The Regionalization of California, Part 2

Regions of California MapToday’s post continues and concludes the discussion of the county-level regionalization of California. We begin here with the Central Valley, one of the most distinctive aspects of the state’s physical geography. “Valley” is perhaps not the best term to describe this feature. I will never forget the words of Jung-man Lee, now a professor of geography at Seoul National University, when we visited the valley as graduate students in the 1980s. “Valley?,” he asked incredulously. “This is a not a valley, it is a vast plain!”

California Central Valley Region Map 1The Central Valley is characterized above all by its remarkably productive agriculture and its associated agro-industries, although it also includes many medium-sized cities. Of the top 10 agricultural counties (in terms of sales) in the United States in 2012, the Central Valley counted 7, while California as a whole counted nine 9. This region is characterized overall by low to medium wage levels, relatively high crime rates, California Central Valley Region Map 2high levels of unemployment, relatively low housing valuation, and large Hispanic populations.

California’s Central Valley is clearly differentiated into several sub-regions. The major distinction is between the San Joaquin Valley in the south and the Sacramento Valley in the north, both of which are named after their main rivers. The San Joaquin is a much wider and California Top Farm Counties Mapmore agriculturally productive valley than the Sacramento. It is also more densely populated and more urbanized.

California Farmland MapI have further divided both of these two constituent valleys into their own sub-regions. The northern San Joaquin counties have been differentiated from the “core” San Joaquin counties primarily because they are much more oriented toward the San Francisco Bay Area. Parts of San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties, for example, almost function as bedroom communities for Silicon Valley; although the commutes are fierce, the housing-price differential easily explains the phenomenon. The northern San Joaquin counties also have slightly more liberal voting patterns than those to the south.

In regard to the Sacramento Valley, mostly urban Sacramento County (population 1.4 million) is clearly separated from the more conservative and rural counties to the north. I have appended neighboring Yolo County to the Sacramento sub-region, both because it is economically linked to it and because it is characterized by relatively left-wing voting patterns, owing largely to the presence of the University of California at Davis. Finally, I have marked Solano as an “affiliated county” because a substantial part of its territory is physically situated within the Central Valley and partakes in its agricultural economy. Portions of Contra Costa and Placer counties are also located in the Central Valley, but they are too small to merit inclusion on the map.



California Eastern Sierra Region MapThe next region that I have distinguished, “Eastern Sierra,” rarely appears in regionalization schemes, mostly because its population is so small (roughly 34,000). This is a sparsely settled area indeed, characterized by lofty peaks and arid lowlands, containing both the highest (Mount Whitney) and lowest (Death Valley) elevations in the lower 48 U.S. states. It also formerly included a productive agricultural area, the Owens Valley, but the water that made farming possible there was acquired by Los Angeles and piped south, an episode made famous by the film Chinatown. The northern two counties in the region are politically distinctive, as they are the only sparsely populated counties in the state that routinely vote for candidates in the Democratic Party. This oddity stems from the fact that many former urbanites have moved to the area to enjoy its spectacular scenery and outdoor recreation opportunities. A bizarre footnote to this phenomenon was the idea of turning Alpine into a majority-gay county in 1970. As summarized by the Wikipedia article on the Stonewall Nation:

In 1970, Alpine County had a population of about 430 people, with 367 registered voters. Under a recent California Supreme Court ruling, new county residents could register to vote after 90 days in residence. Activist Don Jackson presented his idea for taking over the county at a December 28, 1969 gay liberation conference at Berkeley, California. He was inspired by gay activist and writer Carl Wittman, who wrote in his “Gay Manifesto”, “To be a free territory, we must govern ourselves, set up our own institutions, defend ourselves….Rural retreats, political action offices…they must be developed if we are to have even the shadow of a free territory.” He (incorrectly) suggested that if as few as 200 gay people moved to Alpine County, they would constitute a majority of registered voters. Taking over the county government, he said, would result in, “a gay government, a gay civil service…the world’s first gay university, partially paid for by the state…the world’s first museum of gay arts, sciences and history…[and a] free county health service and hospital…”

Not surprisingly, the proposal did not gain traction. As noted in the same Wikipedia article, “Despite announcing in November 1970 that it had close to 500 people ready to move, in February 1971, the GLF [Gay Liberation Front] released a statement that it was abandoning Alpine County for a warmer climate. It has since been suggested that the entire Stonewall Nation idea was a hoax perpetrated by the Los Angeles GLF to generate mainstream publicity.”

