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Great Lakes megalopolis

In today's world, Great Lakes megalopolis is a topic that generates great interest and is constantly evolving. With the passage of time, Great Lakes megalopolis has gained greater relevance in society, impacting various aspects of daily life. From its origins to its current state, Great Lakes megalopolis has been the subject of numerous research and debates, which has contributed to enriching knowledge on this topic. In this article, we will explore different aspects related to Great Lakes megalopolis, addressing its importance, its implications and its future. Through a detailed analysis, we aim to provide the reader with a complete and updated vision of this phenomenon.

Great Lakes megalopolis
  • United States
  • Canada

Largest cityToronto (2,794,356)
Largest metropolitan areaChicago metropolitan area (9,812,676)

The Great Lakes megalopolis consists of a bi-national group of metropolitan areas in North America largely in the Great Lakes region. It extends from the Midwestern United States in the south and west to western Pennsylvania and Western New York in the east and northward through Southern Ontario into southwestern Quebec in Canada. It is the most populated and largest megalopolis in North America.

At its most inclusive, in the United States the region cuts a wide swath from the twin cities of Minneapolis–Saint Paul in Minnesota in the west, south to St. Louis and Louisville, Kentucky, and east to Rochester, New York; in Canada, it continues northeasterly to Quebec City. This broader region had an estimated population of 59,144,461 as of 2011 and is projected to reach a population of about 65 million by 2025. Within this broad region, there is a core area of more continual urban development that includes Chicago, Milwaukee, Grand Rapids, South Bend, Detroit–Windsor, Columbus, Cleveland, Toledo, Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Rochester, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and the metropolitan areas between these.

History of the concept

1907 Canadian major internal and cross border shipping routes
Map of the emerging American-Canadian megaregions as defined by America 2050. This interpretation excludes the eastern part of the Windsor-Quebec City urban corridor from the Great Lakes Megalopolis.

The region was partially outlined as an emergent megalopolis in the 1961 book Megalopolis: The Urbanized Northeastern Seaboard of the United States by French geographer Jean Gottmann. Gottmann envisaged the development of other megalopolises in the U.S.: from Boston to Washington, D.C., from Chicago to Pittsburgh, and from San Francisco to San Diego.

In 1965, futurist Herman Kahn speculated about the three megalopolises in the year 2000. In the 1960s and 1970s, urban planner and architect Constantinos Doxiadis wrote books, studies, and reports about the growth potential of the Great Lakes Megalopolis. Doxiadis envisioned Detroit (on the U.S.-Canada border across from Windsor) as the central urban area in this megalopolis, which he defined as extending "from Milwaukee and Chicago to Detroit, Pittsburgh and Buffalo and into Canada from Windsor to Montreal and Quebec".

In 2005, the Virginia Tech Metropolitan Institute's Beyond Megalopolis, an attempt to update Gottmann's work, outlined a similar "Midwest" megapolitan area as one of ten such areas in the United States (Canada is discussed tangentially). Over 200 million tons of cargo are shipped annually through the Great Lakes. The America 2050 project identified 11 Megaregions of the United States, including the Great Lakes Megalopolis. The Canadian part of the region is also referred to as the Quebec City–Windsor Corridor, and the densest part in Southern Ontario has long been known as the Golden Horseshoe.[citation needed]


There are multiple government jurisdictions throughout the megalopolis. In addition to the federal governments of the United States and Canada, there are multiple U.S. states and two Canadian province jurisdictions, and many county and local governments. Most of the states have joined the provinces in forming the Conference of Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Governors and Premiers to coordinate economic and environmental strategies throughout most of the region.


The five Great Lakes contain one-fifth of the world's surface fresh water and have a combined shoreline of 10,210 miles (17,017 km). About 200 million tons of cargo are shipped through the Great Lakes each year.

The Great Lakes Cruising Coalition supports passenger ship cruises through a joint U.S-Canadian venture to Great Lakes Ports and the Saint Lawrence Seaway.


