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Friday, September 17th, 2010

Replay: 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.

This post originally ran on September 9, 2009. Please visit the Common Census Project for the latest versions of these maps.

11 Comments
Topics: Regionalism

11 Responses to “Replay: Spheres of Influence”

  1. Jeff says:

    I don’t see what’s so surprising about St. Louis’ relatively large sphere of influence. Its metropolitan area, after all, has nearly 800,000 more people than Cincinnati’s, and more than a million more people than Louisville’s. Regardless of its location, St. Louis would still have a bigger sphere of influence than Cincinnati and Louisville, because it is considerably bigger. However, its relative isolation augments its influence even more. The map seems pretty accurate to me.

  2. It just struck me that St. Louis was about the same size as Chicago on that map. I think it also shows some historical influence as well.

    Another one I find interesting is that South Bend doesn’t even exist as an independent entity. It is part of Chicago.

  3. DaveOf Richmond says:

    A couple of other interesting observations on that first map:
    Philly’s area is as large or maybe a bit larger than New York’s. I would have expected to see a bit more NYC association in NE Pennsy, but it looks like there’s only a sliver there, most of it associates with Philly – and nothing for Scranton or Allentown.

    Milwaukee has a tiny area for a city its size. Green Bay’s is much larger. Is there any chance this would be so if Green Bay didn’t have that NFL franchise? No way.

    St. George UT has an area on the map, but it is mostly in Arizona. I believe there is a large Mormon population in that part of Arizona, and I guess they want to associate with Utah rather than an Ariz city or, goodness forbid, Las Vegas.

    Eastern Kansas is interesting – most of it appears to associate with KC, MO, but then there is an area toward the central part of Kansas that associates with KC, Kansas. I assume the gold strip in eastern Kansas is for Lawrence and the purple strip is for Manhattan.

    I’d never heard of Valentine, Nebraska until I looked at this map.

  4. ross reller says:

    I grew up in Richmond, Indiana which is exactly 75 miles to the two NFL markets of Indianapolis and Cincinnati. The NFL map correctly shows that region favors the Bengals over the Colts. This is explained by the fact that it takes time to swith your allegience. The Bengals franchise moved to Cincy in 1968, giving that area its first pro team several years before the Colts came to Indy.

  5. Jeff says:

    Baltimore really gets the shaft, doesn’t it? It’s literally enveloped by DC’s sphere, yet it has a metro population of 2.7 million on its own!

  6. Vin says:

    Is anyone else surprised that Binghamton exists as an independent entity but Scranton doesn’t? I’d expect it to be the opposite, if anything.

  7. Joe says:

    I’m from South Bend, and the University of Notre Dame is the only reason South Bend still exists. Once an ND student (or even a community college student) graduates, they head off to Chicago or Indy.

  8. urbanleftbehind says:

    Raider Nation should be considerably larger, taking in the Sacramento area, Central Valley and larger swaths of the LA metro and Inland Empire. Survey guy must have been afraid or monolingual.

  9. Wad says:

    Urbanleftbehind, in other words, Raider Nation encompasses the California penitentiary system, too. :)

  10. DBR96A says:

    Pittsburgh has a sizable sphere of influence, and it wouldn’t surprise me if its influence expands and gets stronger in the future. It already includes the following cities:

    - Morgantown, WV
    - Steubenville, OH
    - Weirton, WV
    - Wheeling, WV

    In the future, I can see the following cities possibly gravitating into Pittsburgh’s orbit:

    - Clarksburg, WV
    - Cumberland, MD
    - Fairmont, WV
    - Youngstown, OH

  11. John says:

    I like this map because I think it shows what is essentially easy pickings territory for cities trying to recruit talent. It’s much harder to recruit outside of your sphere, especially for smaller cities.

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