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Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

Spheres of Influence

The Common Census Project draws various maps of the United States based on votes received from participants. The idea is to create a grass roots, non-scientific view about how the people themselves identify their communities apart from arbitrary political boundaries.

The main map is based on an answer the following question: “On the level of North America as a whole, what major city do you feel has the most cultural and economic influence on your area overall?” From this, they created a map of various “spheres of influence” of cities. Here’s the latest. You can get a bigger version by clicking:

I think this is an interesting map. It shows pretty much what I would intuitively expect in most regards. You expect Chicago to have a giant sphere of influence because it is so big. Dittos for the Twin Cities and Detroit because large areas of their state to the north lack comparable major cities. What jumps out at me though is St. Louis. It has a comparatively huge region, more than I would have expected. History and geography certainly play a role here. This also illustrates the comparatively small spheres of influence of places like Cincinnati and Louisville, which are hemmed in by other similar sized cities on all sides.

Getting to smaller places, I see all sorts of curious results. In Indiana, Evansville has a pretty sizable solar system around it. South Bend doesn’t even show up – it’s part of Chicago. Ft. Wayne is particularly interesting. It has a sort of crescent around it, but a good chunk of the area – including what appears to be the city of Ft. Wayne itself, is in the Indianapolis sphere. Or another interesting thing. Look at who says “Minneapolis” vs. “Twin Cities”.

Another way to slice this is by what is known as “economic areas“. The Bureau of Economic Analysis (part of the US Dept. of Commerce), uses these to measure trade areas. As they put it, “BEA’s economic areas define the relevant regional markets surrounding metropolitan or micropolitan statistical areas. They consist of one or more economic nodes – metropolitan or micropolitan statistical areas that serve as regional centers of economic activity – and the surrounding counties that are economically related to the nodes.” I’ve always considered this the best general purpose measure of the sphere of influence of a city. Here’s a map. Again, click for a larger version.


Of course, this measures the geographic size of the area. But what about the population? Here are the ranked populations for the 12 major metros that I focus on in this blog, ranked by order. These numbers are based on 2007 estimates.

  1. Chicago – 10,443,446 (ranked 3rd nationally)
  2. Detroit – 6,997,479 (9th)
  3. Minneapolis-St. Paul – 5,187,305 (13th)
  4. Cleveland – 4,604,932 (15th)
  5. St. Louis – 3,366,542 (19th)
  6. Indianapolis – 3,330,982 (20th)
  7. Pittsburgh – 2,879,762 (24th)
  8. Columbus – 2,607,561 (29th)
  9. Kansas City – 2,580,711 (30th)
  10. Cincinnati – 2,351,587 (32nd)
  11. Milwaukee – 2,323,196 (33rd)
  12. Louisville – 1,537,997 (52nd)

Again, these are interesting figures. You can see that some places, say Chicago and Louisville, have EA populations not much larger than their MSA population. Others, like Cleveland and Indianapolis, have significantly larger EA populations and rank much higher in the league tables here than you are used to seeing. I think this explains why those cities can sometimes punch above their weight. For example, whatever the MSA populations might indicate, Cleveland is still economically the biggest city in Ohio. This would be true even if Dayton were added to the Cincinnati EA. (Curiously that it is not part of a Cincinnati-Dayton area today, but rather the southern anchor of a Dayton-Springfield-Greenville EA. Something primed for a change on the next revision, perhaps?)

Lastly, I’ll leave you with a fun map. Common Census also does maps of fan area dominance for sports teams. In honor of the start of football season, I’ll include the NFL map, though they have one for every major sport. Again, click through for a larger version.

21 Comments
Topics: Regionalism

21 Responses to “Spheres of Influence”

  1. Doug says:

    Just a random observation – I thought it was interesting that Rapid City, SD reflects almost no influence west of its city limits – projecting almost all of its influence eastward.

    I think maybe the terrain gets more rugged immediately to the west compared to the plains to the east.

