Great Lakes megalopolis

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Great Lakes Megalopolis
Countries United States
States Illinois
 New York
 West Virginia
Provinces Ontario
Largest cityChicago (2,746,388)
Largest metropolitan area Chicago metropolitan area (9,812,676)

The Great Lakes Megalopolis consists of the group of metropolitan areas in North America largely in the Great Lakes region and along the Saint Lawrence River. It extends from the Midwestern United States in the south and west to western Pennsylvania and Western New York in the east and northward through Southern Ontario into southwestern Quebec in Canada. It is the most populated and largest megalopolis in North America.

At its most inclusive, in the United States the region cuts a wide swath from the Twin Cities in Minnesota in the west, south to St. Louis and Louisville, Kentucky, and east to Rochester, New York; in Canada, it continues northeasterly to Quebec City. This broader region had an estimated population of 59,144,461 as of 2011 and is projected to reach a population of about 65 million by 2025. Within this broad region, there is a core area of more continual urban development that includes Chicago, Milwaukee, Grand Rapids, South Bend, Detroit-Windsor, Columbus, Cleveland, Toledo, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Rochester, Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal, and the metropolitan areas between these.

History of the concept[edit]

1907 Canadian major internal and cross border shipping routes
Map of the emerging American-Canadian megaregions as defined by America 2050.[2] This interpretation excludes the eastern part of the Windsor-Quebec City urban corridor from the Great Lakes Megalopolis.

The region was partially outlined as an emergent megalopolis in the 1961 book Megalopolis: The Urbanized Northeastern Seaboard of the United States by French geographer Jean Gottmann. Gottmann envisaged the development of other megalopolises in the U.S.: from Boston to Washington, D.C., from Chicago to Pittsburgh, and from San Francisco to San Diego.

In 1965, futurist Herman Kahn speculated about the three megalopolises in the year 2000.[3] In the 1960s and 1970s, urban planner and architect Constantinos Doxiadis wrote books, studies, and reports about the growth potential of the Great Lakes Megalopolis.[4] Doxiadis envisioned Detroit (on the U.S.-Canada border across from Windsor) as the central urban area in this megalopolis, which he defined as extending "from Milwaukee and Chicago to Detroit, Pittsburgh and Buffalo and into Canada from Windsor to Montreal and Quebec".[4][5]

In 2005, the Virginia Tech Metropolitan Institute's Beyond Megalopolis, an attempt to update Gottmann's work, outlined a similar "Midwest" megapolitan area as one of ten such areas in the United States (Canada is discussed tangentially).[6] Over 200 million tons of cargo are shipped annually through the Great Lakes.[7][8][9] The America 2050 project identified 11 Megaregions of the United States, including the Great Lakes Megalopolis.[10][A] The Canadian part of the region is also referred to as the Quebec City–Windsor Corridor, and the densest part in Southern Ontario has long been known as the Golden Horseshoe.[citation needed]


There are multiple government jurisdictions throughout the megalopolis. In addition to the federal governments of the United States and Canada, there are multiple U.S. state and two Canadian province jurisdictions, and many county and local governments. Most of the states have joined the provinces in forming the Conference of Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Governors and Premiers to coordinate economic and environmental strategies throughout most of the region.[11]


According to the Brookings Institution, if it stood alone as a country, the economy of the Great Lakes region, which includes most of the Great Lakes Megalopolis, would be one of the largest economic units in the world with a $4.5-trillion gross regional product, roughly equal to Japan's. The five Great Lakes contain one-fifth of the world's surface fresh water and have a combined shoreline of 10,210 miles (17,017 km). About 200 million tons of cargo are shipped through the Great Lakes each year.[8][12][13]

Tourism is important to the region's economy. The Great Lakes Cruising Coalition supports passenger ship cruises through a joint U.S-Canadian venture to Great Lakes Ports and the Saint Lawrence Seaway.[14][15]


The Great Lakes Megalopolis is home to several of the most prestigious universities in the United States, including Carnegie Mellon University, Case Western Reserve University, University of Chicago, Northwestern University, University of Notre Dame, University of Rochester, and Washington University in St. Louis. The region also contains large public research universities such as the University at Buffalo, Indiana University, University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, University of Iowa, University of Michigan, University of Minnesota, University of Missouri, Ohio State University, University of Pittsburgh, Purdue University, McMaster University. Michigan State University, McGill University, University of Toronto, Queen's University, and University of Wisconsin.