California Bay Area Region Map 1Almost everyone agrees that the San Francisco Bay Area forms a distinctive region, although different sources delineate it in different ways. The most common definition, endorsed by the Wikipedia, is to include all nine countries that actually touch upon the Bay, even though Napa County barely does so. An alternative delineation, which seems to be diminishing, is that of a five-country Bay Area that coincides with the San Francisco Metropolitan Area (officially known as the “San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA Metropolitan Statistical Area”) as defined by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget.

California Bay Area Region Map 2I have, however, defined the Bay Area region somewhat idiosyncratically, excluding Napa and Sonoma counties, which are instead placed in the northwestern region (see the previous post), but including Santa Cruz County even though it does not come close to the Bay itself. I have done so because Santa Cruz is closely linked, especially in economic terms, to the Bay Area’s Silicon Valley (Santa Clara County, essentially). Santa Cruz could, however, just as easily be grouped with the Central Coast counties, as it often is.

The Bay Area is, in general, an affluent area characterized by extremely high housing prices and left-wing voting patterns. It also has a high proportion of Asian residents. I have not subdivided the Bay Area largely because its main sub-regions are county-based. The “South Bay, for example” is essentially Santa Clara County, while “the Peninsula” is San Mateo County. The “East Bay,” however, includes both Contra Costa and Alameda counties.
California Central Coast Region MapA “Central Coast” region is found in almost all California regionalization schemes, although, again, its delineation varies. Santa Barbara County in the south, for example, is often grouped instead with Los Angeles, and for good reason. San Benito County is sometimes excluded from the Central Coast as well, as it is far from coastal, but it is difficult to figure where else to put it (a few sources place it in the Bay Area). Overall, the Central Coast falls near the middle of most social and economic indicators. This position is somewhat deceptive, however, as the region includes both highly exclusive areas (especially in Monterey and Santa Barbara counties) and highly productive agricultural zones that are home to many poor farm workers. Monterey County ranks 4rth nationwide in terms of its value of agricultural production, thanks to the narrow but fertile Salinas Valley. This valley specializes in labor-intensive vegetable crops. As noted in the Wikipedia:

Agriculture dominates the economy of the valley. Promoters call the Salinas Valley “the Salad Bowl of the World” for the production of lettuce, broccoli, peppers and numerous other crops. The climate and long growing season are also ideal for the flower industry … In particular, a large majority of the salad greens consumed in the U.S. are grown within this region. Strawberries, lettuce, tomatoes, and spinach are the dominant crops in the valley. Other crops include broccoli, cauliflower, wine grapes, and celery.

Smaller zones of equally intensive agriculture are also found in the other counties of the Central Coast region. Tourism is also highly developed in many areas, but the central coastal swath of the Central Coastal region is so rugged that tourism and almost everything else is quite constrained. This is the famed Big Sur area, noted for its spectacular scenery and sparse population.

County-level regionalization is a much trickier proposition in Southern California than in Northern California. Many southern California countries are vast, spanning several distinctive regions, and several have extremely large populations. Los Angeles County alone has more residents than 41 U.S. states. The vast majority of Southern California’s population, moreover, is concentrated in a somewhat narrow zone situated to the south and west of the Transverse and Peninsular mountain ranges, where one finds an essentially continuous belt of metropolitan population. As a result of these issues, I have aggregated the five counties of the Greater Los Angeles Area into one region, which I have dubbed, for want of a better term, “Southland.” That leaves just Imperial and San Diego counties, which are quite different from each other and thus deserve separate regional status. Imperial County stands out from all other counties in California, particularly in its demographic characteristics, as its population is roughly 80 percent Hispanic.


