9.5.16

THE SEVEN NATIONS OF AMTRAK.

Destination: Freedom riffs off an essay from New York's Times on the challenges of providing transportation in a country where economic agglomeration is no respecter of state lines.
America faces a two-part problem. It’s no secret that the country has fallen behind on infrastructure spending. But it’s not just a matter of how much is spent on catching up, but how and where it is spent. Advanced economies in Western Europe and Asia are reorienting themselves around robust urban clusters of advanced industry. Unfortunately, American policy making remains wedded to an antiquated political structure of 50 distinct states.

To an extent, America is already headed toward a metropolis-first arrangement. The states aren’t about to go away, but economically and socially, the country is drifting toward looser metropolitan and regional formations, anchored by the great cities and urban archipelagos that already lead global economic circuits.


Sources: Joel Kotkin (boundaries and names of 7 mega-regions); Forbes Magazine; Regional Plan Association; Census Bureau; United States High Speed Rail Association; Clare Trainor/University of Wisconsin-Madison Cartography Laboratory.

The map, and the article, echo thinking about the regional sub-nations of the country that we've contemplated previously, in different settings.

How, though, put together the regional corridors, let alone a national Passenger Rail network, when the regional interests are so different?  Much of the rail infrastructure is already in place in the Great Northeast.  We have documented the emergence of a proper regional rail network centered around Chicago.  But passengers had more choices in the void spaces west of the Hudson and east of Lake Michigan in the days of Penn Central.  There's untapped potential in the Southeast, and a lot of work to do along the Gulf Coast.  The Great Plains and the Inland West ... doesn't matter whether these are fifteen states or two regions, their transportation interests are so different from the thickly settled bits east and west.  On the Pacific Coast, there are decent regional networks in Cascadia and both bits of California, but a lot of void space inbetween.
What is needed, in some ways, is a return to this more flexible, broader way of thinking. Already, efforts to coordinate metropolitan and regional planning and investment are underway, whether they are quasi-government entities like the Western High Speed Rail Alliance, which aims to link Phoenix, Denver and Salt Lake City with next-generation trains, or industry-driven groups like CG/LA Inc., which promotes public-private investment in a new national infrastructure blueprint. Ironically, even some states are warming to the idea: Regional cooperation and planning is a top item at the National Governors Association.

These are the groups that are pushing America deeper into the global economy by rethinking how the national economy functions. But they have to go it alone, because Congress still thinks in terms of states. America needs a new map.
If "pro" is the opposite of "con," what is the opposite of "progress?"

Perhaps the error in the National Corridors essay is in thinking only of transportation policy and infrastructure in terms of nationally funded internal improvements.  There's no money and little national enthusiasm for such things already.  Perhaps it's time to give emergence a try.
We don’t have to create these regions; they already exist, on two levels. First, there are now seven distinct super-regions, defined by common economics and demographics, like the Pacific Coast and the Great Lakes. Within these, in addition to America’s main metro hubs, we find new urban archipelagos, including the Arizona Sun Corridor, from Phoenix to Tucson; the Front Range, from Salt Lake City to Denver to Albuquerque; the Cascadia belt, from Vancouver to Seattle; and the Piedmont Atlantic cluster, from Atlanta to Charlotte, N.C.
Yes, and perhaps the way in which Congress has sent responsibility for much of Amtrak funding back to the states is the opportunity for the states to embark on local improvements to their trains.  We already see Cascadia trying a different approach from Northern California which is different from Maine.

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