12 Ways to Map the Midwest


What is the Midwest? There’s been a lot of debate about this question among folks passionate about such thing. But it defies easy definition. Here are eleven ways various people have taken a crack at drawing the map.

Traditional Maps

1. The Northwest Territory

Start with the original Northwest Territory, now sometimes referred to as the Great Lakes region. This is the historic core of what we now think of as the Midwest.  read more »


The Changing Geography Of Education, Income Growth And Poverty In America


In this column, we often rate metropolitan areas for their performance over one year, five or at most 10. But measuring economic and social progress often requires a longer lens, spanning decades.

Nowhere is this clearer than in education, which many claim is the key to higher-wage economic growth. Yet there are two sets of numbers that need to be distinguished: those states with the highest percentage of educated workers and the states that have increased their numbers most rapidly.  read more »

Towns With a Past, Towns With a Future


Over the last fifty or sixty years most towns have been dedicated to accommodated cars in order to cultivate business and permit people to live better more convenient lives. For new developments out in a former corn field this was effortless since everything was custom built with the automobile in mind. But older towns that had been built prior to mass motoring were at a distinct disadvantage.  read more »

The Rise of Urban Riverfronts

Waterfire; Waterplace Park.jpg

I recently moved from Cincinnati to Providence, Rhode Island, although I still think of the Detroit area as my hometown. All of these cities are based on their access to water. Providence, despite its location at the mouth of an Atlantic bay, is still a river-town at heart. Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel has plans for a new and improved riverwalk, too. What can these cities learn from each other?  read more »

The New Extraterrestrial Geography

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This month marks forty-five years since men first left planet earth and set foot on another world. The last man to walk on the moon did so in December, 1972, over four decades ago. It's a good moment to ponder what we haven't done since.

There were six successful landings on the moon, and, almost literally, they barely scratched the surface of that body. The later astronauts had “golf carts” that allowed them to travel short distances, but only a fraction of a percent of the Africa-sized area was directly investigated by humans. To say, as some do, that we shouldn't go back, and should instead go on to Mars, would be like saying that, having touched shore in a half dozen places in the Americas, we should have then ignored those continents and gone on to Asia.  read more »


A Tale of 273 Cities


It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. 

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Since 1790, 273 cities have made an appearance on the list of the nation’s 100 largest places.  read more »

Large Urban Cores: Products of History


Urban cores are much celebrated but in reality most of the population living in functional urban cores is strongly concentrated in just a handful of major metropolitan areas in the United States. This conclusion is based on an analysis using the City Sector Model, which uses functional characteristics, rather than municipal jurisdictions, to analyze urban core and suburban components of metropolitan areas.  read more »

The California Economy: When Vigor and Frailty Collide

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Part one of a two-part report

California is a place of extremes. It has beaches, mountains, valleys and deserts. It has glaciers and, just a few miles away, hot, dry deserts. Some years it doesn't rain. Some years it rains all winter. Those extremes are part of what makes California the attractive place that it is, and, west of the high mountains, California is mostly an extremely comfortable place to live.  read more »

Confessions of a Rust Belt Orphan


How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Northeast Ohio

Go to sleep, Captain Future, in your lair of art deco
You were our pioneer of progress, but tomorrow’s been postponed
Go to sleep, Captain Future, let corrosion close your eyes
If the board should vote to restore hope, we’ll pass along the lie

-The Secret Sound of the NSA, Captain Future

As near as I can tell, the term “Rust Belt” originated sometime in the mid-1980s. That sounds about right.  read more »

Watch 220 Years of U.S. State Population Growth


Around this time of year, some of us can’t help but think of the history of this great nation. What was life like back in the days of the founding fathers, and how have they changed in the decades since?  read more »