Geographers use regions as a neat system of categorization, a way of organizing a complex set of facts about places into a more compact, meaningful set of information. As with any categorization, the regions are satisfactory if they identify understandable patterns in the facts and if they help clarify the complex patterns.
To geographers, a region can be either nodal or uniform, single featured or multifeatured. A nodal region is characterized by a set of places connected to another place by lines of communication or movement. The places in the set are associated with each other because they share a common focus, even though each place may be quite different from the others.
In comparison, a uniform region is a territory with one or more features present throughout and absent or unimportant elsewhere. A uniform region may represent some characterization of the total environment of an area, including both its physical and cultural features. It is this type of region that we use for the general structure of this book.
Our perception of the nature of a region, of the things that together shape its personality, is based on a relatively small group of criteria. In each major section of the United States, we have tried to identify the one or two underlying themes that reflect ways in which the population has interacted (within itself or with the physical environment) to create a distinctive region. The most important identifying themes for a region may vary greatly from one region to another. It is impossible to speak of the American Southwest without a focus on aridity and water erosion, of the North without its cold winters, or of the Northeast without cities and manufacturing. The key element that establishes a total uniform region, then, is not how that section compares with others on a predetermined set of variables, but how a certain set of conditions blend there.
This scheme has resulted in our division of the United States into 14 regions (Map 1: 35K), each of which is discussed in its own chapter. These are: Megalopolis, the American Manufacturing Core, the Bypassed East, Appalachia and the Ozarks, the Deep South, the Southern Coastlands, the Agricultural Core, the Great Plains and Prairies, the Empty Interior, the Southwest Border Area, California, the North Pacific Coast, the Northlands, and Hawaii.
Within this book, regions have been presented largely as though they are distinct territorially, even though they are not. The "feeling" of a region we wish to present is a function of place, but it is also a function of the subject theme chosen. Therefore, for example, the intense urban character of Megalopolis is discussed in chapter 4, but the aspects of manufacturing that affect New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and other manufacturing core cites that comprise Megalopolis are presented in chapter 5. There are two important aspects of regional feeling in the region usually called "the Midwest"--the urban-industrial and the rural-agricultural. Both are important enough for us to treat each separately in some detail.
Rigid regional boundaries do not fit the landscape of the United States. A given portion of the country may be occupied by parts of two or more regions, but the boundaries of many regions may also be fairly broad transitional zones that contain many of a region's characteristics. At times, these zones mark an area where the mix of characteristics is so subtle or complex that it is difficult to assign the area to any one region. Parts of the margin between the Agricultural Core and the Great Plains are examples of this, as are sections of the transition between the Agricultural Core and the Deep South.
Regional boundaries and regions themselves are not static. Settlement patterns shift, society develops significant new technological abilities, and political patterns are altered; regions reflecting these patterns may expand, contract, appear, or disappear. A regionalization of the United States for the year of its discovery, 1492, would have been quite different from one for 1776, 1865, or 1991. There is no reason to believe that the pattern for 2100 will be similar to that for 2000.
An examination of the regions that we have created for this text indicates a subdivision that should be generally recognizable, although some regions may represent combinations that are normally not expected. For example, consider the Bypassed East, a combination of the Adirondacks of New York and the northeastern portion of the United States known as New England. Most casual observers firmly lump all of New England into one region, reflecting the long-term identification of the states of New England as a separate region with strong cultural cohesion. But there have been great changes in southern New England in recent decades because of heavy immigration and urbanization.
Several of the regions closely follow political boundaries. The reason for this in Hawaii is obvious. California is separated from most of its adjacent landscape because of its leadership role in changing the culture of America and its statewide political "solutions" to its local resource problems. Megalopolis has been defined traditionally along county lines.
Source: U.S. Department of State