is respected for their wide range of work, with a focus on generational marketing and business trends. Ellen is also a performance artist when not writing, and has a passion for sustainability, social justice, and the arts.


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