The Great Lakes Megalopolis is home to many prestigious institutions of higher education. Two founding members of the Association of American Universities (AAU), the University of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois, and the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan, are located in the region. The University of Chicago and Northwestern University in the Chicago area are two high-ranking world universities. Other major universities include the University of Toronto in Toronto, Ontario; McGill University in Montreal, Quebec; McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario; Carnegie Mellon University and University of Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio; and the University of Notre Dame in Notre Dame, Indiana.

The region also contains large multi-campus state university systems such as the University of Illinois System, University of Minnesota System, University of Missouri System, University of Wisconsin System, the University System of Ohio, the State University of New York (SUNY) System, the Indiana University System, and the Purdue University System. It also comtains some universities in the Université du Québec system, such as UQAM in Montreal.

Major land and marine transportation corridors

Amtrak Wolverine crossing St. Joseph River
Amtrak Wolverine crossing St. Joseph River

The Great Lakes Megalopolis includes the following major inter-urban corridors that are provided with freeway and passenger rail service in both the core and fringe areas of the mega-region. Major waterways for shipping and cruising are also indicated where applicable. Amtrak in the United States and Via Rail in Canada offer rail passenger service, while most Class I freight rail services also connect these points. Major rail shipping services in both Canada and the United States is provided on tracks owned by Canadian National Railway and Canadian Pacific Railway.

Chicago-Minneapolis/St. Paul

This corridor occupies the northwestern fringe of the megalopolis. It occupies northern Illinois, southern Wisconsin, and parts of eastern Minnesota. Interstate 94 and Amtrak's Empire Builder train run roughly parallel from Chicago to Minneapolis/St. Paul by way of Milwaukee and Madison, Wisconsin.

Chicago-St. Louis

Interstate 55, Amtrak via the Lincoln Service, and the Illinois Waterway connect Chicago to St. Louis.


Interstate 65 extends from the Chicago area southeast to Indianapolis, where Interstate 74 travels through to Cincinnati. Amtrak runs regular service along this same route via the Cardinal.


Lake Shore Limited
Lake Shore Limited

Interstate 90 and Amtrak's Lake Shore Limited run approximately parallel through the core area of the megalopolis from Chicago to Cleveland via South Bend, Indiana, and Toledo, Ohio, then into the eastern fringe area comprising Buffalo and Rochester, New York. Amtrak's Capitol Limited provides a passenger rail link from Cleveland to Pittsburgh which is roughly paralleled by Interstate 76. The main water route deviates well to the north of the land route from Chicago to Detroit. It runs north along Lake Michigan, east through the Straits of Mackinac, then south along Lake Huron, the St. Clair River, and Lake St Clair to the Detroit River. From this point, the water route roughly parallels the land route to Rochester by way of Lake Erie, the Welland Canal, and Lake Ontario.


Interstate 94 takes a more northerly route than I-90 through the megalopolis core area east of Chicago. It extends from that city to the west end of the Windsor-Quebec City Corridor by way of Kalamazoo, Ann Arbor, Detroit, and Port Huron, Michigan/Sarnia, Ontario. This interstate freeway also parallels Amtrak's Wolverine and Blue Water. The main water route is the same as for the western part of the Chicago-Rochester water corridor from Lake Michigan to the Detroit River. Amtrak also serves this route with the Wolverine service, between Chicago and Pontiac via Ann Arbor and Detroit.

Windsor-Quebec City

The Windsor-Quebec City Corridor lies along the northeastern fringe of the Great Lakes megalopolis. The entire Canadian section of the broader megaregion is sometimes considered a separate megalopolis. Key freeways include Highway 401 and Highway 417 in Ontario which connect with Autoroute 20 and Autoroute 40 respectively in Quebec. Highway 416 and Autoroute 50 link the National Capital Region with Highway 401 and the Montreal area respectively, but the two freeways do not link directly with each other across the Ontario-Quebec border. Passenger rail service is provided in both provinces by the Via Rail Corridor Service. Intermediate points along the corridor include London, Kitchener, Hamilton, St. Catharines, Toronto, Kingston, Ottawa, and Montreal. The main water shipping route is the same as for the eastern part of the Chicago-Rochester corridor, starting at the Detroit River but continuing east beyond Lake Ontario along the St. Lawrence Seaway to Quebec City and the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

Secondary land or marine transportation corridors

Several corridors have interstate highways but no comprehensive passenger rail service. These highway routes pass through both core and fringe areas of the Great Lakes megalopolis. The upper Great lakes region has a marine corridor that connects Lakes Superior, Huron, and Michigan. However, this route does not include parallel Amtrak passenger rail or interstate highway service.