Major land and marine transportation corridors[edit]

The Great Lakes Megalopolis includes the following major inter-urban corridors that are provided with freeway and passenger rail service in both the core and fringe areas of the mega-region. Major waterways for shipping and cruising are also indicated where applicable. Amtrak in the United States and Via Rail in Canada offer rail passenger service, while most Class I freight rail services also connect these points. Major rail shipping services in both Canada and the United States is provided on tracks owned by Canadian National Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway.

Chicago-Minneapolis/St. Paul[edit]

This corridor occupies the northwestern fringe of the megalopolis. It occupies northern Illinois, southern Wisconsin, and parts of eastern Minnesota. Interstate 94 and Amtrak rail run roughly parallel from Chicago to Minneapolis/St. Paul by way of Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin.

Chicago-St. Louis[edit]

Interstate 55, Amtrak, and the Illinois Waterway connect Chicago to St. Louis.


Interstate 65 extends from the Chicago area southeast to Indianapolis, where Interstate 74 travels through to Cincinnati. Amtrak runs regular service along this same route.


Interstate 90 and Amtrak run approximately parallel through the core area of the megalopolis from Chicago to Cleveland via South Bend, Indiana, and Toledo, Ohio, then into the eastern fringe area comprising Buffalo and Rochester, New York. Amtrak also has a passenger rail link from Cleveland to Pittsburgh which is roughly paralleled by Interstate 76. The main water route deviates well to the north of the land route from Chicago to Detroit. It runs north along Lake Michigan, east through the Straits of Mackinac, then south along Lake Huron, the St. Clair River, and Lake St Clair to the Detroit River. From this point, the water route roughly parallels the land route to Rochester by way of Lake Erie, the Welland Canal, and Lake Ontario.


Interstate 94 takes a more northerly route than I-90 through the megalopolis core area east of Chicago. It extends from that city to the west end of the Windsor-Quebec City Corridor by way of Kalamazoo, Ann Arbor, Detroit, and Port Huron, Michigan/Sarnia, Ontario. This interstate freeway is also paralleled by Amtrak rail service. The main water route is the same as for the western part of the Chicago-Rochester water corridor from Lake Michigan to the Detroit River.

Windsor-Quebec City[edit]

The Windsor-Quebec City Corridor lies along the northeastern fringe of the Great Lakes megalopolis. The entire Canadian section of the broader megaregion is sometimes considered a separate megalopolis. Key freeways include Highway 401 and Highway 417 in Ontario which connect with Autoroute 20 and Autoroute 40 respectively in Quebec. Highway 416 and Autoroute 50 link the National Capital Region with Highway 401 and the Montreal area respectively, but the two freeways do not link directly with each other across the Ontario-Quebec border. Passenger rail service is provided in both provinces by the Via Rail Corridor Service. Intermediate points along the corridor include London, Kitchener, Hamilton, St. Catharines, Toronto, Kingston, Ottawa, and Montreal. The main water shipping route is the same as for the eastern part of the Chicago-Rochester corridor, starting at the Detroit River but continuing east beyond Lake Ontario along the St. Lawrence Seaway to Quebec City and the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Secondary land or marine transportation corridors[edit]

Several corridors have interstate highways but no comprehensive passenger rail service. These highway routes pass through both core and fringe areas of the Great Lakes megalopolis. The upper Great lakes region has a marine corridor that connects Lakes Superior, Huron, and Michigan. However, this route does not include parallel Amtrak passenger rail or interstate highway service.

Kansas City-Pittsburgh[edit]

Interstate 70 follows the southern fringe of the megaregion. It runs from Kansas City to just south of Pittsburgh by way of St. Louis, Indianapolis, Dayton,Ohio and Columbus, Ohio.

