The Carbondale Observer

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Southern Illinois Metro Area?

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Local journalism student, blogger, and Carbondale Times columnist Barton Lorimor has a column in the September 29 issue of the Times advocating the creation of a Metropolitan Statistical Area for Southern Illinois.  Lorimor says, in reference to MSAs, “Despite it being one of the larger communities south of Springfield, Carbondale and its surrounding area is not within one of those designated areas.”  Later, he says “Why not try to change that and push federal regulators to designate southern Illinois as its own MSA?”

As Lorimor notes, this would require a change in federal policy.  The U. S. Census Bureau sets the rules for designating metropolitan statistical areas and their newer, smaller cousins called micropolitan statistical areas.  Carbondale and Marion each fit the definition of micropolitan areas, but no city in Southern Illinois has the minimum population of 50,000 necessary to establish a metro area under current rules.

The idea that the distinct communities of Jackson, Williamson, Perry, and Franklin counties should be considered a single “dispersed city” isn’t new.  In 1954, Oliver Wendell Beimfohr, an SIUC professor, published a document arguing for the model and coining the term “dispersed city.”  In 2005, SIUE professor Donald W. Clements published a paper questioning Beimfohr’s concept.

More recently, some locals have coined the term “Metro Lakeland” to describe the area.  Their “metro” area includes the four counties making up the “dispersed city” along with Saline County.  A Google search for “metro Lakeland Illinois” turns up several pages of results.  This seems to be a local economic development initiative aimed at attracting outside industry to locate in Southern Illinois.  The term “Lakeland” seems troubling because no community in the proposed metro area is actually named Lakeland.

If we want a metro area for Southern Illinois, the rules will have to change.  If the Census Bureau could be persuaded to change the rules to include conurbations lacking a core city but having a total municipal population of over 50,000, the Murphysboro to Marion corridor could qualify.  I’m pretty sure all the Highway 13 frontage in that corridor has been annexed by one town or another, making the towns contiguous.  The exception might be the section of 13 that crosses Crab Orchard.

Convincing the Census Bureau to change its definitions would likely require a level of regional cooperation that the communities of Southern Illinois may not be capable of.  Some local communities and their leaders would rather use subsidies to poach businesses from their neighbors or annex land obviously within another community’s planning area than cooperate for the greater good of the region.

Before beginning any effort to change Census Bureau regulations, it is worth considering whether establishing a “metro” area for Southern Illinois would benefit the region.  Comments are welcome.

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