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The Regionalization of California, Part 1

Like all US states—and indeed, virtually political units—California is divided into a number of informal and special-purpose regions. Regional designations in California are used ubiquitously in the media, in academic reports, and in everyday conversation. They are unavoidable and necessary. But as is generally the case with regionalization schemes, the numbers, names, and spatial outlines of California’s regions vary widely from map to map and author to author. As a result, a certain degree of confusion ensues.

California regions map 1After scanning the internet for depictions of California’s regions, I assembled a number of maps and have posted them here. The first image shows six informal regionalization schemes, used mainly for tourism marketing or elementary education. As can be seen, the designation and delimitation of regions varies considerably. All but one of these maps, for example, specify a “North Coast” region, but the bottom-left map extends the North Coast southward to include the San Francisco Bay Area, a maneuver that almost no one in the Bay Area would ever make. The top-middle map, in contrast, places the Bay Area in the Central Coast region, but again this is not something that a native resident would do, as the Bay Area is habitually conceptualized as a region in its own right.

Some of these maps also get the basic geography of California wrong. Both the upper and lower maps on the left side of the set, for example, severely misplace the Central Valley. The upper-left map also misrepresents the spatial outlines of Los Angeles and San Diego counties. Of these six maps, the most idiosyncratic and least useful is the one in the middle of the bottom row. A vast swath of the state is labeled here as “central corridor,” as if its only significance is that of a transportation route between the Bay Area and Southern California. Unfortunately, such a geographically bigoted viewpoint is far from uncommon in the wealthy coastal districts of the state.

California Regions Map 2The three maps in the next set are based on counties and are designated in a more formal manner. As can be seen, the regions marked on these maps also vary to a considerable extent. Some of the regional labels found here are curious. I have, for example, never encountered the term “Upstate California,” and thus imagine that the author is a displaced and confused New Yorker. The same map also uses the designation “Inland Empire” in an inappropriate manner, extending it all the way to the Nevada and Arizona borders. As several of the maps in the previous set specify, “Inland Empire” is used in common parlance to refer only to the western slice of Riverside County and the southwestern corner of San Bernardino County, areas that are situated within the greater metropolitan area of Southern California. I must also admit to a distaste for the term “Inland Empire,” as there is nothing “imperial” about this region, and the same term is used to designate a region in eastern Washington and northern Idaho.

Regions of California MapWith these issues and problems in mind, I decided to create my own informal but county-based regionalization scheme, using the GeoCurrents customizable map of California. To be sure, my map has plenty of its own problems, the most important of which is the fact that many California counties span commonly conceptualized regional boundaries. But I do hope that that the regions designated here are somewhat more consistently conceptualized than those found in competing schemes.




Northwest California Region MapLet us begin with the northwest coastal area. Unlike competing systems, mine separates Del Norte in the far northwest from the counties located to its south. It does so primarily because Del Norte is much more politically conservative than Humboldt or Mendocino, in part because it lacks the countercultural element that is prevalent in the latter two counties. In the California 2012 Obama Vote Mapregion that I have designated “Northwest/Wine & Weed,” tourism is vitally important and local economies depend heavily on what might be called boutique agriculture, especially that focused on the two products tagged by the label. This region can in turn be subdivided partly on the same basis: more wine in the south, and more marijuana in the north, although Mendocino County scores high on both products. This region’s southern counties, Sonoma and Napa, are also more affluent and densely populated than those of the north, and are much more closely connected to the San Francisco Bay Area. Note also that Trinity County, which I have excluded from the region, could easily be placed within it, due especially to the fact that it is conventionally classified within the “Emerald Triangle” of extensive cannabis cultivation.

