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Welcome - my name is Kevin Klinkenberg, and this site "The Messy City" is my blog and company website. I started blogging on urban planning and design issues in 2007, and began working in the field in 1993. Please feel free to connect with me on any of the social media sites listed here. Thanks for reading.

Cities vs states: part deux

Map of phone call data from AT&T by IBM Research

Map of phone call data from AT&T by IBM Research

Following up last week's post, Aaron Renn reposts a counterpoint to the idea of states as anachronisms. The case he makes, and a couple of counterpoints of my own below:

But one area I’d to explore in more detail is the notion that states don’t represent a community of interest. As Longworth has shown, many states don’t really hang together. But is that universally true? Or is there sometimes data that shows there may be more to states than we might think. Let’s look at a couple of interesting data points.

Renn compares a few maps (one shown above) to discuss communities of interest. While I like Renn's writing and approach, this really feels like a stretch to me. When I review the maps what jumps out to me are the importance of proximity and areas of economic interest. Just look, for example, at New England with its small states. The boundaries according to this data are pretty meaningless, except that it correlates well to the main economic regions. And, of course, to simple proximity. We tend to call people who are closer to us, and we tend to root for teams that are closest to where we live (except for those bandwagon fans). There's always a few outliers in any look at data, but it's the rule that matters.

Zooming out, though, I'm still fascinated by the question of what this all means in practical terms. From earlier in the piece:

There are a lot of reasons why, despite their obvious flaws, states continue to play a crucial role in our nation. The first is that in a huge, multi-regional, multi-polar country like the United States, we can’t effectively govern the entire place from a single city on the east coast (with perhaps administrative subdivisions), nor would we want to. Our federal system provides independent sovereignty for states that are part of the general principle of separation of powers in our system, one that provides a check and balance against excesses of various types in Washington. Cities and regions, no matter what their economic rationale, simply cannot play that role. It takes something like a state to be able to stand up to the federal government.

This is really the point of the discussion - a look at the makeup of our federal system, and how it works (or doesn't) for 21st century America. Will our system of states hold together? After all, boundaries have constantly changed in our history. The relative stability in borders of the last 70 years is not the norm. Here's a wiki page showing past and current movements for state partitions.

I still think battle lines are being drawn and fully expect the current ideological tensions to get worse. Modernity seems to be making the dividing lines between urban and rural far sharper and more passionate. This is true, frankly, in many countries - not just the US.

How it plays out here, though, is what I'm concerned with. While some states, such as Illinois, have a state lobby dominated by urban interests, many are the opposite. States that are dominated by conservative legislatures, but have large metro areas that vote differently include Missouri, Georgia, North Carolina, Indiana, Michigan, Tennessee and Florida to name just a few. As those legislatures continue to poke their wealth-producing regions in the eye, what will happen? How will the pushback manifest itself? 

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But New Urbanism is all about new towns

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