Detroit-Grand Rapids[edit]

Interstate 96 serves traffic between the Detroit and Grand Rapids metro areas. The route passes through Lansing on the way and extends to Muskegon to the northwest of Grand Rapids

Evansville-Indianapolis-Port Huron[edit]

Interstate 69 extends from Evansville to Martinsville, Indiana. From there, the route is temporarily an arterial highway, Indiana State Road 37, to the Interstate 465 ring road around Indianapolis. From there, I-69 resumes and continues to the west end of the Windsor-Quebec City Corridor, crossing the border into Canada and becoming Ontario Highway 402, which eventually leads to Highway 401. Intermediate points include Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Lansing, Flint, and Port Huron, Michigan/Sarnia, Ontario.


Interstate 75 runs from Saginaw, Michigan, to Cincinnati by way of Detroit, and Toledo, Lima, and Dayton, Ohio.

Duluth-Lake Huron[edit]

The waterway connecting Duluth, Minnesota, and western Lake Superior to points east and south includes the Soo Locks connecting to Lake Huron, then south to Port Huron MI/Sarnia ON or through the Straits of Mackinac to the metropolitan areas around Lake Michigan.

Selected American and Canadian population centers[edit]

Largest Cities in the Great Lakes Megalopolis with populations over 100,000[16][17]
2019 Rank City Region 2019 Estimate[a] 2010 Census[b] Change Land Area 2016 Population Density
1 Toronto  Ontario 2,731,570 2,615,060 +4.46% 243.3 sq mi 11,226/sq mi
2 Chicago  Illinois 2,693,976 2,695,598 −0.06% 227.3 sq mi 11,900/sq mi
3 Montréal  Quebec 1,704,694 1,649,519 +3.34% 166.6 sq mi 10,070/sq mi
4 Ottawa  Ontario 934,243 883,391 +5.76% 1,077.3 sq mi 870/sq mi
5 Columbus  Ohio 898,553 787,033 +14.17% 218.5 sq mi 3,936/sq mi
6 Indianapolis  Indiana 876,384 820,445 +6.82% 361.5 sq mi 2,366/sq mi
7 Mississauga  Ontario 721,559 713,443 +1.14% 112.9 sq mi 6,391/sq mi
8 Detroit  Michigan 670,031 713,777 −6.13% 138.8 sq mi 4,847/sq mi
9 Louisville  Kentucky 617,638 597,337 +3.40% 263.5 sq mi 2,339/sq mi
10 Brampton  Ontario 593,638 523,911 +13.31% 103 sq mi 5,770/sq mi
11 Milwaukee  Wisconsin 590,157 594,833 −0.79% 96.2 sq mi 6,186/sq mi
12 Hamilton  Ontario 536,917 519,949 +3.26% 439.4 sq mi 1,245/sq mi
13 Quebec City  Quebec 531,902 516,622 +2.96% 187.6 sq mi 3,039/sq mi
14 Kansas City  Missouri 495,327 459,787 +7.73% 315 sq mi 1,528/sq mi
15 Minneapolis  Minnesota 429,606 382,578 +12.29% 54 sq mi 7,660/sq mi
16 Laval  Quebec 422,993 401,553 +5.34% 95.5 sq mi 4,431/sq mi
17 London  Ontario 383,822 366,151 +4.83% 162.4 sq mi 2,365/sq mi
18 Cleveland  Ohio 381,009 396,815 −3.98% 77.7 sq mi 4,965/sq mi
19 Markham  Ontario 328,966 301,709 +9.03% 82 sq mi 4,012/sq mi
20 Saint Paul  Minnesota 308,096 285,068 +8.08% 52 sq mi 5,815/sq mi
21 Vaughan  Ontario 306,223 288,301 +6.22% 105.6 sq mi 2,899/sq mi
22 Cincinnati  Ohio 303,940 296,493 +2.51% 77.4 sq mi 3,860/sq mi
23 St. Louis  Missouri 300,576 310,294 −3.13% 62 sq mi 5,023/sq mi
24 Pittsburgh  Pennsylvania 300,286 305,704 −1.77% 55.4 sq mi 5,481/sq mi
25 Gatineau  Quebec 276,245 265,349 +4.11% 147.2 sq mi 2,004/sq mi
26 Toledo  Ohio 272,779 287,208 −5.02% 80.7 sq mi 3,451/sq mi
27 Fort Wayne  Indiana 270,402 253,691 +6.59% 110.6 sq mi 2,391/sq mi
