The Cascadia Megaregion: Facts and Figures

“Bi-National regions are emerging as key environmental and economic units throughout the world.”
– U.S. Senator Mark Hatfield, Oregon. April 1994

Here in the Cascadia Corridor – from Vancouver and Victoria, B.C. to Eugene, Oregon – we share many things: geography, climate, similar economies, an appreciation of the environment, and a Pacific-oriented international outlook. We also face common challenges posed by urbanization and the movement of people and goods along the corridor. The Discovery Instituteʼs Cascadia Project is premised on the idea that cross-border cooperation is the key to ensuring mobility, economic growth, and a healthy environment in our region in the years to come. The Project works to promote such cooperation through the creation of strategic alliances of business, government, and labor across the Cascadia Corridor.

The Salish Sea and Cascadia Megaregion Corridor at night by Satellite.

At night, satellite images show a string of near-constant light along the cities of the U.S. East Coast. Urban growth and sprawl have created a map where Washington blends into Baltimore, and on through Philadelphia, Trenton, New York, Hartford, Providence, and Boston.

The concept of mega-regions dates back to 1957, when the economic geographer Jean Gottman coined the term “megalopolis” to describe the emerging economic hub that stretched from Boston to D.C. The term came to be applied to a number of regions, including the vast Midwestern megalopolis that extends east from Chicago through Detroit and Cleveland and south to Pittsburgh, which Gottman dubbed “Chi-Pitts,” and many more across the United States and around the world. More than just a collection of cities or one giant city, a mega-region is greater than the sum of its parts.

In 1993, the Japanese management expert Kenichi Ohmae wrote an influential Foreign Affairsarticle that argued that the globe’s natural economic zones, or “region states,” some of them crossing international boundaries, had replaced nation-states as the economic organizing units of what he famously dubbed the “borderless world” (his book, The End of the Nation State, followed two years later).

A megaregion is a large network of metropolitan regions that share several or all of the following:

  • Environmental systems and topography

  • Infrastructure systems

  • Economic linkages

  • Settlement and land use patterns

  • Culture and history

A megaregion may also be known as a megalopolis or megapolitan area. More than 70 percent of the nation's population and jobs are located in 11 megaregions identified by the Regional Plan Association (RPA), which is an independent, non-profit New York-based planning organization. Megaregions are becoming the new competitive units in the global economy, characterized by the increasing movement of goods, people and capital among their metropolitan regions.[7] "The New Megas," asserted Richard Florida (2006), "are the real economic organizing units of the world, producing the bulk of its wealth, attracting a large share of its talent and generating the lion's share of innovation."

The megaregion concept provides cities and metropolitan regions a context within which to cooperate across jurisdictional borders, including the coordination of policies, to address specific challenges experienced at the megaregion scale, such as planning for high-speed rail, protecting large watersheds, and coordinating regional economic development strategies.

In earlier research with Timothy Gulden and Charlotta Mellander, we used the satellite images of the globe at night to identify the world’s 40 “mega-regions.” We defined these as a contiguous lighted area with more than one major city or metropolitan region that produced more than $100 billion in economic output.

We found a dozen of these mega-regions in North America – mainly in the United States but spilling over into Canada and Mexico as well. 

The first map, above, shows the populations of North America’s dozen mega-regions. These mega-regions account for 243 metropolitan areas in the U.S. and Canada, including more than 60 percent of all U.S. metros. These dozen regions have a combined population of more than 230 million people, including 215 million from the United States, or 70 percent of the U.S. population. (So-Cal, Cascadia, and Tor-Buff-Chester include parts of Mexico and Canada).

The Cascadia mega-region, which stretches up from Portland, Oregon through Seattle and into Vancouver, Canada, is home to nearly 10 million people. It generates economic output of about $600 billion, comparable to Switzerland, also placing it among the world’s top 25 nations.

The area from Vancouver B.C. down to Portland has been termed an emerging megaregion by the National Committee for America 2050, a coalition of regional planners, scholars, and policy-makers as well as the Canadian and US governments. A megaregion is defined as an area where "boundaries begin to blur, creating a new scale of geography". These areas have interlocking economic systems, shared natural resources and ecosystems, and common transportation systems link these population centers together. This area contains 17% of Cascadian land mass, but more than 80% of the Cascadian population.

This idea of Cascadia as an economic cross-border region has been embraced by a wide diversity of civic leaders and organizations. The "Main Street Cascadia" transportation corridor concept was formed by former mayor of Seattle Paul Schell during 1991 and 1992.Schell later defended his cross-border efforts during the 1999 American Planning Association convention, saying "that Cascadia represents better than states, countries and cities the cultural and geographical realities of the corridor from Eugene to Vancouver, B.C." Schell also formed the Cascadia Mayors Council, bringing together mayors from cities along the corridor from Whistler, BC, to Medford, Oregon. The council last met in May, 2004.

