New metropolitan geography database available

With all the recent interest in metropolitan regions as a unit of economic competitiveness (most prominently in the White House’s Regional Clusters of Innovation Initiative, but also its intellectual antecedents at the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program and the Science Progress project of the Center for American Progress), some readers might find interesting a database on metropolitan geographies that I have built from U.S. Census data. I am making it available free of charge here.

The database includes no demographic variables: it is purely a way to gain familiarity with how Census classifies the U.S. geography into metropolitan and non-metropolitan regions. I built it because I realized I would need something like it in order to refresh my tbed program database (a project I will take on later this year), and I could find no sufficiently comprehensive and easy-to-use tool on the Census website. This is basically a sandbox of taxonomies to play in, to gain some quick insight into the way metropolitan regions are put together in the U.S.

Mixing and matching what was available at Census, and using the magic of “joins” in the mysql database language, I created two key tables, one listing each Census place (there are more than 26,000) and the other each U.S. county (more than 3,200). In each case, you will find the Core Based Statistical Area (CBSA) they belong to, if any. (Some places and counties are non-urban and therefore not part of any CBSA). Census glossaries are often out of date because the classification system changes periodically, but a decent one is here.

The table of places also indicates whether that CBSA is metropolitan (built around a principal city with population >50,000) or micropolitan (between 10,000 and 50,000) and whether it belongs to a larger unit like a Metropolitan Division or Consolidated Statistical Area (CSA). There are also some miscellaneous lookup tables that you can search in order to find rapidly the Census codes for each of these geographies or vice versa.

In fact, the search function is more interesting than the tables themselves. If you were so inclined, to take just one narrow example, you could search the table of places to find every Census place that’s a principal city in all micropolitan areas in the State of Arkansas. The search engine is actually quite powerful and may yield insights to questions you have never before thought to ask.

If you have comments or corrections, or would like to retain me to do some extension of this work, you can send me email through the contact page.


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