Sunday, March 27, 2011

Re-Regionalizing the American Continent


The Nine Nations of North America, according to Joel Garreau

We can all probably agree that the borders of the states in the U.S. don’t represent very well the true cultural, linguistic, political, economic, and historic regional differences in the various parts of the country.  In many cases these borders are an impediment to sensible regional planning, and do not reflect true regional allegiances.  In fact, the way the states were formed is a fascinating historical story, but now-a-days the borders feel a little arbitrary.  (There is a nice book on this topic, called “The Fabric of America: How our Borders and Boundaries Shaped the Country and Forged our National Identity,” by Andro Linklater, 2007).  Over the years, a number of people have taken stabs at re-imagining the regions of America, (what I like to call “re-regionalizing”).  These plans often include our Canadian neighbors to the north and our Mexican neighbors to the south, while other schemes stop short at the borders. 

The Nine Nations of North America
Some of you may remember a book from yesteryear (1981) by Joel Garreau called the Nine Nations of North America.  Garreau went on to write, to great acclaim, the influential book “Edge Cities,” which had a big impact in urban and regional planning circles.  Anyway, in the Nine Nations book, he divided up the continent into 9 regions, creating larger geographical units than the current states, and smoothed out the data.  His “States” included “the Foundry," "Dixie," "the Breadbasket," "MexAmerica," “the Empty Quarter," "Ecotopia," "New England," and the "Islands," and “Quebec.”  Although the book is (WOW! Time flies!) 30 years old now, there is still a lot of validity to how he divided us up, and his methodology is worth reading about.
“Consider the way North America really works.  It is Nine Nations.  Each with its capital and distinctive web of power and influence.... These nations look different, feel different, and sound different from each other, and few of their boundaries match the political lines drawn on current maps....Most importantly, each nation has a distinctive prism through which it views the world,”  [Garreau, 1981:1-2].

How to Make Regions that Make Sense:
There are probably as many ways to group areas of the country together in more or less homogeneous chunks as there are pills in a bottle of Carters’ Little Liver Pills (I don’t actually know what that means – my great-grandmother, Maggie Barnacle, always used to say that when something was of such a vast quantity that it was uncountable, like the stars in the sky.  I think Carter’s Little Liver Pills must have been extremely tiny, and therefore so many were in the bottle that they seemed without number.) 
OK, back to regionalization:  Lots of different ways to slice and dice the continent.  After all, each Federal agency has their own method of dividing and grouping, for their own purposes, based on some unifying criteria:  the Census regions are different than the EPA regions, which are different than Federal Court Districts, ad infinitum.  Then, of course, there are natural ways to divide up the country, such as climatic zones, physiographic provinces, watersheds, ecoregions, etc. 
Here are some other fun ways to divide up the country into more sensible (or not!) regions.  I think we can all agree that the state boundaries don’t really reflect very well the true divisions in the U.S. anymore, if they ever did, and some of these other ones capture the true essence of regionalism in the best sense of the word. 
The U.S. still retains some of its old regionalism, even though overall it is much, much more homogenized than when I was a little girl and my family would take road trips around the country.  Back then, going to another state or region was almost as foreign as going abroad.  The Burma Shave signs along the (2-lane!) highways down south, the different foods, accents, and dialects, music and radio stations (Call letters starting with “W” east of the Mississippi and starting with “K” west of it), mom-and-pop stores and motels, distinctive regional architecture, and the fact that large parts of the country were still under insane segregation laws, all pointed to a regionalism which we have by and large lost today.  I miss that (well, all excepting the insane segregation laws) in our new world of coast-to-coast chain fast food joints, identical big box stores, cookie-cutter suburbs, you-could-be-anywhere hotels, and same-old, same old satellite radio stations and cable TV. 


