Megalopolises Spread With Urban, Suburban and Rural Characteristics : Cities: Some believe that the growth of large, interactive areas will continue to a continent-size or even worldwide network of settlements.


Megalopolises: Civilization’s worst nightmare envisions them creeping over the planet like a disease.

The concept of megalopolis (Greek for “great city”) has been popularized by French geographer Jean Gottmann, whose tome, “Megalopolis: The Urbanized Northeastern Seaboard of the United States,” was published in 1961.

Gottmann’s Megalopolis, with a capital “M,” applies specifically to the urban region stretching nearly 960 kilometers from southern New Hampshire to northern Virginia. This first supercity, which encompasses major urban centers from greater Boston to greater Washington, is called “Boswash” by some.

In the 30 years since Gottmann’s prototype “great city,” megalopolises have sprung up in eight other regions around the world.


To reach megalopolis status, according to Gottmann, a region has to have an extensive, contiguous network of metropolitan areas with a total population of at least 25 million that interacts intensely, especially economically.

Besides the Boston-Washington corridor, two other megalopolises have developed in the United States: the Great Lakes region from Quebec, Canada, to Milwaukee, and the California coast from San Francisco to San Diego.

Three megalopolises are sprawled across Europe: Greater London, northwestern Europe from Amsterdam in the Netherlands to the Ruhr Valley in Germany, and southern Europe centered on the Italian cities of Milan, Turin and Genoa.

Two megalopolises have emerged in Asia: the Tokaido region from Tokyo to Kobe, Japan, and the urban constellation centered on Shanghai, China. Only one shows up in South America: the Rio de Janeiro-Sao Paulo complex in Brazil.


What next? Exploding urbanization in developing countries will mean “the growth of enormous ‘megacities’ spreading way out into the countryside, sweeping up little villages in their path,” Melvin Levin, a community-planning professor at the University of Maryland, says.

A megalopolis, he says, may spring up on the southern coast of China from Hong Kong to Guangzhou.

Is there a budding megalopolis in “Cascadia” in the Pacific Northwest? Some regional economic experts envision a giant trading corridor from Vancouver, Canada, to Eugene, Ore.

The concept, named Cascadia after the region’s dominant mountain range, would jointly market the northwest rim of the Pacific to the rest of the world.


“We have similar industries. There are more common ties among Washington, Oregon and British Columbia than among us and other neighboring states,” says Terry Brainerd Chadwick of Portland State University’s International Trade Institute.

“The lights may not be as bright along the Pacific corridor as in other megalopolises,” Chadwick says, “but from Vancouver to Eugene there will be a solid string of development.”

A new U.S. city “is not measured in blocks, but in growth corridors stretching 80 to 160 kilometers along beltways or interstates,” says Robert Fishman, a history professor at Rutgers University. “The massive growth corridors may be where two major highways meet.”

Gottmann correctly envisioned the escalating scale of cities and the change in employment structure from factories to offices, his “white-collar revolution.”


But, Fishman says, Gottmann foresaw the growth spreading out from the old urban cores until the borders of one city merged with another. It’s not happening that way in U.S. megalopolises, Fishman contends.

Instead, growth is occurring in open spaces between major cities, he says: around White Plains, N.Y.; Princeton, N.J.; Columbia, Md., or Tysons Corner, Va. More than 57% of office space is outside central cities.

Whether it is called megalopolis, polynucleated city or “technoburb,” Fishman says, the new city is “not urban, not rural, not suburban, but possesses elements of all three.”

Beyond megalopolis, according to the late Greek visionary Constantine A. Doxiadas, there will be “eperopolis,” or continent-size agglomerations, and eventually “ecumenopolis,” or a worldwide network of settlements.


“We are currently in a transitional state between the small towns of the past and ecumenopolis, the city of the future,” Patricia Gober of Arizona State University wrote in a paper presented at the 1991 meeting of the Assn. of American Geographers.

Europe is the only continent that comes close to eperopolis, and “despite the current notion of a ‘world city,’ we are very far from ecumenopolis,” Gober says.