28 Madison  Wisconsin 259,680 233,309 +11.30% 77 sq mi 3,280/sq mi
29 Buffalo  New York 255,284 261,310 −2.31% 40.4 sq mi 6,359/sq mi
30 Longueuil  Quebec 239,700 231,409 +3.58% 47.5 sq mi 5,185/sq mi
31 Kitchener  Ontario 233,222 219,153 +6.42% 52.9 sq mi 4,400/sq mi
32 Windsor  Ontario 217,188 210,891 +2.99% 56.5 sq mi 3,845/sq mi
33 Rochester  New York 205,695 210,565 −2.31% 35.8 sq mi 5,835/sq mi
34 Grand Rapids  Michigan 201,013 188,040 +6.90% 44.4 sq mi 4,424/sq mi
35 Aurora  Illinois 197,757 197,899 −0.07% 44.9 sq mi 4,479/sq mi
36 Akron  Ohio 197,597 199,110 −0.76% 62 sq mi 3,188/sq mi
37 Overland Park  Kansas 195,494 173,372 +12.76% 75.2 sq mi 2,600/sq mi
38 Richmond Hill  Ontario 195,022 185,541 +5.11% 39 sq mi 4,996/sq mi
39 Oakville  Ontario 193,832 182,520 +6.20% 53.6 sq mi 3,404/sq mi
40 Burlington  Ontario 183,314 175,779 +4.29% 71.7 sq mi 2,452/sq mi
41 Oshawa  Ontario 159,458 149,607 +6.58% 56.3 sq mi 2,660/sq mi
42 Kansas City  Kansas 152,960 145,786 +4.92% 124.8 sq mi 1,216/sq mi
43 Naperville  Illinois 148,449 141,853 +4.65% 38.7 sq mi 3,802/sq mi
44 Joliet  Illinois 147,344 147,433 −0.06% 64.4 sq mi 2,302/sq mi
45 Lévis  Quebec 146,794 137,218 +6.98% 173.38 sq mi 827/sq mi
46 Rockford  Illinois 145,609 152,871 −4.75% 63.5 sq mi 2,325/sq mi
47 Olathe  Kansas 140,545 125,872 +11.66% 61.6 sq mi 2,281/sq mi
48 Dayton  Ohio 140,407 141,527 −0.79% 55.7 sq mi 2,522/sq mi
49 Trois-Rivières  Quebec 138,134 129,886 +6.35% 111.71 sq mi 1,203/sq mi
50 Warren  Michigan 133,943 134,056 −0.08% 34.4 sq mi 3,928/sq mi
51 St. Catharines  Ontario 133,113 131,400 +1.30% 37.1 sq mi 3,587/sq mi
52 Sterling Heights  Michigan 132,438 129,699 +2.11% 36.5 sq mi 3,628/sq mi
53 Guelph  Ontario 131,794 121,688 +8.30% 33.7 sq mi 3,914/sq mi
54 Cambridge  Ontario 129,920 126,748 +2.50% 43.6 sq mi 2,977/sq mi
55 Whitby  Ontario 128,377 122,022 +5.21% 56.6 sq mi 2,269/sq mi
56 Kingston  Ontario 123,798 123,363 +0.35% 174.2 sq mi 711/sq mi
57 Ann Arbor  Michigan 119,980 113,934 +5.31% 28.1 sq mi 4,298/sq mi
58 Ajax  Ontario 119,677 109,600 +9.19% 25.9 sq mi 4,233/sq mi
59 Rochester  Minnesota 118,935 106,796 +11.37% 54.6 sq mi 2,088/sq mi
60 Lansing  Michigan 118,210 114,297 +3.42% 39.1 sq mi 2,967/sq mi
61 Evansville  Indiana 117,979 117,429 +0.47% 47.3 sq mi 2,526/sq mi
62 Independence  Missouri 116,672 116,830 −0.14% 77.8 sq mi 1,504/sq mi
63 Springfield  Illinois 114,230 116,250 −1.74% 60.1 sq mi 1,925/sq mi
64 Elgin  Illinois 110,849 108,188 +2.46% 37.4 sq mi 2,998/sq mi
65 Peoria  Illinois 110,417 115,007 −3.99% 48.2 sq mi 2,371/sq mi
66 Milton  Ontario 110,128 84,362 +30.54% 140.2 sq mi 596/sq mi
67 Waterloo  Ontario 104,986 98,780 +6.28% 24.7 sq mi 3,939/sq mi
68 Green Bay  Wisconsin 104,578 104,057 +0.50% 45.5 sq mi 2,316/sq mi
69 South Bend  Indiana 102,026 101,168 +0.85% 41.4 sq mi 2,457/sq mi
70 Chatham-Kent  Ontario 101,647 103,671 −1.95% 949 sq mi 107/sq mi
71 Davenport  Iowa 101,590 99,685 +1.91% 62.9 sq mi 1,631/sq mi
72 Carmel  Indiana 101,068 79,191 +27.63% 47.5 sq mi 2,128/sq mi
  1. ^ The 2019 Estimate population for Canadian cities uses their 2016 Census population.
  2. ^ The 2010 Census population for Canadian cities uses their 2011 Census population.