Cascadia exhibits binational and regional cooperation, governing bodies as well as cross-border NGOs. These ties continue to be strengthened through initiatives such as the establishment of a cross-border state ID card in 2006, the 'Pacific Coast Collaboration' agreement (PCC) signed by the governors of California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska and the premier of British Columbia in 2008, the bioregional 'Cascadia Mayors Council' founded in 1996 and the establishment of the Pacific Northwest Economic Region in 1991, a regional U.S.-Canadian forum in which all legislative members and governors are voting members, along with a consortium of the regions most powerful non-profit, public and private sector companies.

PNWER is recognized by both the United States and Canada as the “model” for regional and bi-national cooperation that provides the public and private sectors a cross-border forum that legal scholar Andrew Petter, a former BC cabinet minister and President of Simon Fraser University,describes as one of North America's most sophisticated examples of "regionalist paradiplomacy".PNWER is the only statutory, non-partisan, bi-national, public/private partnership in North America.

Other cross-border groups were set up in the 1990s, such as the Cascadia Economic Council and the Cascadia Corridor Commission.The region is served by several cooperative organizations and interstate or international agencies, especially since 2008 with the signing of the Pacific Coast Collaborative which places new emphasis on bio-regionally coordinated policies on the environmental, forestry and fishery management, emergency preparedness and critical infrastructure, regional high speed rail and road transportation as well as tourism.

Under some definitions, Cascadia is energy sufficient, due to the high propensity for renewable energy resources (mostly hydroelectric and geothermal) and supplies many other western states such as California and Idaho with some electricity.


The area from Vancouver B.C. down to Portland has been termed an emerging Cascadia megaregion by the National Committee for America 2050, a coalition of regional planners, scholars, and policy-makers as well as the Canadian and US governments. A megaregion is defined as an area where "boundaries begin to blur, creating a new scale of geography". These areas have interlocking economic systems, shared natural resources and ecosystems, and common transportation systems link these population centers together. This area contains 17% of Cascadian land mass, but more than 80% of the Cascadian population.

This idea of Cascadia as an economic cross-border region has been embraced by a wide diversity of civic leaders and organizations. The "Main Street Cascadia" transportation corridor concept was formed by former mayor of Seattle Paul Schell during 1991 and 1992.Schell later defended his cross-border efforts during the 1999 American Planning Association convention, saying "that Cascadia represents better than states, countries and cities the cultural and geographical realities of the corridor from Eugene to Vancouver, B.C." Schell also formed the Cascadia Mayors Council, bringing together mayors from cities along the corridor from Whistler, BC, to Medford, Oregon. The council last met in May, 2004.

Cascadia exhibits binational and regional cooperation, governing bodies as well as cross-border NGOs. These ties continue to be strengthened through initiatives such as the establishment of a cross-border state ID card in 2006, the 'Pacific Coast Collaboration' agreement (PCC) signed by the governors of California, Oregon, Washington and Alaska and the premier of British Columbia in 2008, the bioregional 'Cascadia Mayors Council' founded in 1996 and the establishment of the Pacific Northwest Economic Region in 1991, a regional U.S.-Canadian forum in which all legislative members and governors are voting members, along with a consortium of the regions most powerful non-profit, public and private sector companies.

PNWER is recognized by both the United States and Canada as the “model” for regional and bi-national cooperation that provides the public and private sectors a cross-border forum that legal scholar Andrew Petter, a former BC cabinet minister and President of Simon Fraser University,describes as one of North America's most sophisticated examples of "regionalist paradiplomacy".PNWER is the only statutory, non-partisan, bi-national, public/private partnership in North America.

Other cross-border groups were set up in the 1990s, such as the Cascadia Economic Council and the Cascadia Corridor Commission.The region is served by several cooperative organizations and interstate or international agencies, especially since 2008 with the signing of the Pacific Coast Collaborative which places new emphasis on bio-regionally coordinated policies on the environmental, forestry and fishery management, 
emergency preparedness and critical infrastructure, regional high speed rail and road transportation as well as tourism.

The vision for Cascadia links Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver, British Columbia with high-speed rail, while protecting the area's unique and pristine environment.  Other strategies highlight these cities' shared high-tech competencies, commitment to environmental sustainability, and creative clusters in film, music, and green building.

Principal Cities: Portland, Seattle, Vancouver
Population 2010 (U.S. Portion): 8,367,519

Percent of U.S. Population: 3%
Population 2025: 8,748,143

Population 2050: 11,864,378

Projected Growth (2010 - 2050): 41.8% (3,496,859)

2005 GDP: $337,405,000,000
Percent U.S. GDP: 3%


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