Kansas City-Pittsburgh

Interstate 70 follows the southern fringe of the megaregion. It runs from Kansas City to just south of Pittsburgh by way of St. Louis, Indianapolis, Dayton, Ohio, and Columbus, Ohio.

Detroit-Grand Rapids

Interstate 96 serves traffic between the Detroit and Grand Rapids metro areas. The route passes through Lansing on the way and extends to Muskegon to the northwest of Grand Rapids

Evansville-Indianapolis-Port Huron

Interstate 69 extends from Evansville to Martinsville, Indiana. From there, the route is temporarily an arterial highway, Indiana State Road 37, to the Interstate 465 ring road around Indianapolis. From there, I-69 resumes and continues to the west end of the Windsor-Quebec City Corridor, crossing the border into Canada and becoming Ontario Highway 402, which eventually leads to Highway 401. Intermediate points include Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Lansing, Flint, and Port Huron, Michigan/Sarnia, Ontario.


Interstate 75 runs from Saginaw, Michigan, to Cincinnati by way of Flint and Detroit in Michigan, and Toledo, Lima, and Dayton in Ohio.

Duluth-Lake Huron

The waterway connecting Duluth, Minnesota, and western Lake Superior to points east and south includes the Soo Locks connecting to Lake Huron, then south to Port Huron MI/Sarnia ON or through the Straits of Mackinac to the metropolitan areas around Lake Michigan.

