Repost: The Five Midwests, Part II

Traditional Midwest boundaries.  Source: statemaster.com



In just a couple weeks I’ll celebrate the two-year anniversary of this blog.  I’ve been going back and looking at some of the early work here, and I’m finding it enlightening and amusing at the same time; enlightening because I see elements of the fire that got me to start this, and amusing because it exposes my lack of tech-savvyness.  I’m still working to address that.  Anyway, the below post was post #6 on this blog, originally posted on 2/29/12.  I think it’s still very important and relevant, in ways that I’ll describe in an update at the end.  Enjoy.

So, I’m following up on the last post about the Five Midwests.  First, I’d add a correction to my previous post on this.  I would include portions of West Virginia and Kentucky in this mix, at least the parts closest to the Ohio River.  The uplands beyond the river are much more Appalachian – and Southern – in orientation.  That makes 16 states that could lay some claim to territory in the Midwest, but with seven core Midwestern states. 

Here’s a map that illustrates my thoughts on the Five Midwests:
Here’s a typology table that might illustrate some of the differences of the Midwest’s subregions:
Five Midwests Typology
Region
Population (2010 Est.)
Full States Included
Partial States Included
Initial Settlement Period
Settler Group(s)
Period of Greatest Growth
North Woods
4,000,000
MI, WI, MN
1850-1880
New Englanders; Scandinavians
1880-1910
Lower Lakes
29,000,000
NY, PA, OH, MI, IN, IL, WI
1820-1850
New Englanders; Mid-Atlantic farmers; Mid-Atlantic businessmen; Eastern and Southern Europeans; Blacks; Hispanics
1900-1930
Heartland
15,500,000
OH, IN, IL, IA, MN
1820-1850
Mid-Atlantic farmers; Southern farmers; Eastern and Southern Europeans; Blacks
1950-1980
Midland Valley
13,500,000
PA, WV, KY, OH, IN, IL, MO
1800-1830
Mid-Atlantic farmers; Southern farmers; Blacks
1900-1930
Plains
7,250,000
MN, IA, MO, ND, SD, NE, KS
1870-1900
Heartland farmers; Rust Belt farmers; Mid-Atlantic businessmen
1900-1930
And another table that shows estimated population breakdowns, within subregions, by state:
Midwest Population Breakdown (Estimate)
State Pop. (2010)
Midwest Pop. (2010)
Pct. Of State Pop. In Midwest
North Woods
Lower Lakes
Heartland
Midland Valley
Plains
State Capital
State Capital Midwest Location
OH
10,500,000
10,500,000
100.0%
0
5,000,000
2,000,000
3,500,000
0
Columbus
Heartland
MI
9,500,000
9,500,000
100.0%
1,500,000
8,000,000
0
0
0
Lansing
Lower Lakes
IN
6,000,000
6,000,000
100.0%
0
2,000,000
2,000,000
2,000,000
0
Indianapolis
Heartland
WI
6,000,000
6,000,000
100.0%
1,000,000
3,500,000
1,500,000
0
0
Madison
Lower Lakes
MN
5,000,000
5,000,000
100.0%
500,000
0
4,000,000
0
500,000
St. Paul
Heartland
IA
4,000,000
4,000,000
100.0%
0
0
3,000,000
0
1,000,000
Des Moine
Plains/Heartland
IL
12,500,000
12,250,000
98.0%
0
9,000,000
2,500,000
750,000
0
Springfield
Heartland
MO
6,000,000
5,000,000
83.3%
0
0
500,000
2,500,000
2,000,000
Jefferson City
KS
2,500,000
2,000,000
80.0%
0
0
0
0
2,000,000
Topeka
Plains
NE
1,500,000
1,000,000
66.7%
0
0
0
0
1,000,000
Lincoln
Plains
ND
500,000
250,000
50.0%
0
0
0
0
250,000
Bismarck
Plains
SD
1,000,000
500,000
50.0%
0
0
0
0
500,000
Pierre
Plains
WV
4,000,000
1,000,000
25.0%
0
0
0
1,000,000
0
Charleston
PA
13,000,000
3,000,000
23.1%
0
500,000
0
2,500,000
0
Harrisburg
KY
4,500,000
1,000,000
22.2%
0
0
0
1,000,000
0
Frankfort
NY
19,000,000
2,500,000
13.2%
1,000,000
1,500,000
0
0
0
Albany
105,500,000
69,500,000
4,000,000
29,500,000
15,500,000
13,250,000
7,250,000
Percent of Midwest Pop.
5.8%
42.4%
22.3%
19.1%
10.4%








This is where some trends become apparent.  These are purely estimates, but the Lower Lakes subregion heads this list in terms of population in the Midwest, with more than 42 percent.  Heartland and Midland Valley are a distant second and third, at 22 and 19 percent respectively.  The Plains and North Woods are even further behind at 10 and 6 percent respectively – not surprising since harsh climates and scarce resources have limited their development. 
What stands out to me, however, is the location of state capitals when compared with major populations in the Midwest.  Refer back to the Five Midwests map.  The map also shows the location of state capitals (marked with an asterisk) and the location of the 14 metro areas with a population over one million within my Midwest boundaries (cross-hatched counties).  If anyone wants to know why Midwestern states might be slow to act on the wish lists of their major cities, this map might show why.  Midwestern state capitals are largely located in the Heartland or Plains subregions, and are physically separated from large metros in the Lower Lakes and Midland Valley.  In fact, some of the best economically performing metros over the last couple decades have been Heartland state capitals (Columbus, Indianapolis, Minneapolis/St. Paul).
My larger point is that even though proportional districting in state legislatures brings appropriate representation to state capitals, the location of state capitals away from the population centers of the region can lead to some identity crises among the states and for the region as a whole.  At least that’s the theory I’m working with.

