Is the Great Lakes region ready to start acting like a megaregion?

Only a small piece of land between Cincinnati and Dayton remains undeveloped, and many believe that remaining gap will disappear very soon. But the merging of Cincinnati and Dayton as one large metropolitan region is only part of the story, as shared regional identities with other large urban centers throughout the Great Lakes region becomes more pervasive. This and other regions like it around the U.S. are becoming even more centralized. More from The Week:

Though the concept has existed in academia for decades, planners are now looking at these dense corridors of population, businesses, and transportation and wondering if the megaregion may, in fact, be the next step in America’s evolution. With renewed interest and investment in urban centers and the projected growth of high speed rail, megaregions could easily become home to millions more Americans.

The Northeast corridor, for example, could receive up to 18 million more residents by 2050, according to estimates from the Regional Plan Association. And the region encompassing major cities in Texas including Houston and Dallas could see a spike from roughly 12 million to 18 million people in that same time, the association says.

And where population goes, economic growth is not far behind. The Northeast corridor would be the fifth largest economy in the world, with the Great Lakes megaregion at ninth and the Southern California megaregion outpacing Indonesia, Turkey, and the Netherlands as the 18th largest, according to 2012 estimates from real estate advisory RCLCO. The problem is, there are challenges to making these networks hold together. Unlike megaregions in Europe and Asia, for example, the United States has traditionally shied away from large umbrella governing organizations which surpass state borders.

Federal Reserve Has Rosy Outlook for Cincinnati’s Over-Performing Economy

A spring 2015 update on the economic health of the Cincinnati region from the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland gives reason for optimism when it comes to the area’s recovery.

The Cincinnati metropolitan area is recovering at a rate equal to that of the nation, and production, income, and GDP are all up in the area. LaVaughn Henry, vice president and senior regional officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland’s Cincinnati Branch, cited the area’s diversified economy as one reason for robust growth.

More specifically, the Fed pointed to Cincinnati’s large employment percentages in the consumer marketing field as a reason for its success. As the nation continues to recover and consumer confidence and consumption rise, Cincinnati is poised to benefit at a greater rate than other metropolitan areas.

Further bolstering the region’s growth are the construction and manufacturing sectors, having grown 7% and 4% over the last year, respectively. Healthcare and education are also growing, while the area’s business and professional sectors are lagging behind national averages.

Overall Cincinnati’s performance seems to be mirroring that of the nation, with high growth in manufacturing and construction, stagnant growth in government, and large drops in the information sector.

The region’s employment rate now stands at 4.5%, nearly a point lower than the national average and the lowest level in 10 years. The average Cincinnatian is seeing the fruits of this economic growth, with wages growing faster than the rest of Ohio and other nearby metros. Henry says that wages are poised to reach an average of $840 a week – a level not seen since 2007.

The region, however, has not yet managed to reach pre-Recession employment levels. This is in line with the national trend, although behind local metropolitan areas.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland also cited recent announcements from companies planning major job expansions as reason for continued optimism that the area’s employment growth will continue. While the local housing market has seen sluggish growth, the Henry says that shrinking housing supply and increased construction will strengthen the sector.

The huge demographic shift that is changing the face of America

Between 2000 and 2013, an additional 78 counties throughout the United States joined the rank of those where whites no longer made up a majority of the population. In total there are some 266 counties nation-wide, including Ohio’s three most populous. More from CityLab:

By 2040, the country’s white population will no longer be the majority. But for many regions around the country, this demographic shift has already arrived. A new map created by the Pew Research Center pinpoints the 78 counties in 19 states where, from 2000 to 2013, minorities together outnumbered the white population.

Pew crunched Census numbers from the 2,440 U.S. counties that had more than 10,000 residents in 2013. Whites made up less than half the population in a total of 266 counties. Even though these 266 counties made up only 11 percent of the counties analyzed, they contained 31 percent of the country’s total population, with many of them home to dense urban areas.

Transit Ridership Inches Forward in Ohio’s Largest Metropolitan Centers

While transit ridership nationwide inched upward and reached its highest level in more than a half century, it remained flat in Ohio’s two largest metropolitan regions.

According to new data released by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), transit ridership in both Cincinnati and Cleveland remained essentially unchanged from 2013 to 2014. With a 3% ridership gain over the previous year, Columbus bucked the trend and posted the fifth highest bus ridership gain nationally.

“In 2014, people took a record 10.8 billion trips on public transportation — the highest annual ridership number in 58 years,” said Phillip Washington, APTA Chair and CEO & General Manager of the Regional Transportation District in Denver. “Some public transit systems experienced all-time record high ridership last year.”

In a nod to Columbus, Washington said that the increases were not just relegated to large cites, but were found in smaller and medium size communities as well. But according to Streetsblog USA, an UrbanCincy content partner, the national increases can be largely attributed to the large gains in New York City, which accounts for roughly 25% of American transit ridership.