Selected American and Canadian population centers

Largest cities (not metropolitan areas or census divisions) in the Great Lakes megalopolis with populations over 100,000
2020 rank City Region 2020 census 2010 census Change Land area 2020 population density
1 Toronto  Ontario 2,794,356 2,615,060 +6.86% 243.3 sq mi (630.1 km2) 11,468/sq mi (4,428/km2)
2 Chicago  Illinois 2,746,388 2,695,598 +1.88% 227.3 sq mi (588.7 km2) 12,059/sq mi (4,656/km2)
3 Montréal  Quebec 1,762,949 1,649,519 +6.88% 166.6 sq mi (431.5 km2) 12,505/sq mi (4,828/km2)
4 Ottawa  Ontario 1,017,449 883,391 +15.18% 1,077.3 sq mi (2,790.2 km2) 950/sq mi (370/km2)
5 Columbus  Ohio 905,748 787,033 +15.08% 226.3 sq mi (586.1 km2) 4,110/sq mi (1,590/km2)
6 Indianapolis  Indiana 887,642 820,445 +8.19% 361.6 sq mi (936.5 km2) 2,455/sq mi (948/km2)
7 Mississauga  Ontario 717,961 713,443 +0.63% 112.9 sq mi (292.4 km2) 6,391/sq mi (2,468/km2)
8 Brampton  Ontario 656,480 523,911 +25.30% 102.3 sq mi (265 km2) 6,390/sq mi (2,470/km2)
9 Detroit  Michigan 639,111 713,777 −10.46% 138.7 sq mi (359.2 km2) 4,067/sq mi (1,570/km2)
10 Louisville  Kentucky 633,045 597,337 +5.98% 325.0 sq mi (841.7 km2) 1,900/sq mi (730/km2)
11 Milwaukee  Wisconsin 577,222 594,833 −2.96% 96.2 sq mi (249.2 km2) 6,001/sq mi (2,317/km2)
12 Hamilton  Ontario 569,353 519,949 +9.50% 431.8 sq mi (1,118.4 km2) 1,319/sq mi (509/km2)
13 Quebec City  Quebec 549,459 516,622 +6.36% 175.1 sq mi (453.5 km2) 3,039/sq mi (1,173/km2)
14 Kansas City  Missouri 508,090 459,787 +10.51% 314.7 sq mi (815 km2) 1,614/sq mi (623/km2)
15 Laval  Quebec 438,366 401,553 +9.17% 95.5 sq mi (247.3 km2) 4,431/sq mi (1,711/km2)
16 Minneapolis  Minnesota 429,954 382,578 +12.38% 54 sq mi (140 km2) 7,692/sq mi (2,970/km2)
17 London  Ontario 422,324 366,151 +15.34% 162.4 sq mi (420.6 km2) 2,365/sq mi (913/km2)
18 Cleveland  Ohio 372,624 396,815 −6.10% 77.7 sq mi (201.2 km2) 4,794/sq mi (1,851/km2)
19 Markham  Ontario 338,503 301,709 +12.20% 81.4 sq mi (211 km2) 4,156/sq mi (1,605/km2)
20 Vaughan  Ontario 323,103 288,301 +12.07% 105.2 sq mi (272.5 km2) 3,071/sq mi (1,186/km2)
21 Saint Paul  Minnesota 311,527 285,068 +9.28% 52 sq mi (135 km2) 5,994/sq mi (2,314/km2)
22 Cincinnati  Ohio 309,317 296,493 +4.33% 77.9 sq mi (201.8 km2) 3,970/sq mi (1,530/km2)
23 Pittsburgh  Pennsylvania 302,971 305,704 −0.89% 55.4 sq mi (143.5 km2) 5,471/sq mi (2,112/km2)
24 St. Louis  Missouri 301,578 310,294 −2.81% 61.7 sq mi (160 km2) 4,886/sq mi (1,886/km2)
25 Gatineau  Quebec 291,041 265,349 +9.68% 132.4 sq mi (342.9 km2) 2,004/sq mi (774/km2)
26 Buffalo  New York 278,349 261,310 +6.52% 40.4 sq mi (104.6 km2) 6,893/sq mi (2,661/km2)
27 Toledo  Ohio 270,871 287,208 −5.69% 80.5 sq mi (208.5 km2) 3,365/sq mi (1,299/km2)
28 Madison  Wisconsin 269,840 233,309 +15.66% 79.6 sq mi (206 km2) 3,391/sq mi (1,309/km2)
29 Fort Wayne  Indiana 263,886 253,691 +4.02% 110.6 sq mi (286.5 km2) 2,400/sq mi (930/km2)
30 Kitchener  Ontario 256,885 219,153 +17.22% 52.8 sq mi (136.8 km2) 4,900/sq mi (1,900/km2)
31 Longueuil  Quebec 254,483 231,409 +9.97% 44.6 sq mi (115.5 km2) 5,185/sq mi (2,002/km2)
32 Windsor  Ontario 229,660 210,891 +8.90% 56.5 sq mi (146.3 km2) 4,065/sq mi (1,570/km2)
33 Oakville  Ontario 213,759 182,520 +17.12% 53.7 sq mi (139.1 km2) 3,985/sq mi (1,539/km2)
34 Rochester  New York 211,328 210,565 +0.36% 35.8 sq mi (92.7 km2) 5,909/sq mi (2,281/km2)
35 Richmond Hill  Ontario 202,022 185,541 +8.88% 38.9 sq mi (101 km2) 5,191/sq mi (2,004/km2)
36 Grand Rapids  Michigan 198,917 188,040 +5.78% 44.8 sq mi (116.0 km2) 4,442/sq mi (1,715/km2)
37 Overland Park  Kansas 197,238 173,372 +13.77% 75.2 sq mi (194.8 km2) 2,600/sq mi (1,000/km2)