See also[edit]


A. ^ a Various sources include Quebec City, Montreal and Ottawa in the Great Lakes Megalopolis, while excluding Minneapolis–Saint Paul, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Louisville, and Columbus.[18] All these partial-consensus and non-consensus cities lie at the eastern, western, and southern fringes of the megalopolis.



  1. ^ "Great Lakes States 2020". Retrieved 2020-04-12.
  2. ^ "Beyond Megalopolis: Exploring America's New "Megapolitan" Geography - America 2050". Retrieved 8 July 2016.
  3. ^ Bell, Daniel; Stephen Richards Graubard (1997). Toward the year 2000: work in progress. MIT Press. p. 87. ISBN 0-262-52237-3.
  4. ^ a b Cities: Capital for the New Megalopolis.Time magazine, November 4, 1966. Retrieved on July 16, 2010.
  5. ^ Doxiadis, Constantinos. (1970) The Great Lakes Megalopolis. Doxiadis Assoc.
  6. ^ "MegaCensusReport.indd" (PDF).
  7. ^ "About Our Great Lakes -Great Lakes Basin Facts- NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab (GLERL)". Archived from the original on 2012-03-08. Retrieved 2012-04-19.
  8. ^ a b "Economy of the Great Lakes Region". 2012-04-13. Archived from the original on 2012-05-04. Retrieved 2012-04-19.
  9. ^ U.S Army Corps of Engineers (January 2009).Great Lakes Navigation System: Economic Strength to the Nation Archived 2011-07-18 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved on April 11, 2011.
  10. ^ America 2050: Megaregions: Great Lakes. Regional Plan Association.
  11. ^ "Home - Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Governors and Premiers".
  12. ^ Our lakes facts Archived 2012-03-08 at the Wayback Machine. NOAA. Retrieved July 25, 2011.
  13. ^ U.S Army Corps of Engineers (January 2009).Great Lakes Navigation System: Economic Strength to the Nation Archived 2011-07-18 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved on July 25, 2011.
  14. ^ Great Lakes Cruising Coalition Retrieved on July 25, 2011.
  15. ^ "Forecasting 2020 U.S. County and MSA Populations" (PDF). April 2016. Retrieved 27 May 2018.
  16. ^ "List of United States cities by population", Wikipedia, 2021-03-31, retrieved 2021-03-31
  17. ^ "List of the 100 largest municipalities in Canada by population", Wikipedia, 2021-02-05, retrieved 2021-03-31
  18. ^ Example: Great Lakes Megalopolis (PDF) (Map). The Center for Urban and Regional Studies, Youngstown State University. 2005. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-07-05.

Coordinates: 41°N 85°W / 41°N 85°W / 41; -85