- Mapping America’s activity centers: The building blocks of prosperous, equitable, and sustainable regions
As the saying goes, three things matter in real estate: location, location, location. Cities and metropolitan areas are built around assets such as transportation nodes, employment hubs, cultural attractions, political and religious institutions, and health facilities―all of which tend to cluster in specific locations. The ability to develop the places that concentrate these assets has always been a key ingredient to building productive and thriving metro areas.
But after decades of suburbanization, activity does not concentrate in the same ways it once did. Metropolitan areas are no longer structured along a linear continuum, fanning outward from a distinct downtown to edgeless suburbia to rural countryside dotted with a few town centers. They instead contain constellations of asset-rich places, typically surrounded by housing-only developments or a mix of residential and commercial sprawl.
This long-standing concept of metropolitan geography as a line from a singular urban center to suburbs to farms―and conceiving of the suburbs as exclusively residential places―is no longer accurate in the age of American megaregions. Over time, the dispersion of assets and activities has stretched the distances between people and opportunity, often leading to greater economic and racial inequality. More recently, the emergence of rapid telecommunications and a global pandemic have led to new uncertainties about what kinds of places will be in demand in the future.