by Ilyce Glink

A lagging housing market and rising fuel prices are adding to worries about the economy

The world is flat, the economy is global, and on any given day you're as likely to speak to a call center in India or the Philippines as you are to visit your local grocery store. The world's boundaries have blurred, but at the same time the easy and immediate communication of a Twitter or Facebook makes the planet feel smaller and more connected.

Dr. Catherine Ross, editor of Megaregions: Planning for Global Competitiveness, a collection of essays about urban planning, puts it like this: "If one of us sneezes, everyone catches a cold."

Ross, who is director of the Center for Quality Growth and Regional Development at Georgia Tech, has watched the concept of "megaregions" emerge over the last five years. The early work focused on the idea of creating "central cities" as an impetus to global transactions, but she said it soon became clear that the term didn't go far enough in conveying the "subtle metaphorical merging of the continents."

"The world is (made up of) regions and megaregions. Cities are economic drivers and megaregions connect cities," she explained.

Ross offered up Shanghai and Tokyo as global examples, but cites 10 specific megaregions in the U.S., including the Northwest, the Midwest and the Piedmont-Atlantic, which includes the urban hubs of Raleigh, N.C., Charlotte, N.C., Atlanta and Birmingham, Ala. These megaregions offer a connected web of employment, transportation, culture and infrastructure that establishes the area as a global force of production and innovation, she says.

At its most basic core, the concept of megaregions is green: More people living in urban environments, making smarter use of limited resources. The housing market has begun to adopt a green platform, but the idea of megaregions goes far beyond green.

What do megaregions mean for the present and future of real estate?

"We have seen a willingness to look for housing that's more remote but with access to transit. Fifteen percent of the population listed transportation access as a major factor in deciding where to live when asked in 2000. That percentage will go up to 25 percent by 2020. You now have to weave mobility into housing and community designs," she explained.

"Mixed use, non-single family dwellings are becoming more attractive. Modern logistical needs and changing ideas about housing stock demand a closer working relationship between the infrastructure side and construction industry," she adds.

The future of real estate, guided by the principle of megaregions, could begin to take the shape of our daily social and economic interactions: diverse, multi-purpose and multi-cultural.

"We're moving to a world where you're going to have megaregions," said Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed in an interview on NPR. "You're really going to have about eight or 10 megaregions that will really determine the flow and growth of GDP in the United States."


Why the World Caught a Cold When the U.S. Housing Market Sneezed