Monday, October 14, 2013

Rise of the city-states of America

Suppose that the government of the United States, pulled apart by chaos and discord, finally collapses under its own weight. What sort of geographical divisions in government might rise out of the rubble? As population and power increasingly shifts to cities, one possibility is the emergence of many city-states. This post discusses some ways this might look.

To make these maps, we'll say that each city projects power (population, wealth, etc) over distance, and that power decays according to some equation as it gets farther away. As a first stab, let's just say that power decays according to 1/distance. Here's how that looks: 

Large cities seem to do pretty well here, particularly sparely populated areas (graph). In many cases, we see big cities like Los Angeles (yellow) and New York (pink) completely overpowering smaller towns. In this particular model for the future, they've probably fallen under the control of one of these hegemons, paying tribute in exchange for safety.

Suppose, however, that power is more difficult to project in the future. Perhaps transportation networks have shut down, or social communities have become more clannish. Now, power is projected according to: P = population/d^t

...where d=distance and t is an exponent that increases as power becomes more difficult to project.

The land under the rule of large cities quickly deteriorates as small and medium-sized cities. Then, as t get very high, some of the medium-sized cities begin losing land at their periphery. Watch Denver (purple) as it expands until t=4.5, then begins to lose lands to cities like Boise and Spokane. 
At t=6, the dominant cities are those in sparsely populated areas, while cities in dense-populated urban conglomerates (NC Piedmont, NYC, San Francisco Bay) continue to do badly. Look at the fragmentation of the Northeast:

At our final state where t=6, the eastern half of the US is split into similarly-size chunks of land, while city-states like Denver and Sale Lake rule over vast stretches of emptiness. Living in this version of the future would be wholly different from what we know - traveling would require constant crossing of borders, and power struggles between many nations who are roughly at parity could get ugly.

...Here's to an interesting future.

To see  how your city fares under each equation, check here:

To anyone interested in playing around with these scripts, they're available here:


  1. Interesting speculation.
    There are two shortcomings: Mexico and Canada.
    Either of these nations could annex territory in a variety of ways.
    As a neighbor of Ontario, Canada, I could easily see Canada taking control
    of the entire Great Lakes Region; their government could be more stable and
    resilient than ours. I would be happy to become a Canadian under these circumstances
    as well as the current ones...

  2. There's also the possibility that while the federal gov't breaks down, some states could survive. That would have the effect of conglomerating some of these areas together into a central authority.

  3. This is neat. How did you make the maps?