The One Minute Geographer: Megalopoli and Megaregions

Jim Fonseca
6 min readJan 19, 2023
A composite view of nighttime lights showing densely populated areas of the Northeast Megalopolis corridor. NASA image from Wikipedia.

We’ve been talking about Connecticut, and even though this post is not about that specific state, Connecticut is a good illustration of what this post is about — Megalopolis, the giant super-strip city extending down the east coast from Boston to Washington. New York and its urban and suburban spillover into New Jersey, Connecticut and even East Stroudsburg PA makes up the largest city of this super strip which includes Philadelphia and Baltimore and many other cities along the way like Hartford and Providence. The suburbs of these cities spill over and overlap into each other so that when viewed from space, it seems like one giant strip of lights.

This idea of calling this giant strip-city “Megalopolis,” is a concept introduced in the 1950’s by a visiting French geographer, Jean Gottmann. And Megalopolis really begins in the northern fringe of Boston’s suburbs in southern New Hampshire and extends all the way down to the farthest western and southern suburbs of Washington in Northern Virginia. Some argue that it’s such a short hop from Washington to Richmond and then to the Newport News-Virginia beach area of Virginia, that the strip extends all the way down the Chesapeake Bay. But you can look at the map of population in urbanized areas below and decide for yourself if you think Richmond and the Norfolk metro should be included.

Maybe Megalopolis is America’s primate city. You may recall from other posts on The One Minute Geographer that geographers define a primate city as a metropolitan area that is not only a nation’s largest city but also, as a rule of thumb, has 20 percent or so, of a nation’s population.

Primate cities are often the capital city and they dominate their country’s politics, culture and economy. Think Paris, London, Dublin, Athens, Cairo, Tokyo, Seoul, Buenos Aires and Mexico City and you get the picture. Many, but not all, American states have primate cities too: think of Boston, Atlanta and Denver, for example.

But does the United States have a primate city? Remember, PRIMATE has a specific definition — it doesn’t just mean the biggest city. Technically, no way does the US have a primate city. Consider that the US population is now 330 million people. Twenty percent of that is 66 million. Even our largest city, the New York…

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Jim Fonseca

Geography professor (retired) writes The One Minute Geographer featuring This Fragile Earth. Top writer in Transportation and, in past months, Travel.