Update: Nearly two years later, it’s time for me to clarify why this is important.  First, as I initially described above, the population base of the greater Midwest is in the Lower Lakes region, but the state capitals are largely located in the Heartland or Plains regions; that gives those less populated regions an outsized influence on overall state matters, and a reduced influence for the Lower Lakes region.  This happens despite proportional legislative representation.

But perhaps more importantly, this approach illustrates the cultural influences that impact the greater Midwest’s major metropolitan areas.  I’ve long maintained subtle, intra-Midwest cultural differences have as much to do with metro responses to economic challenges as anything.  Culturally speaking, Pittsburgh probably has more in common with Cincinnati, Louisville and St. Louis than it does with Milwaukee — or even Cleveland and Buffalo, even if they share an economic heritage with Pittsburgh.  Economically healthy Heartland state capitals Columbus, Indianapolis, Minneapolis and Des Moines not only share little of the industrial legacy of Rochester, Toledo or Detroit, they have completely different cultural legacies as well; what’s worked for them is patently useless for the Lower Lakes metros.  And the lines I use to demarcate the Midwest’s subregions aren’t completely arbitrary; you can find it even in our subtle accent differences:



This is why I see efforts at revitalization in Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit and Milwaukee, the largest non-Chicago Lower Lakes metros, as crucial.  Global city Chicago is a subregion in its own right; the template for what works in the rest of the Lower Lakes subregion has yet to fully form.  

2 thoughts on “Repost: The Five Midwests, Part II

  1. You're not the only person to notice the east/west development influences in the Midwest. I've noticed them too, and they actually seem to have originated in the Northeast. There's a New England/New York/Great Lakes progression at work, and also a Mid-Atlantic/Ohio Valley/Lower Midwest progression. Sometimes I call the former the “80/90 Corridor” and the latter the “70/76 Corridor,” in reference to the major Interstates that serve them. The progressions go like this, from east to west:

    80/90: Boston, Providence, Hartford, north New York metro, Rochester, Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee.

    70/76: South New York metro, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington DC, Pittsburgh, Columbus, Cincinnati, Louisville?, Indianapolis, St. Louis.

    The 80/90 cities are your stereotypical “Yankee” cities with mostly strong national brands, lots of buildings made of wood, and a mostly liberal political climate. The 70/76 cities have an abundance of buildings made of bricks, tend to be forgotten on the national stage (except Washington DC), and have a moderate political climate that both liberal Yankees and conservative Southerners consider unbecoming.

    One note: While Pittsburgh does have a degree of Midwestern influence, I get the sense that those influences are gradually eroding, and the city is becoming more firmly Northeastern with time. This has to do with two things: One, it's in Pennsylvania, so it's under the governance of Harrisburg, which is undoubtedly Northeastern. Two, if you look at Pittsburgh's migration flows, the top three major metropolitan areas by far are New York, Philadelphia and Washington DC, with the latter two taking turns for the top spot, and a relatively balanced flow with all three to boot. For that matter, its flow is stronger with New York than it is with Chicago, which I consider one of the main determinants of whether a city is Northeastern or Midwestern. Basically, in the aftermath of the industrial economy, it seems that Pittsburgh is slowly being pulled into the “Bos-Wash” orbit, which makes sense since it's the first major metropolitan area to the west.

    Another note: The northern boundary of the “Appalachian Midland” region ought to be shaved down a bit. I consider western New York, western and central Pennsylvania, northern West Virginia and western Maryland to be part of what I call the “interior Northeast.” Basically, this region is a blend of the megalopolitan Northeast and the Appalachian Mountains, which explains some of the cultural dichotomies in the major cities. Buffalo and Rochester are a New England/Appalachian hybrid, and Pittsburgh is a Mid-Atlantic/Appalachian hybrid. Also, the northern third of West Virginia basically feels like a southward extension of western Pennsylvania, and very different from the rest of the state, which is more Southern. Also, western New York and western Pennsylvania both saw significant English settlement before 1800, whereas Ohio and places to the west weren't heavily settled by English descendants until after 1800. (I understand that places like Detroit and St. Louis were heavily settled before, but that was by the French, who haven't dictated much of American culture in the long run.)

    Another key difference was the type of manufacturing; New York and Pennsylvania specialized in advanced materials (steel, aluminum, glass, chemicals, etc.) while Ohio, Michigan and places to the west specialized in finished products (cars, agricultural equipment, machines, etc.). Advanced materials manufacturing declined before finished product manufacturing did, which is why Detroit and Cleveland have only recently bottomed out economically, versus Pittsburgh doing so 30 years ago.

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  2. Thanks for your extremely thorough and considerate response here. I knew I couldn't have been the only one to see this, and it certainly appears you've given this lots of serious thought.

    I agree with you that Pittsburgh is an odd case, economically and culturally. Pittsburgh is where three cultural groups — Heartland, Lower Lakes and Midland Valley — meet, and it's really like neither. Economically, I think you're right that Pittsburgh bottomed out earlier, but your point that advanced materials manufacturing declined before finished product manufacturing is spot on.

    I'd add also that Pittsburgh's has perhaps more things in common with Boston than any other Rust Belt city. Boston went through its own moribund period after losing its hold on shipbuilding and early textiles. It used its educational assets (Harvard, et al) to recover. Pittsburgh's doing the same.

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