Divided States of America In, United States of America Out - Here we have 10 regions.  This map was first published in a conservative Turkish newspaper, in response to a "leaked" map supposedly made in the U.S. that divided up Turkey and the Middle East along ethnic/tribal/religious lines, and gave large areas of Turkey, Iraq, etc., back to the Kurds to form an actual nation called Kurdistan, etc. (oops!  Did I say “BACK to the Kurds”?) This map dividing up the U.S. was apparently their semi-serious and slightly snarky way of getting back at us for having the temerity to divide up THEIR world.  http://bigthink.com/ideas/21064.  The carved up Middle East map, supposedly done by someone named Colonel Peters in the U.S. Defense Dept., can be seen here:


New Map of North America created by Colonel Peters, Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, US Defense Department - boy he really gets around, this guy!  (NO, PEOPLE - IT’S NOT FOR REAL!  This is what’s known as a “spoof.”)


Canada and the United States in the Year 2092, by Douglas Coupland, author of “Shampoo Planet” and “Generation X.”  This map, first issued in 1992, was in response to a Constitutional amendment in Canada giving Quebec and First Nation territories much more autonomy.  This apparently got him thinking about what would happen if the U.S. also instituted some changes based on cultural regionalism, and what the country/continent might look like 100 years into the future.  (Hard to believe, but I cut this map out of the New York Times and kept it hanging around my many and various offices for nearly 20 years!  Never throw anything away, kids, you never know when it might come in handy!) Check out the "Kudzu Line," the Miami Ciudad Libre, also the Citicorp Cuba, Utah Theocracy, Manhattan People's Soviet, Electric Zone (leased to Consolidated Edison unil 2110) and many other amusing conceits. My personal favorite is Wen-Ge-Hua, Free City of Vancouver. I'm sure that's where I'll be!


The 38 States of America?
George Etzel Pearcy, a California State University geography professor, re-drew the state borders of the U.S. to end up with 38 states rather than 50.  The borders were put in less populated areas, allowing major metropolitan areas to be contained all within one state, and having a goal of one major city in each state, rather than multiple cities vying for scarce state resources.  According to the 1975 People’s Almanac, “when Pearcy realigned the U.S., he gave high priority to population density, location of cities, lines of transportation, land relief, and size and shape of individual States.  Whenever possible lines were located in less populated areas.”  Also, the names of the new states were based on a student survey of each area’s most identifiable physical or cultural attribute.  He also believed that millions of taxpayer dollars would be saved by having fewer state governments. Here's more info on how the boundary lines were determined.  http://www.tjc.com/38states/


America 2040, (after Armageddon has occurred, obviously, judging by the number of nuked cities and "plague zones.")   From Prayers for the Assassin, by Robert Ferrigno.



10 U.S. voting regions from the Boston Globe (2004)


And the 10 voting regions revisited, 2008

And here are some just for fun: you know, the U.S. regions according to such and such. 


The New Yorker’s Map of the U.S.


This one is simple – only three regional divisions needed!  Redneckistan, Pacifica, and the New American Republic.


And here's a late-breaking one that a reader just sent in.  See his comment below. It's an animated version of the map above. 


And we will end on this note – the U.S. divided up into the major cultural/tribal regions of the original inhabitants of the continent. 





4 comments:

  1. George Pearcy's map actually reminds me somewhat of Ed Soja's New Regionalism concept and the emphasis on the spatiality of urbanism, but also calls into question the idea of federalism. Actually, most of these maps speak to the question of federalism as the spatial fix for political organization and serve to remind us of the historical forces that led to state formation, which now can be as opposed to postmodern notions of community and nations as imagined communities.

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  3. The 3-way voluntary split version has been updated to a 6-stage GIF image, starting with the hardly noticed secession of tiny Vermont, spreading to all of New England, and eventually resulting in the New American Republic, Redneckistan, and Pacifica.

    [IMAGE] --- https://lh3.googleusercontent.com/-SrpCU7JA9qA/T7zU5kMEx1I/AAAAAAAABGM/AF8H7NAn5_U/s499/vermont-freedom-virus.gif

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  4. Thanks, Bob, that's a great scenario! As long as New York stays out of Redneckistan, I'll be happy!

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