Far North California Region MapMoving to the northwest one finds the region that I have designated as Far North, and alternatively as “Shasta” after its signatory mountain peak; this same area is sometimes deemed “Jefferson” after its local semi-serious secession movement. The counties of the Far North have several features in common. This region is relatively poor, heavily dependent on natural resources, characterized by inexpensive housing (by California standards), lightly populated, markedly conservative in its voting patterns, and heavily White in terms of its demography. (The map shows a somewhat lower White share of the population in Lassen and Del Norte counties, but this discrepancy stems mostly from the presence of large state prisons: Pelican Bay in Del Norte and High Desert in Lassen.)

California White Population MapIn subdividing the Far North region, I have excluded Modoc and Lassen from the core counties. This move is due to the fact that Modoc and Lassen are much more conservative than their neighbors and stand out on many other indicators as well; in terms of both physical and human geography, they fit much better with northern Nevada than with the rest of California. Non-core Trinity County, on the other hand, is less conservative and has a stronger counter-cultural element, while Plumas has much in common with the Sierra counties to the south. Tehama County, on the other hand, has been placed within the Central Valley region, but it has much in common with the Far North region as well.



Sierra California Region MapThe Sierra/Gold Country region is distinguished in part on historical grounds. Owing to the Gold Rush of 1949, this was the first part of the state to be settled by English-speaking people in large numbers (along with San Francisco and Sacramento). The counties of this region extend from the edge of the Central Valley through the gradual western slope of the Sierra Nevada USA population density maprange. (Placer County, however, also includes a small portion of the agricultural Central Valley). Historically, population in this region was concentrated in a rather narrow north-south belt in the foothills, an area called the “Mother Load” after its rich, gold-bearing rocks. Population plummeted after the gold deposits were exhausted, and the local economies switched to ranching and logging. Later, tourism surged in importance, and Nevada County in particular gained a counter-cultural element similar to that of Mendocino and Humboldt counties.


Sierra California Region Map 2The Sierra/Gold Country region is currently characterized by fairly strong support for Republican political candidates (less so, however, in Nevada County), medium levels of income, moderately low population densities, heavily White populations, and low levels of violent crime. Placer and El Dorado counties are distinguished from the rest of the region by their inclusion of some of the suburbs of Sacramento and they share as well the Lake Tahoe basin, noted for its winter sports and other recreational opportunities. As California Income Mapcan be seen on the income map posted here, they are markedly more affluent than the rest of the region. Sierra County in the north is differentiated by its tiny population and the fact that it does not encompass any portion of the distinctive foothill belt. Large parts of the Sierra Nevada range are also found in several other counties, but these counties are demographically and economically anchored in the Central Valley and are thus placed within that region. In the far south (Fresno, Tulare, and Kings counties), moreover, the distinctive foothill zone is quite narrow and never supported gold-mining communities.

Calaveras County MapPopulation has expanded dramatically over much of the Sierra region in recent decades as people have moved in from the more crowded and expensive parts of the state. Calaveras County, for example, saw its population almost double from 1980 to 2000. I know this story well, as I moved from suburban Contra Costa County to rural Calaveras in 1970, when I was 13 years of age. At the time, the entire country did not have a single traffic signal. The county as a whole has changed greatly since then, although my own hometown, San Andreas, has hardly transformed at all. (San Andreas has no connection with the famous geological feature of the same name, resulting in its unofficial slogan: “its not out fault”.)

In working on this current series of posts, I was quite surprised to discover that Calaveras has one of the lowest rates of violent crime in the state, as the county has its share to meth labs as well as unsavory characters and questionable areas. It was also the site of one of the most grisly episodes of serial murder in California history. But evidently the county as a whole is a fairly wholesome place.



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Where Is the Caucasus?

