Urban Growth in the Northeast Megaregion

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Over the next generation, the 13-state Northeast Megaregion is expected to grow by 26%, adding about 18 million residents. To assess the implications of this change for landscape conservation, Regional Plan Association and America 2050's Northeast Landscape Initiatives Atlas now includes maps showing historic and current land use, and projections of future urban growth in the Northeast Megaregion through 2040.

Urban Growth in the Northeast by Decade







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The land use maps are part of an ongoing effort by RPA and America 2050.  We are evaluating the results of our urban development models in order to help the more than 145 individual landscape conservation initiatives succeed in their efforts by identifying complimentary projects and land use trends in surrounding areas.

For example, population growth and expansion of urban and suburban areas will affect the region through landscape conversion, construction of new roads, increase in impervious surfaces, and fragmentation of natural systems.  But these development pressures will not affect the region uniformly.  Better understanding these challenges will help initiatives prioritize their objectives and implement strategies that are responsive to on the ground conditions and that are focused at the appropriate geographic scale.

From these maps, several important trends emerge:

By 2040, areas along the Northeast coast will be almost completely developed. Even if local zoning laws are amended to allow for denser development, many counties  will reach complete build-out--development of 95% of available land--sooner than 2040.

Build-Out Counties 2000 -2040

Washington, DC. 

Suffolk - MA

Baltimore City - MD

Cape May - NJ

Hudson - NJ

Middlesex - NJ

Monmouth - NJ

Morris - NJ

Ocean - NJ

Passaic - NJ

Roanoke City - VA

Many communities on the exurban fringe of major municipal areas will experience extremely rapid growth.  Since most development in these areas will be new development, the character of these communities will change suddenly from rural or forested to low-density suburban.

Urban Growth Rate

(New Urban Acres/Urban Acres Available in 2000)

Rapidly Growing Counties 2000 - 2020

(Communities with a +50% growth rate between 2000 and 2020)

 Piscataquis - ME

Somerset - MD

Cape May - NJ

Hunterdon - NJ

Salem - NJ

Sussex - NJ

Clinton - NJ

Schenectady - NJ

Caroline - VA

Culpeper - VA

Goochland - VA

King George - VA

King William - VA

Lee - VA

Loudon -VA

Louisa - VA

New Kent - VA

Orange - VA

Powhatan - VA

Prince - VA

William Berkeley - WV

Webster - WV

Rapidly Suburbanizing Areas

(Map shows census tracts with a +50% growth rate from 2000 to 2020 and a change from 0-20% urban land to over 20% during the same time span)

The population of many census tracts west of Interstate 81 in the Appalachians will trend downward in one or more decades between now and 2040.  While reducing pressure on the landscape, the loss of permanent residents may also signal local economic hardships.

Slow, Declining, or No Urban Growth Counties 2000-2040

County State   County State
Berkshire MA   Potter PA
Allegany MD   Warren PA
Aroostook ME   Alleghany VA
Essex NJ   Clifton Forge VA
Albany NY   Covington VA
Wyoming NY   Buchanan VA
Chemung NY   Halifax VA
Montgomery NY   Roanoke VA
Orleans NY   South Boston VA
Blair PA   Brooke WV
Cambria PA   Hancock WV
Cameron PA   Kanawha WV
Crawford PA   Logan WV
Greene PA   Marshall WV
McKean PA   McDowell WV
Elk PA   Cabell WV
Philadelphia PA   Fayette WV

Review the methodology for the urban growth model

In the Northeast Megaregion, complex urban development patterns and high demand for land and resources pose particular challenges for conservation. RPA and America 2050 are working across political jurisdictions to produce a comprehensive inventory of landscape conservation initiatives that protect watersheds, wildlife habitat, and other natural processes at the appropriate geographic scale. The project was launched in November, 2010 with the support from The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the USDA Forest Service Northeastern Area.

Visit the website to learn more: Northeast Landscape Initiatives Atlas