Commentary: Combine the Akron, Canton and Cleveland metropolitan statistical areas

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Growing up in the 1950s and early '60s, I identified myself as a native of the Akron-Canton area. AM radio stations reinforced that identity. Our high schools competed against each other in sports. It was our region.

I've even encountered fellow Akron-Canton natives on the other side of the world.

According to the 1950 U.S. Census, Akron was larger in population than Miami. That was before air conditioning made Florida more livable.

Bigger yet, Cleveland was the seventh-largest city in the country. Akron and Canton were connected to Cleveland via "local" television programing. The Indians and the Browns were our teams.

Nowadays, American population centers are recognized as Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA). The Akron MSA, consisting of Summit and Portage counties, ranks 83rd nationally in population, behind such un-notable places as Oxnard-Thousand-Oaks-Ventura, California. The Canton-Massillon MSA, consisting of Stark and Carroll counties, ranks 137th, behind Salisbury, Maryland-Delaware.

We’ve lost our former national stature. There’s been some recent discussion about combining the Akron and Canton MSAs. That would be a good start, but it’s not good enough.

Even the Cleveland MSA, consisting of Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Lorain and Medina counties, ranks a lowly 34th, behind No. 33 Indianapolis, No. 32 Columbus, No. 30 Cincinnati and No. 27 Pittsburgh.

That’s not right. There’s neither rhyme nor reason to the delineations of MSAs.

Take Indianapolis. Its MSA encompasses 6,029 square miles with a 2020 population of about 2.1 million, which equates to a density of 350 persons per square mile. The Canton MSA includes just 980 square miles and a population of over 401,000 for a higher density of 413 persons per square mile.

The Columbus MSA, which includes 10 central Ohio counties, covers 3,169 square miles and a population of 2.14 million, a density of 675 persons per square mile. The Akron MSA includes a much smaller area of 923 square miles with a population of over 702,000, a higher density of 762 persons per square mile.

The Cleveland MSA covers 2,046 square miles, which is less than a quarter the size of No. 31 Kansas City or No. 21 St. Louis. Why would those two Missouri cities be entitled to larger MSA populations and higher profiles than Cleveland?

The Pittsburgh MSA, which includes part of West Virginia and even breaches the Ohio line, covers well over double the land area of the Cleveland MSA. There is no rational reason why our Pennsylvania neighbor ranks higher on the list. Its density of 449 persons per square mile is less than half of Cleveland’s 1,005 persons per square mile.

No. 26 Sacramento, California, covers 21,429 square miles, which is more than five times as large as the Cleveland, Akron and Canton MSAs combined. The population of a Cleveland-Akron-Canton MSA would be nearly 3.2 million with a density of 808 persons per square mile. That’s about 400,000 larger in population and more than seven times the Sacramento density.

If there was one big Cleveland-Akron-Canton MSA, instead of three smaller ones, its population and ranking would jump from 34th in the country to 17th. With a total area of 3,949 square miles, this Northeast Ohio region still would be more compact than three-quarters of the 16 MSAs that it would surpass in population.

Prior to the recent decennial U.S. census, there was an effort by the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency to work with Greater Cleveland’s Akron and Canton counterparts toward regaining the region’s just desserts.

Reportedly, there was resistance from Akron Mayor Daniel Horrigan, who somehow believes his No. 83 MSA would be eroded in national stature and identity by being part of a No. 17 Cleveland-Akron-Canton MSA.

Most people in No. 136 Peoria, Illinois, surely know that the Pro Football Hall of Fame is in Canton and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is in Cleveland. But does anybody in No. 118 Killeen-Winter Haven, Texas, know where the National Inventors Hall of Fame is?

Dave Lange, who lives in Carroll County, was a newspaper editor for 40 years and has a master's degree in political science at the University of Akron.

This article originally appeared on The Repository: Commentary: Combine the Akron, Canton and Cleveland MSAs

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