38 Akron  Ohio 190,469 199,110 −4.34% 61.9 sq mi (160 km2) 3,075/sq mi (1,187/km2)
39 Burlington  Ontario 183,314 175,779 +4.29% 71.7 sq mi (185.7 km2) 2,452/sq mi (947/km2)
40 Aurora  Illinois 180,542 197,899 −8.77% 45 sq mi (116.5 km2) 4,015/sq mi (1,550/km2)
41 Oshawa  Ontario 175,383 149,607 +17.23% 56.3 sq mi (145.8 km2) 2,660/sq mi (1,030/km2)
42 Kansas City  Kansas 156,607 145,786 +7.42% 124.7 sq mi (323.0 km2) 1,200/sq mi (460/km2)
43 Joliet  Illinois 150,362 147,433 +1.99% 65.1 sq mi (168.6 km2) 2,310/sq mi (890/km2)
44 Lévis  Quebec 149,683 137,218 +9.08% 173.4 sq mi (449.1 km2) 827/sq mi (319/km2)
45 Naperville  Illinois 149,540 141,853 +5.42% 39.1 sq mi (101.3 km2) 3,824/sq mi (1,476/km2)
46 Rockford  Illinois 148,655 152,871 −2.76% 64.9 sq mi (168.1 km2) 2,290/sq mi (880/km2)
47 Guelph  Ontario 143,740 121,688 +18.12% 33.7 sq mi (87.3 km2) 4,258/sq mi (1,644/km2)
48 Olathe  Kansas 141,290 125,872 +12.25% 61.6 sq mi (159.5 km2) 2,300/sq mi (890/km2)
49 Warren  Michigan 139,387 134,056 +3.98% 34.4 sq mi (89.1 km2) 4,055/sq mi (1,566/km2)
50 Trois-Rivières  Quebec 139,163 129,886 +7.14% 111.7 sq mi (289.3 km2) 1,203/sq mi (464/km2)
51 Whitby  Ontario 138,501 122,022 +13.50% 56.6 sq mi (146.6 km2) 2,445/sq mi (944/km2)
52 Cambridge  Ontario 138,479 126,748 +9.26% 43.6 sq mi (112.9 km2) 3,174/sq mi (1,225/km2)
53 Dayton  Ohio 137,644 141,527 −2.74% 55.8 sq mi (144.5 km2) 2,466/sq mi (952/km2)
54 St. Catharines  Ontario 136,803 131,400 +4.11% 37.1 sq mi (96.1 km2) 3,587/sq mi (1,385/km2)
55 Sterling Heights  Michigan 134,386 129,699 +3.61% 36.5 sq mi (94.5 km2) 3,686/sq mi (1,423/km2)
56 Milton  Ontario 132,979 84,362 +57.63% 140.2 sq mi (363.1 km2) 948/sq mi (366/km2)
57 Kingston  Ontario 132,485 123,363 +7.39% 174.2 sq mi (451.2 km2) 736/sq mi (284/km2)
58 Ajax  Ontario 126,666 109,600 +15.57% 25.7 sq mi (66.6 km2) 4,233/sq mi (1,634/km2)
59 Ann Arbor  Michigan 123,851 113,934 +8.70% 28.2 sq mi (73.0 km2) 4,388/sq mi (1,694/km2)
60 Independence  Missouri 123,011 116,830 +5.29% 78 sq mi (202.0 km2) 1,578/sq mi (609/km2)
61 Waterloo  Ontario 121,436 98,780 +22.94% 24.7 sq mi (64.0 km2) 4,910/sq mi (1,900/km2)
62 Rochester  Minnesota 121,395 106,796 +13.67% 55.6 sq mi (144.0 km2) 2,184/sq mi (843/km2)
63 Evansville  Indiana 118,414 117,429 +0.84% 47.4 sq mi (122.8 km2) 2,477/sq mi (956/km2)
64 Elgin  Illinois 114,797 108,188 +6.11% 38 sq mi (98.4 km2) 3,019/sq mi (1,166/km2)
65 Springfield  Illinois 114,394 116,250 −1.60% 61.2 sq mi (158.5 km2) 1,870/sq mi (720/km2)
66 Peoria  Illinois 113,150 115,007 −1.61% 48 sq mi (124.3 km2) 2,359/sq mi (911/km2)
67 Lansing  Michigan 112,644 114,297 −1.45% 39.1 sq mi (101.3 km2) 2,878/sq mi (1,111/km2)
68 Dearborn  Michigan 109,976 98,153 +12.05% 24.3 sq mi (62.9 km2) 1,751/sq mi (676/km2)
69 Green Bay  Wisconsin 107,395 104,057 +3.21% 45.5 sq mi (117.8 km2) 2,299/sq mi (888/km2)
70 Brantford  Ontario 104,688 93,650 +11.79% 38.1 sq mi (98.7 km2) 2,748/sq mi (1,061/km2)
71 Chatham-Kent  Ontario 103,988 103,671 +0.31% 949 sq mi (2,458 km2) 107/sq mi (41/km2)
72 South Bend  Indiana 103,453 101,168 +2.26% 42 sq mi (108.8 km2) 2,465/sq mi (952/km2)
73 Davenport  Iowa 101,724 99,685 +2.05% 63.8 sq mi (165.2 km2) 1,595/sq mi (616/km2)
74 Lee's Summit  Missouri 101,108 91,364 +10.67% 63.9 sq mi (165.5 km2) 1,582/sq mi (611/km2)
75 Clinton Township  Michigan 100,513 96,796 +3.84% 281 sq mi (727.8 km2) 3,445/sq mi (1,330/km2)
  1. ^ The 2020 census population for Canadian cities uses their 2021 census population.
  2. ^ The 2010 census population for Canadian cities uses their 2011 census population.

