When I started this blog one of the things I did was come up with a new functional theory of the Midwest. I did this for a couple reasons. I did it because no one seems to have an agreed-upon idea of where the Midwest is (at least not like other regions of the country). But I also did it because I wanted to use it as a starting point for study of the midsize cities that are scattered across the Midwestern landscape.
So much attention is given to the larger metro areas of our nation, and rightfully so. The population of the top 50 or so metros in the US account for maybe two-thirds of the population. Obviously solutions developed for large metros will impact the most people. But what works for Indianapolis, for example, might not work for South Bend or Evansville.
So I tried to develop a system to identify the Midwest’s midsize cities. My threshold — independently established cities with a population between 50,000 and 300,000, according to the 2010 US Census, excepting those within metros with a population over 1 million. That eliminates cities like Cincinnati, St. Paul, Buffalo and Rochester, NY that have midsize populations but are the core cities of large metros. This also eliminates large suburbs within large metros, like a Naperville, IL (outside of Chicago) or Warren, MI (near Detroit).
What did I come up with? A list of 71 cities that fit the mold. Toledo is the largest on the list, with Lincoln, NE, Ft. Wayne, IN and Madison, WI right behind. Twenty-seven of the cities have a population over 100,000.
The cities are across the spectrum in terms of their economic engines. Some are state capitals (Des Moines, IA; Springfield, IL; Topeka, KS), some are large university towns (Iowa City, IA; Bloomington, IN; Ann Arbor, MI). Most are old industrial cities struggling to find their way in the ever-shifting economic winds (Peoria, IL; Saginaw, MI; Muncie, IN). But what also interests me is the subgroup of “satellite cities”: independently established cities that have been brought into the “orbit” of nearby or adjacent metro areas with a population over 1 million. These include several in the Chicago area (Waukegan, Elgin, Aurora, Joliet, Gary and Kenosha), a couple around Kansas City (Kansas City, KS and Independence, MO), and one each around Cleveland (Lorain), Cincinnati (Hamilton), and Detroit (Pontiac). However, several more have not completely surrendered to the gravitational pull of the larger metros surrounding them and might be called emerging satellites: Akron and Dayton, OH, Flint and Ann Arbor, MI, and Rockford, IL come to mind.
I want to write more about places like these, and you will hear much more from me about them.