  2. David says:

    Good discussion. I'm surprised to some degree by the size of the Columbus hinterland. I'd expect more of SE Ohio to look toward Huntington and Charleston than north and west. Columbus has more mid-size towns in its hinterland – like Dayton which has the relatively prosperous rural area to its north which is filled with smallish towns as well. Culturally, the Cincinnati city-state identity comes through strongly here. It is a place bounded on all sides by perceived different cultures – Appalachia to the east, Kentucky to the south, Hoosiers to the west, and the Dayton metro shifting the culture somewhere in the middle.

    I would argue that a slightly different way to look at hinterlands is to use baseball rather than football, because it draws over a longer time. Cincinnati does much better as more of eastern KY and WV are drawn into the Cincinnati sphere. Other signs include the reach of advertising for Kings Island which is in Charleston, WV.

  3. Alex B. says:

    For many reasons, I like the sports teams maps better than the city maps – as it has the 'big' cities competing on even terms. It takes out some of the smaller places.

    It's always interesting to see the variations, too – for example, the Minnesota Twins have a substantial bit of territory withing western Wisconsin, but the Vikings/Packers line follows the state border almost exactly…

  4. Ironwood says:

    Not surprising, but nevertheless striking, to see how many spheres of influence cross state lines. When you squint you see a whole new map of the Midwest, almost like a series of old Italian city-states.

    This map alone explains why channeling such a big chunk of federal $$ to the states (think transportation and education $$) and leaving so much of the fates of cities to state legislators has resulted in such f'ed up results for cities for so long.

    There's a lesson here somewhere for the cities on Urb 's list. Take this map as a starting point for a new urban conference or coalition or alliance or call it what you will.

    Urb: Nominate you to organize and chair.

  5. Ashley James says:

    In Central Illinois, there is often times a resentment toward Chicago. Growing up, a number of times I heard things like 'Chicago is its own state up there.' That St Louis' sphere of influence would extend so far into Central IL–rather that that region identifying with Chicago–does not surprise me.

  6. Finley says:

    Doug – You're reading the map wrong. The city is the red dot, not the square. Otherwise Rapid City, SD would be in Wyoming.

  7. Roger says:

    Cartophilia takes that sports map one step further into The United Countries of Football:

    http://cartophilia.com/blog/2008/01/united-countries-of-football.html

  8. John M says:

    Alex B, there is a similar phenomenon in Missouri. The St. Loui Cardinals' sphere of influence encompasses nearly the entire state except metro Kansas City, while the KC Chiefs' sphere of influence is nearly the entire state except for metro St. Louis. Certainly, the age and accomplishment of the respective franchises seems to be the best explanation for this phenomenon in both places.

  9. Anonymous says:

    What I find most surprising is that the Indy metro population is 3.3 million. Which is bigger than Pittsburgh's. For some reason, I was always under the impression that Indy's metro was 2.2 million or so. Impressive!

  10. Alon Levy says:

    The BEA economic areas are useful not just for size comparisons, but also for income comparisons. While there's no adjustment for cost of living, it's useful to look at which areas are rich and which are poor, and which are fast growing and which are stagnating.

    It turns out that most Sunbelt regions actually have below-average per capita income growth for the 1997-2007 period given in the link – the exceptions are energy-oriented areas like Houston and Oklahoma City. Detroit has low growth as well, unsurprisingly – it went from 105% of national per capita income between 1997 and 2003, to 94% in 2006-7.

    The other Midwestern cities didn't do much better. Chicago went from 115% to 112%, Indy from 93% to 88%, Cleveland from 98% to 90%, Columbus from 93% to 87%, Cincinnati from 101% to 95%, St. Louis from 101% to 96%, Kansas City from 98% to 94%, and Milwaukee from 105% to 102%. Only the Twin Cities (already the richest region in the Midwest) and Louisville held steady – the Twin Cities went from 107% to 106%, and Louisville from 93% to 92%.

  11. jdb says:

    It's too bad that the Common Sensus map isn't modified for curvature of the earth. I was all set to layer a map of the US Interstate System on top of it to see how easy access to interstates leading to major cities effect the way people answer that question.

    Another point is to look at the sample sizes – Ft Wayne only has 44 responders. That might be part of it as well, maybe demographics of those likely to respond effect things as well.

