Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-7635

Article | Open Access

Are Metropolitan Areas Primed for Success? A Prosperity Risk Index for Evaluating Economic Development Patterns

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Abstract:  Urban areas differ greatly in their exposure to economic change, their trajectory toward recovery and growth, and the extent to which development and equity are paired. Some of this differentiation can be explained by regional dynamics, policies, and migration flows that influence the composition of economic activity, land use, and population characteristics. Simultaneously, the fortunes of center cities are known to often correlate with metropolitan characteristics, yet the interaction of socio-spatial conditions with multi-level governance and development processes—particularly with respect to how prosperity is shared across municipal lines and is distributed among communities—is under-researched. In this article, we use a GIS-based and quantitative approach to characterize such patterns and evaluate regional differences among 117 mid-sized metropolitan areas in the Eastern US with a population between 250,000 and 2,500,000. Our analysis rests on initial GIS-based inquiries to define city, urbanized area, county, and core-based statistical area-level measures of municipal fragmentation, geographic sprawl, racial segregation, economic inequality, and overall poverty. These five characteristics are combined to propose a prosperity risk index for each region. Further, indicators of economic performance such as job and population growth are inverted to create an economic vulnerability index. An interaction model is run to determine relationships among the indices to highlight both the regional differences in these characteristics that became noticeably significant in the analysis and the linkages of spatial patterns of economic growth and social equity. Analyzing these multi-scalar regional dynamics illuminates the socio-spatial patterns that deserve attention in urban economic development theory and, subsequently, offers a framework for evaluating public policy and development practices. We likewise offer two comparisons of outliers as a means of illustrating potential directions urban areas can take toward economic development. These findings are valuable for local economic development practitioners who may be seeking further contextual/comparative information on urban regions, or for others interested in understanding the dynamics behind urban planning that may drive regional competitiveness and prosperity.

Keywords:  economic development; inequality; land use planning; prosperity; regional studies; spatial analysis; urban geography



© Richard Sadler, Dayne Walling, Zac Buchalski, Alan Harris. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.