On Friday February 1st, CM2 Director and UTSOA Professor Dr. Ming Zhang presented on “The Megaregional Process” at the UTSOA City Forum Lecture Series. Fellow UTSOA professor and CM2 researcher, Dr. Michael Oden, introduced him. In his talk, Dr. Zhang introduced the CM2 consortium and summarized the consortium-sponsored research projects, courses, and workshops. He then discussed the history of the megaregions concept and the different conceptual approaches taken around the world, including:
- the US model (based on continued urbanization focused on economic competition and infrastructure investments)
- the European model (based on polycentric regions focused on territorial cohesion and sustainable spatial development)
- and the Asian/China model (based on city-cluster regions focused on a national urbanization strategy and high-speed rail [HSR] investments).
Dr. Zhang then presented a five-element framework to characterize the megaregional process through the case of the Texas Triangle. At the end, he discussed the implications of studying megaregions for strategic transportation infrastructure investments and regional planning and policy making.
Following Dr. Zhang’s presentation, there was a question-and-answer period. First, an audience member asked, “What the most productive megaregion in the world?” to which, Dr. Zhang answered either the Northeast Corridor in the US (from Boston to Washington, D.C.), the Randstad region in the Netherlands (Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Utrecht) or South East England (Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, East Sussex, Hampshire, the Isle of Wight, Kent, Oxfordshire, Surrey and West Sussex). CM2 researcher Dr. Sandra Rosenbloom then asked whether the goal of HSR infrastructure investments is to reduce traffic congestion and environmental impacts stemming from car usage or to encourage more long distance commuting between cities. If the latter, wouldn’t this erode social values and discourage community involvement? Dr. Zhang responded that the trend of increasing long-distance commuting already exists and is predicted to continue. Not investing in HSR transportation investments now will create increased traffic congestion and carbon emissions in the future.
Referencing the Texas Central high-speed rail project planned between Dallas and Houston, one member of the audience wondered how the Texas Triangle compared to other megaregions in terms of private investment. Dr. Zhang pointed out that, in the U.S., the private business model for these types of infrastructure investments is more likely to succeed, especially in Texas. While, investment in HSR infrastructure should ideally come from the public sector, if the private model works then we should encourage it. The main question is whether the public benefits from the infrastructure regardless of where the money comes from. Dr. Zhang pointed out that, even with private investment, the US is falling behind the rest of the world when it comes to megaregion infrastructure. When asked about what is left behind in terms of equity when planning for megaregions, Dr. Zhang pointed to the CM2-supported research by Dr. Carol Lewis and Dr. Gwen Goodwin on the equity concerns in the hinterlands of a megaregion and the upcoming work being done in UK Manchester Charrette, which looks at the underperforming, bypassed areas of megaregions.
Following a question about local government buy-in to the megaregional concept, Dr. Zhang pointed out that this is where research centers like CM2 can make the biggest difference. Through education, research-based evidence, and building local coalitions, academia can help local governments begin to plan with megaregions in mind. The academic community has an important role to play in bridging communication barriers between jurisdictions. Building off this, Dr. Sciara (CM2 researcher and UTSOA professor) asked how the administrative push from the USDOT in promoting megaregions among the research community helps promote this concept among local governments. Dr. Zhang pointed out that the original push from USDOT came under Secretary Foxx of the Obama Administration. Under the new administration, megaregions have been less of a priority. However, it is still important to inform/educate long-term challenges framed at the regional and local level. Given the legal constraints that prevent many neighboring jurisdictions from fully collaborating on certain projects, the academic community can act as an important liaison. CM2 researcher and UTSOA professor Dr. Michael Oden pointed out that in his research, he found that the two biggest issues that encourage collaboration are rail/multimodal investments and interstate corridor issues, two of CM2’s biggest focus areas.