What is a Citistate?

Citistate is the name Neal Peirce and Curtis Johnson coined in 1993 to describe how metropolitan regions have begun to operate in the late 20th century.

A citistate isn’t defined by political boundaries. Instead, it’s organic. A citistate is reality — a labor market, a commute-shed, a broadcast area, the circulation area of the lead newspaper. A citistate is what the economy does.

The world’s lead citistates are its greatest metropolises — New York, Tokyo, Paris, Hong Kong, Los Angeles and their global “command and control” competitors, spread from Chicago to Singapore. But every metro area that’s set apart geographically — a Houston, a Denver, a Burlington, Vermont or Boise, Idaho — qualifies as a citistate too.

Here’s a definition for the lexicographers — a nomination for 21st century dictionaries:

Citi•state — n. — A region consisting of one or more historic central cities surrounded by cities and towns which have a shared identification, function as a single zone for trade, commerce and communication, and are characterized by social, economic and environmental interdependence.

Hist. Similar to city states of antiquity (e.g. Athens, Rome, Carthage) or medieval times (e.g. the Hanseatic League), except that modern citistates engage in instant electronic communication and capital transfer, and are the chief recipients of world population growth.

Citistates would have made little sense under the old paradigm of American thinking — “ federal, state, local.”   But they emerge as the centerpiece of a new paradigm — “global, regional, and neighborhood.”   Citistates have become the focus of how our world is now organizing itself.

As economic actors, major U.S. citistates compete in size with major world nations. In gross product, the New York region ranks 13th among the world’s top economies, just ahead of Australia, Argentina and Russia. The Los Angeles citistate is bigger than Korea, Chicago greater than Taiwan or Switzerland, Washington ahead of Hong Kong, while Minneapolis-St. Paul exceeds Israel. And according to figures compiled by Standard & Poor’s DRI division for the US Conference of Mayors and National Association of Counties, the US’s 314 metro regions are clearly the economic drivers, providing 84 percent of new jobs, 95 percent of high-tech jobs, 88 percent of the country’s income.

Citistates’ importance was enlarged by the rapid flowering of the Internet and the digital revolution, together with the dramatic rise in global commerce. The challenge of the 21st century is to harness such forces, and civic will, for strategic regional planning. Because to compete in the emerging global economy, citistates have no choice: to prosper they must mobilize all their skills to protect their center cities, grow smarter, protect their air and water, achieve more social equity, and train their workforce to excel in an increasingly competitive world marketplace.