17 Feb 2012

Since the Regional Plan Association and Jean Gottmann's 1961 book, Megaopolis, first popularised the idea of mega-regions, people have come to conceptualise and identify other mega-regions around North America and indeed the world. One such region that does not receive much attention is that of the Great Lakes.

While there is no definitive method for identifying a mega-region, generally the Great Lakes mega-region straddles the border of the U.S. and Canada, broadly encompassing the Midwestern United States and Southern Ontario in Canada as well as parts of Pennsylvania and New York State in the U.S. and Quebec in Canada. It includes three principal cities, Chicago, Toronto and Detroit, along with a variety of mid-size cities and smaller towns resulting in a population of over 55 million people. Once the manufacturing heartland of both the U.S. and Canada, the region is now struggling with declining manufacturing activity and the challenges of the global recession. As a result, various regional plans have been developed to re-invigorate the economy of the region.

The benefits of high speed rail in the region have been advanced and studied within the U.S. by the Midwest High-Speed Rail Association and Siemens, as well as in Canada by the High Speed Rail Canada advocacy group. However the recession has forced some politicians in Canada to back-track on long-term high speed rail plans given the costs involved. Transportation in general is a major concern for the bi-national region, with the Detroit-Windsor border crossing representing over 25% of all trade between the two countries crossing the Ambassador Bridge that spans to the nations. Yet attempts to ease congestion and improve trade through the construction of another bridge have proved difficult despite the importance of the crossing to both sides of the border.

Apart from the mega-region's economic strengths and weaknesses the region is famous for it's very namesake, the five Great Lakes. Taken together the Great Lakes represent 21% of all fresh water in the world. Management of the lakes is governed by the International Joint Commission, established in 1909 to resolve disputes between the two countries and ensure environmental stewardship of the lakes. Most recently, the Great Lakes Century vision has been put forward to pursue a sustainable agenda for the mega-region that balances economic and environmental objectives.

As a side note, the mega-region was nearly the home of the United Nations building. Some initial proposals suggested placing the headquarters on Navy Island, Ontario near Niagara Falls.