Geopolitical Map of the Caucasus

Geopolitical Map of the Caucasus For the next two weeks or so, GeoCurrents will examine the Caucasus. This unusually long focus on a particular place derives from several reasons. The Caucasus is one of the most culturally complex and linguistically diverse parts of the world, noted as well for its geopolitical intricacy and intractable conflicts. The region contains three internationally recognized sovereign states (Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan), three mostly unrecognized self-declared states (Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Nagorno-Karabakh), and seven internal Russian republics (Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia, North Ossetia-Alania, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachai-Cherkessia, and Adygea); in addition, Islamist insurgent have declared a virtual “Northern Caucasus Emirate” in the Russian-controlled part of the region. Struggles in the Caucasus have global ramifications, as was made evident in the summer of 2008 when the Russian military triumphed over the U.S-backed government of Georgia. In world historical terms as well, the Caucasus is surprisingly significant. Several Caucasian ethnic groups—particularly the Ossetians, the Circassians, and the Armenians—have played major roles on a vastly wider stage.

Despite the importance of the Caucasus, the region is often overlooked in the international media. When noticed, it is often portrayed as a remote and violence-plagued place, a jumble of mountains situated at the periphery of some other region: the Russian extreme south, the Middle Eastern extreme north, or the European extreme southeast. The region is also often misconstrued. Confusion can be generated by something as simple as replicated place names. As was recently explored in GeoCurrents, the country of Georgia and the U.S. state of Georgia are often mixed-up in web-searches, while the historical Caucasian kingdoms of Iberia and Albania are sometimes taken for the European peninsula and country of the same names. Befuddlement even attaches to the term “Caucasian,” which in some circumstances refers to the peoples and features of the region, yet in others denotes a supposed biological race more generally associated with Europe.

Satellite Image of the Caucasus The peripheralization of the Caucasus, however, is an artifact of conventional ways of dividing the world, not a reflection of the region’s intrinsic position. By changing the frame of reference, the Caucasus is revealed as a key place, one that historically linked the Black Sea and Caspian Sea basins, and, more broadly, the greater Mediterranean world with the Central Asian realm of the Silk Roads. The region may have formidable mountain barriers, but it also contains a broad swath of lower lands sandwiched between the Greater and Lesser Caucasus ranges, which long formed an important trade corridor and is now a major oil-pipeline route. And if one steps back a little further to examine all of Western Eurasia—the zone from Europe to India—the Caucasus appears as a central place. The direct line, or great circle route, from London to Mumbai passes directly through the lowlands of Georgia and Azerbaijan.

Map of the Larger Caucasus Eco-RegionDefinitions of the Caucasus vary, although most regionalization schemes encompass the same general area. A maximal Caucasus, visible in the map posted here, stretches from the Kuma–Manych Depression in the north to northeastern Turkey and northwestern Iran in the south. A more common definition excludes much of the northern plains as well as the southern highlands in Turkey and Iran, essentially covering the area bracketed by the Greater and Lesser Caucasus ranges along with their adjacent lowlands. The Caucasus as a whole is commonly split into two sub-regions: the Ciscaucasus, which encompasses the Russian-controlled area to the north of the main mountain crest, and the Transcaucasus, which takes in the area to the south (Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan, essentially). Such terminology, however, is rejected by some for perpetuating a Russian imperial perspective, since the Latin word “cis” means “this side of” where “trans” refers to “the other side of.”

Map of Religion in the CaucasisThe Caucasus does not fit comfortably into any of the basic units of global geography. In the conventional continental scheme, the division between Europe and Asia runs along the crest of the Great Caucasus Range, putting the Ciscaucasus in Europe and the Transcaucasus in Asia. Georgians and Armenians, however, often take offense at this definition, preferring a European over an Asian designation for their homelands.* This continental distinction, some argue, inaptly places the region’s mostly Christian southwest in Asia and its mostly Muslim north in Europe. Yet in practice, the standard Europe/Asia divide means little these days, and few people even realize that the European “continent” officially terminates at the crest of the Great Caucasus. Southwestern Asia, moreover, has gradually been written out of Asia and instead placed in the quasi-continent of the Middle East—but the Middle East rarely includes the Caucasian countries.

