Optimal States of America?

One of the joys of being a geographer is the variety of things I’m interested in.  Do we have the “right” state boundaries? I recently submitted a paper about why 19th Century politicians drew our western state boundaries where they did; last year Neil Freeman’s map of 50 equal population states went viral; then recently there was some news about the latest proposal to carve up California (about the 300th so far 🙂 ). This got me thinking about what makes “good” state boundaries: put everyone with their nearest capital (voronoi polygons)? keep cultural/functional/physical regions together (watersheds, metro areas, etc.)? Equal population (and thus equal representation in Washington)? Cultural/historical relationships? So, I tried to do it myself: carve up the United States into “ideal” states, using some combination of these factors. As a policy proposal, this is of course completely pointless. We are not the U.K. or France: we can’t redraw state boundaries on a whim; this would never happen in a federal system, and I’m not convinced it ought to. However, it is a very interesting geographic experiment, getting us thinking about regions, relationships, and the relationship between government and everyday spatial life.

The factors I used in drawing this included:

  • Existing maps of functional regions, like the Neilson Designated Market Areas and Census metropolitan statistical areas
  • A formula I developed for predicting city hierarchies (a la Christaller) based on distances from a town to significantly larger towns
  • Physical features that unify (e.g. valleys, rivers) and divide (e.g. mountains, rivers) regions
  • Past citizen proposals to divide or alter states.
  • I tried not to include political & cultural inertia (the advantages of keeping the status quo, like the fact that people identify with their state, even if it doesn’t “make sense”), but it probably crept in here and there.

So check it out (sorry about the poor resolution–server limitation–see my facebook page for the full-resolution version). Did I get it right? What would you change?



Optimal States of America? — 1 Comment

  1. Interesting.

    As a geographer, I immediately wanted to reduce the influence of population density (which I think is due to a combination of resource location and transportation ease) and increase it for physical features, thinking that this would not pin the result so much to the current state of the states.

    I think a tool that allows experts in other fields to interactively work with a library of layers in order to visualize effects would be a great student project that could slowly build into something powerful, and open.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *