The Northern California Megaregion – Definitions and Challenges


The Bay Area Council and the San Francisco Planning Urban Research Association (SPUR) convened a group of their board members and supporters on April 4 to discuss the Northern California Megaregion and issues and challenges associated with this scale. The meeting was prompted by both groups’ involvement in the America 2050 project and the recognition that certain challenge in Northern California extend beyond the traditional, 9-county Bay Area and 17-county commuter shed, pictured at left.

Gabriel Metcalf gave a presentation to get the group thinking about some of these issues, starting with questions about how to define the “Nor Cal” megaregion. Ultimately, the definition is flexible, encompassing the ever-widening commute shed of those traveling from the Central Valley. He noted the definition should probably extend further north, to where people go for recreation and vacation, and east into Nevada (think: Lake Tahoe, Burning Man).

Metcalf identified some issues that indicate cooperation at the megaregion scale, such as the Caltrain’s “Baby Bullet” train, integrating Silicon Valley and San Francisco, the Altamont commuter express, the joint operating agreement between Ports of Oakland/Sacramento and Oakland/Shafter, the Regional rail plan and the I-80 corridor program of Bay Area Council. In discussion with Jim Wunderman of the Bay Area Council and meeting participants, several more issues of note were put on the table:

 • What is the relationship between the “Nor Cal” megaregion and “So Cal” megaregions – where does one draw the line and how to respond to increasing pressure to develop the Central Valley?

 • How to respond to workers enduring increasingly long commutes between inland communities, where housing is less expensive, and the job centers on the coast?

• How can high-speed rail in California, which would connect the two north and south megaregions in California, be advanced within a regional planning framework?

The Bay Area Council and SPUR agreed to continue exploring answers to these questions by collaborating around a northern California megaregion research and outreach initiative.

Download the SPUR presentation here.