  12. RC says:

    John, I think that the spheres of influence for the Cardinals/Chiefs has more to do with the history of the franchises than their successes.

    The Cardinals were really the only baseball team in the mid-central US and Southern US up until the 1950's (the Braves didn't move to Atlanta until 1966 and the A's didn't move to Kansas City until 1955). I think this explains how the Cardinals became the "team" for the region, including most of Missouri, central Illinois, and southern Indiana, as well as the South (Tennessee, Mississippi, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Oklahoma).

    Similarly, the Chiefs have a storied franchise history, where as the Rams are the new team in town. St. Louis lost the Cardinals to Arizona in 1987, but the Rams moved in in 1995 from LA.

  13. The Urbanophile says:

    Thanks for the comments, everyone.

    Ironwood – very interesting observations. Of course, many cities grew up along rivers, which were also natural choices for state boundaries.

    I'll second Roger's mention of Cartophilia – it's a great site.

    anon 1:07 The economic area is not the same as the metro area. Indy's metro area is far less than that. The economic area is a much larger region.

    Alon – great stats.

    jdb – definitely a non-scientific system. Perhaps you could help create a better map for them.

  14. Alon Levy says:

    The real danger with using economic rather than metro areas is that they penalize cities for being located near rural land. Compare the economic regions of New York and Chicago, which include the core metro areas plus a few exurban counties and semi-related metro areas, and the economic regions of Indy and St. Louis, which include a lot of rural hinterland.

  15. The Urbanophile says:

    I generally think MSA is the best way to compare cities. (the LA and SF MSA's are messed up, though). The economic area is best if you want to capture the greater regional influence of a city. I do think it has relevance in some sense. The people in the EA are likely the ones who fly from your airport, watch your TV stations, visit your zoo, etc. It is the catchment area for regional amenities.

    Actually, Indy is a city that is not surrounded by rural hinterland. The the couple rings of counties out from the MSA boundary are home to many small industrial cities, often with county populations over 100,000: Anderson, Muncie, Marion, Kokomo, Columbus, Bloomington, Lafayette, even Terre Haute, Richmond, and to some extent Danville, IL. All of these are roughly within an hour drive of Indy – closer than some Chicago suburbs are to the Loop measured by travel time. This extended market is a somewhat unique attribute of cities its size in the Midwest, along with Cleveland. That's why Indy's EA population is so high, and why, for example, it is a bigger TV market than Cincinnati despite having a materially smaller MSA population.

  16. the urban politician says:

    Way to go Denver!

  17. Alon Levy says:

    What I'm saying about comparisons is still semi-valid, since small industrial cities are almost as depressed as rural areas. Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse all have poverty that makes the South Bronx look like a joke – and those are regions with a lot more going for them than Terre Haute and Muncie.

    As for the definition of EA, sometimes it can get contorted. Just look at the Los Angeles EA, which includes areas that have nothing to do with LA, like Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo, and excludes San Diego, which is more closely related to LA than some of the desert counties in the EA. Similarly, the New York EA includes tenuously connected Allentown but misses Hartford, which the BEA judged important enough for an EA of its own.

  18. Marty Vanags says:

    I love your posts. I really like the NFL map. I wonder what a MLB map would look like. As a Cub fan I am intrigued by the number of Cub fans all over the country.

  19. The Urbanophile says:

    Marty, thanks. You can see the baseball map at the Common Census site, or here is a direct link

  20. Jefferey says:

    Dayton is more of a regional center for west/central Ohio than Cincinnati, possibly due to the media market aspect and trading and commuting relationships between the rural hinterlands and the Dayton metro area. Cincinnati is sort of a place unto itself, and has more influence down into Kentucky, even into Lexington.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Well in the south its funny how Braves fans meet cardinals fans somewhere around Jackson, MS and Astros fans somewhere in Southern Louisiana. As for football the region just gets chopped up into county like areas. But I believe this has more to do with the accessibility of a location. Atlanta being a much shorter drive from Eastern Louisiana and Southern MS than Houston or St.louis.

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