Growth in transit ridership is expected to continue in the years ahead as dozens of cities throughout the United States build out regional rail networks and implement new bus services. In Cincinnati, that includes new services operating out of the recently opened Uptown Transit District and the forthcoming Northside Transit Center and Walnut Hills Transit District.

The opening of the first leg of the Cincinnati Streetcar is also expected to boost ridership in 2016. Until then, Cleveland will remain as the only city in Ohio to have both bus and rail offerings. Not surprisingly, Cleveland’s transit usage dwarfs that of both Cincinnati and Columbus.

While year-over-year ridership only increased nationally by 1%, that gain is seen as encouraging since it occurred at the same time as prices for gasoline plummeted. Transportation officials see continued transit ridership growth, in addition to VMT growth for the first time in nearly a decade, as a clear indication of a much stronger economy where more people are employed.

“Since nearly 60 % of the trips taken on public transportation are for work commutes, public transportation ridership increases are seen in areas where the local economy is growing,” said APTA President and CEO Michael Melaniphy.

In spite of Cincinnati’s growing economy, transit ridership actually posted a slight loss. That loss, however, is in line with national bus ridership trends. While Cincinnati saw an annual decrease of 1.8%, bus ridership across the country also experienced a 1.1% decline. All modes of rail transit, meanwhile, posted gains, which now accounts for 46% of all trips made by transit.

Light rail systems posted the biggest annual gain of 3.6%, while heavy rail and commuter rail added riders by 3.3% and 2.9%, respectively.

“People are changing their travel behavior and want more travel options,” Melaniphy concluded. “In the past people had a binary choice. You either took public transit, most likely a bus, or you drove a car. Now there are multiple options with subways, light rail, streetcars, commuter trains, buses, ferries, cars and shared use vehicles.”

EDITORIAL NOTE: APTA’s annual report does not include ridership data for the Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky (TANK), which provides approximately 3.8 million trips annually. For the purposes of this analysis, UrbanCincy has used a constant 3.8 million annual trips from TANK in the Cincinnati totals presented in the above chart.

Cincinnati Fares Poorly When Examining Centralization of Jobs Throughout Region

A December 2014 Salon article, using statistics from an April, 2013 Brookings Institute report shed light on an increasingly-present paradox in the American economy – America’s next generation of workers prefers urban living, but jobs tend to be decentralized and located far from most region’s urban center.

The report found that from 2000 to 2007 the share of jobs located within two miles of a major urban area’s central business district declined 2%; and that by 2010, a nationwide average of 43% of jobs were located at least 10 miles from the CBD. Only 24% of jobs, meanwhile, were located within two miles of most regions’ primary downtown.

The pattern is more acute in Cincinnati than in most other metropolitan areas, where a robust urban turnaround has been taking place. Compared to the national average of 22.9%, only 17.7% of the region’s jobs were located within three miles of the CBD, which in Cincinnati’s case would also include Uptown. Furthermore, 52.8% of the region’s jobs, approximately 452,000, lie between 10 and 35 miles from downtown.

In the first decade of the new century, which was defined nationally by the huge job losses of the Great Recession, the Cincinnati region lost a total of 76,845 jobs. Of those, 67,122 were within 10 miles of the CBD. While total jobs declined 8.2%, the jobs within 10 to 35 miles of downtown Cincinnati increased 3.3%, with both other areas experiencing declines.

While these recent gains tend to buck the national trend, the Cincinnati region’s employment remains more sprawled than the average American metropolitan area. But while the region has fewer jobs than average within 10 miles its CBD, the Cincinnati region has more jobs within 10 to 35 miles than all but three Midwestern regions (Detroit – 77.4%, Chicago – 67.4%, St. Louis – 62.1%). Columbus and Cleveland come in at 35.4% and 46.5%, respectively.

What this seems to indicate is that Cincinnati has a lower reliance on jobs from manufacturing and agricultural industries than most of its Midwestern peers.

The Brookings Institute went on to find that the Great Recession stalled this trend across the board, as hard-hit industries like manufacturing and retail tend to be the most decentralized. Yet, from 2000 to 2010, 91 of the largest metropolitan areas in the nation saw the number of jobs within three miles of their CBD decline.

Washington, DC, which serves as a national economic outlier for its massive job and wage growth, was the only metropolitan area that saw downtown jobs rise as both a percentage and gross number.

Researchers say that the land-use and zoning policies of each metropolitan area affect the geographical characteristics of jobs within that area. While metropolitan areas with over 500,000 jobs tend to be more decentralized, large metropolitan regions like Chicago, Atlanta or Detroit include large secondary clusters of employment outside of their traditional downtown.

While talented young workers increasingly show their preference for walkable urban communities, jobs continue to decentralize throughout the United States. This distribution creates problems for the region in terms of building and maintaining infrastructure. It also does not bode well for more sprawled regions, like Cincinnati, in terms of being able to attract a new workforce to take the place of aging Baby Boomers.