See also


A. ^ a Various sources include Quebec City, Montreal and Ottawa in the Great Lakes Megalopolis, while excluding Minneapolis–Saint Paul, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Louisville, and Columbus. All these partial-consensus and non-consensus cities lie at the eastern, western, and southern fringes of the megalopolis.



  1. ^ "Census Data 2021". Retrieved 2022-08-24.
  2. ^ "What is the Great Lakes Megalopolis?". Retrieved 2024-03-23.
  3. ^ "Megaregions - America 2050". Archived from the original on 2018-08-09. Retrieved 29 April 2023.
  4. ^ Bell, Daniel; Stephen Richards Graubard (1997). Toward the year 2000: work in progress. MIT Press. p. 87. ISBN 0-262-52237-3.
  5. ^ a b Cities: Capital for the New Megalopolis.Time magazine, November 4, 1966. Retrieved on July 16, 2010.
  6. ^ Doxiadis, Constantinos. (1970) The Great Lakes Megalopolis. Doxiadis Assoc.
  7. ^ "MegaCensusReport.indd" (PDF).
  8. ^ "About Our Great Lakes -Great Lakes Basin Facts- NOAA Great Lakes Environmental Research Lab (GLERL)". Archived from the original on 2012-03-08. Retrieved 2012-04-19.
  9. ^ a b "Economy of the Great Lakes Region". 2012-04-13. Archived from the original on 2012-05-04. Retrieved 2012-04-19.
  10. ^ U.S Army Corps of Engineers (January 2009).Great Lakes Navigation System: Economic Strength to the Nation Archived 2011-07-18 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved on April 11, 2011.
  11. ^ America 2050: Megaregions: Great Lakes. Archived 2020-02-20 at the Wayback Machine Regional Plan Association.
  12. ^ "Home - Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Governors and Premiers".
  13. ^ Our lakes facts Archived 2012-03-08 at the Wayback Machine. NOAA. Retrieved July 25, 2011.
  14. ^ U.S Army Corps of Engineers (January 2009).Great Lakes Navigation System: Economic Strength to the Nation Archived 2011-07-18 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved on July 25, 2011.
  15. ^ Great Lakes Cruising Coalition Retrieved on July 25, 2011.
  16. ^ "Forecasting 2020 U.S. County and MSA Populations" (PDF). April 2016. Retrieved 27 May 2018.
  17. ^ "Academic Ranking of World Universities 2021". ShanghaiRanking Consultancy. Retrieved May 12, 2022.
  18. ^ "List of United States cities by population", Wikipedia, 2021-03-31, retrieved 2021-03-31
  19. ^ "List of the 100 largest municipalities in Canada by population", Wikipedia, 2021-02-05, retrieved 2021-03-31
  20. ^ Example: Great Lakes Megalopolis (PDF) (Map). The Center for Urban and Regional Studies, Youngstown State University. 2005. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2010-07-05.

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