Where then does one place the Caucasus, if it does not fit into Europe, Asia, or the Middle East? The default option is to group it with Russia.** Spanning the supposed continental divide, Russia is commonly conceptualized as the core of its own world region, one that also includes Armenia, Georgia, and Azerbaijan as well as a few other former Soviet states. This scheme makes a certain amount of sense. The Caucasus was dominated by Russia from the early 1800s to the late 1900s, and its northern swath is still part of the Russian Federation. Yet when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Armenians and especially Georgians began to seek regional reassignment, wanting clear differentiation from the Russian realm.

Most Georgians and Armenians would prefer to have their countries grouped with Europe. Although Europe as a supposed continent does not include the Transcaucasus, there is no reason why all or part of the region cannot be slotted into a politically or economically defined Europe. In fact, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan already belong to the Council of Europe. All three are also officially tied to the European Union through its Eastern Partnership (EaP), along with Belarus, Moldova, and Ukraine. Evidently, leaders of some EU states see the Eastern Partnership as a stepping-stone for actual membership, whereas others hope to avoid such a possibility. Public opinion polling shows that a substantial majority of Armenians want their country to eventually join the European Union, while key politicians in Georgia have expressed a more immediate desire for membership.

The question of where the Caucasian countries should be regionally classified cannot be clearly answered: it is simply not feasible to divide all parts of the world into ideally demarcated, non-overlapping regions. As far as I am concerned, Georgia can simultaneously be regarded as part of Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and a Russian-focused region. Certain regional frameworks work better than others for certain issues. But it is also true that some parts of the world do not fit well into any of our standard regions, the Caucasus among them. As a result, it is often best to regard the entire area as forming its own distinctive world region. Doing so helps place the Caucasus on the map of the world, positioning it not as an interstitial zone “between” Europe and Asia or Russia and the Middle East, but rather as an important and fascinating place in its own right.

* See the comments in this geography page, which takes on the question: “Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan in Asia or Europe?”

** Five of the six leading college-level world regional geography textbooks in the United States, for example, place Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan in the following regions: Russia, the Russian Realm, Russia and the Post-Soviet States, Russia and Its Neighboring Countries, and Russia and the Near Abroad. The sixth text, my own co-authored Diversity Amid Globalization, takes a different strategy, putting Azerbaijan in Central Asia while slotting Armenia and Georgia into a Russian-based region. I have never been happy with this expedient, which divides the Caucasus and tends to offend Armenians and Georgians.


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Introduction to the Demic Atlas

Demic Regions of the World
Demic Regions

The Demic Atlas rests on the proposition that socio-economic comparisons work best when based on comparable units, framed at approximately the same scale of analysis. The obscure term demic—“pertaining to populations of people”—highlights the demographic egalitarianism central to the project. Ideally, regions of equal population should be compared against each other; otherwise, the individual inhabitants of some parts of the world are weighed more heavily than those of other areas. Conventional comparisons based on sovereign states necessarily violate this principle, effectively giving the residents of small countries far more attention than their counterparts in big, densely populated states. The premise of the Demic Atlas is that deploying roughly comparable categories will yield a more illuminating picture of global development.

The first step in this project has been to create an alternative base-map: one in which all units have similar numbers of inhabitants. After much experimentation, we have settled on 67 regions of roughly 100 million persons each. This is admittedly a rough grid; only eleven sovereign states have more than 100 million inhabitants. A smaller target figure of fifty or even twenty-five million might have been desirable, but such an option was precluded by data limitations (as explored below) as well as design difficulties. (Across East and South Asia, doubling the number of units would have cluttered the map and made it difficult to read without magnification). As it stands, we are persuaded that the 100-million norm, crude though it may be, is an improvement over customary global maps. A signal advantage is the ability to highlight internal diversity within the world’s demographic giants (India and China), and contrast these with zonal patterns in the Americas or Africa in a single global snapshot.

The data difficulties that stand in the way of creating smaller demic regions stem from the need to rely on conventional categories even while trying to transcend them. Literally as well as figuratively, sovereign states are the units that count; these are the bodies that conduct censuses and gather most data. It is no coincidence that the term “statistics” derives from the Latin for “of the state.” When international agencies such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) tabulate country data, they steadfastly ignore sub-national divisions, no matter how large or important internal regions may be. Nor is this always a bad strategy. For while most countries collect information on their own subdivisions, they do so in diverse ways. For instance, GDP figures are available for the states of India, the provinces of China, the prefectures of Japan, and so on, but such information is usually gathered in different years by different countries, and is seldom fully comparable. For a number of the poorest countries, usable socio-economic information at the provincial level is simply unavailable.

Demic regions and their constituent units
Constituent Units of the Demic Regions

A non-state-based appraisal of global socio-economic development must therefore use states and their major subdivisions as the building blocks of an alternative scheme. Middling, small, and tiny countries have to be grouped together to form units of a more appropriate size. By the same token, large countries need to be broken down into their provinces or prefectures, which can then be selectively re-aggregated to form units approaching the target population. These two methods alone, however, do not always yield regions of approximately 100 million inhabitants. Consider the situation in North America. The United States, with a little more than 300 million people, could be easily split into three demic regions in the target range. But Canada, with 34 million inhabitants, is far too small to constitute such a region on its own, yet it has no neighbors with which it can be joined other than the United States. Unless one were to create an ocean-spanning region linking Canada to northwestern Europe, Canada has to be combined—whether as a whole or in parts—with some cluster of U.S. states. Similar challenges arise in other parts of the world as well, where the shape and distribution of landmasses and archipelagos is such that the only way to create units in the target range is by splitting and merging countries in highly unorthodox ways. Such an exercise demands tedious data manipulations, but we are convinced that it proves useful for depicting places in which developmental gradients are deeply out of sync with the geopolitical framework. It also helps to unsettle the notion that countries form natural units of observation, one of the overriding goals of the larger project.

Such maneuvers, however, still prove inadequate to the task of generating units of an appropriate scale across the world. On the one hand, several Indian states and one Chinese province in themselves exceed the 100-million guideline. Most are close enough to the target number that they could be mapped as demic regions in their own right. But Uttar Pradesh—the world’s largest “statoid” (as first-order subdivisions of sovereign states are sometimes called)—has nearly 200 million inhabitants. By the logic of our project, a unit of this size needs to be divided. Likewise, to create a grid of geographically contiguous blocks of roughly 100 million inhabitants across India, two other Indian states were split and re-aggregated at the district level. (In our model, Western Maharashtra has been paired with Gujarat, eastern Maharashtra joined with northwestern Andhra Pradesh [Telangana], and the rest of Andhra Pradesh connected with Karnataka.) This time-consuming procedure, however, proved in the end to be of marginal statistical utility, as comparable socio-economic data for Indian districts was not obtained.

Other issues, too, complicated the drive to delineate areas of 100 million inhabitants. One was the design desideratum for our regions to be spatially compact. Although it would have been easier in some areas of the world to reach the target population by devising irregularly shaped regions, such a procedure would have resulted in a fair amount of gerrymandering. Even in the best of circumstances, the underlying geopolitical substrate frustrates the attempt to craft truly compact regions. Many countries have aberrant shapes; the odd outline of Cameroon, for example, contributes to an oddly shaped Region 14 in the demic base-map. Exclaves can be even more problematic, since outliers that fragment the territorial cohesion of individual countries can do the same for the regions to which those countries are assigned. Ideally, exclaves are placed within the spatially appropriate demic regions; Russia’s Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad, for example, is classified in Region 61, rather than in western-Russia-focused Region 59. By the same token, Angola’s exclave of Cabinda should have been placed in Region 14, rather than with the rest of Angola in Region 10. Doing so, however, would have required breaking Angola down into its constituent provinces, a procedure too time-consuming for the current iteration of the Demic Atlas.

A third divisional principle was that, in addition to being spatially compact, demic regions should be characterized by roughly similar levels of socio-economic development. Average figures for a region split into between a wealthy, highly educated area and an impoverished, poorly educated area would tell us little about the region as a whole. Clumping countries and their subdivisions into reasonably coherent developmental regions is possible, as levels of socio-economic development across the world tend to be highly geographically structured. But perfect aggregation of this sort is again impossible. In some parts of the world, areas of extremely high and extremely low developmental standing are spatially interspersed. The Caribbean is particularly diverse on this score, containing both very wealthy areas (Cayman Islands) and very poor ones (Haiti). Since the prosperous parts of the Caribbean are demographically overshadowed by the region’s poorer zones, the region as a whole shows relatively low levels of development.

Archipelagic environments like the Caribbean pose yet another challenge to the regionalization scheme. The guideline of spatially compactness would seemingly rule out maritime-centered regions linking the opposing shores of intervening water-bodies. But the world’s only islands populous enough to stand on their own are Indonesia’s Java and Japan’s Honshu; all others must be grouped with other islands or, more often, with nearby peninsulas. As a result, several sea-focused regions do appear on the map, such as Region 65. The criterion of socio-economic similarity generates further compromises along these lines, as certain islands are in developmental terms best grouped not with their closest mainland neighbors but rather with more distant islands and shores. Region 43, composed of Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan’s Kyushu, Shikoku, and Ryukyu Archipelago, is particularly problematic in this manner. By the principle of spatial compactness, South Korea would have been much better grouped with North Korea and a segment of northeastern China, while Taiwan would have fit better with Fujian in mainland China. Such a maneuver, hoverer, was rejected, as it would have required uniting highly divergent economies. Hong Kong and Macao, however, were grouped with the Chinese province of Guangdong, even though socio-economic considerations would have called for them to be put in the same category as Taiwan and South Korea. In this case, the spatial irregularity that would have resulted was deemed excessive.

One part of the world that stubbornly resisted our regionalization guidelines to the last was Australia and environs. By the principle of compactness, Australia can only be joined to eastern Indonesia; any other scheme would require spanning vast stretches of sea-space. But the Austral lands resist regionalization with Java and the Lesser Sunda Islands, as the developmental gap between them is too large. In the end, since Australia and New Zealand lack sizable neighbors with similar socio-economic conditions, they have been granted the status of a region in their own right, along with most of the rest of Oceania. But considering its meager population, Region 66 is best considered a quarter-region. As is often the case, Australia is revealed to be a most distinctive land.

The demic base-map is thus a product of many agonizing trade-offs, in which the criteria of population, shape, and socio-economic standing had to be constantly weighed against each other. The map consequently went through a number of changes over the course of its construction. Region 10, for example, was originally much larger, including Zimbabwe and Mozambique, as the population of the six countries currently constituting the region was judged inadequate. But linking Zimbabwe and Mozambique, two of the world’s least developed countries, with sub-Saharan Africa’s otherwise most highly developed region seemed unfair. In the end, an additional region was carved out of eastern Africa, resulting in the out-of-order numbering scheme currently found on the map. In Brazil, the state of Mato Grosso was originally slotted on socio-economic grounds with Region 2, while Bahia was placed in Region 3 on the same grounds; the resulting Region 3, however, was deemed too irregular, while the population of Region 2 was considered too small.

The resulting division of the world is thus not merely idiosyncratic, but is replete with vexing compromises. Criticisms and suggestions are welcome; the map remains open to change. The GIS files by which it was constructed will eventually be posted online, allowing others to build their own alternatives to the state-based global framework. If our future plans come to fruition, other sizable countries will also be broken down into their first-order subdivisions, which would allow more complex regionalization schemes.

Finally, let us stress that the demic regions outlined here are strictly intended as a framework for socio-economic comparison. Having no cultural, political, or historical significance, they are completely useless for (and could cause grave mischief in) many geographical questions. It is our hope that the construction of culturally and historically based alternatives to the standard geopolitical framework will also someday be advanced, but that is not the goal of the Demic Atlas.

The next few posts will consider the sixty-seven (or sixty-six and a quarter) demic regions in more detail. Next week, socio-economic maps using the scheme will begin to appear on GeoCurrents.




Introduction to the Demic Atlas Read More »