Thursday, February 6, 2014

Introduction to The Nine Nations of North America

The Nine Nations of North America, by Joel Garreau, has become a classic text on the
current regionalization of North America. While his lack of academic rigor has been criticized, Garreau never establishes himself as a scholar, he is a journalist and an observer. He traveled and wrote about the differences he saw in various parts of the United States and Canada. He found nine basic cultural zones. In looking for an example of what the various sets of national geography teaching standards want one to walk away with, this book serves as a good model of what should be in a student or other’s mind.
  • Quebec: The French cultural dominance of Quebec makes it an area to itself. The language issue is widely recognized, but French culture runs much deeper than language. The attitudes, ethnicity, political outlooks, and other cultural factors separate this area from the rest of North America. The focus of the area is on Montreal, making it a nodal region, too.
  • New England: The Canadian Maritimes and the traditional New England of the United States are seen as one region by Garreau. He saw an area with strong elements of decline seeking self-sufficiency and new industry (computers). Recreation and tourism are growing. The wood stove is seen as a very important focal point. The wood stove, popular in this area, recognizes that this area was hit hard by energy cost rises in the 1970s. The stove was the method to save money and combat another region.
  • The Foundry: This is the manufacturing belt of Canada and the United States. It is the place of cities in trouble and declining industries. The industrial might of both countries was made here, but the toll of time and competition has left this area lagging. Resource depletion plays a role in this. Newer and cheaper resources are in locations that do not favor this area as was once true. This area is also heavily populated and faces tensions over that.
  • Dixie: This region is defined by grits and the traditional South of the Civil War. While poverty areas still are large and widespread, Garreau saw "change" as the keyword here. The New South was turning cheap labor into a selling point for companies trying to stay in America. The rise of Atlanta as a major city is a part of this effort.
  • The Islands: The Islands are tied together by their focus on Miami as a shopping and cultural hub. As people from Eastern North Dakota might go to Fargo to shop, or Minnesotans to Minneapolis, wealthier people (and beyond) in the islands go to Miami. The drug business is certainly another sign of what this area is involved in. Of course, the population of Miami has had a large influx of Cuban people since Castro's Revolution.
  • The Breadbasket: This region feeds the nation. It is an emptier place than The Foundry, with lower population densities, as one would expect in a farm area. It also faces declining population and the loss of small towns.
  • MexAmerica: This region's culture mixes Anglo with Mexican. It is difficult to ignore the population characteristics and their impact on food, broadcasting, music, etc.
  • Ecotopia: New industry (aircraft, computers, etc) dominate the look at this region. Ecotopia takes its name from the ecological orientation of people who live here. The crazy culture of California, as those east see it, is a part of this.
  • The Empty Quarter: This region is seen as empty because comparatively it is. Some areas have little population because of mountains or cold environments. It is a resource provider to the nation, and suffers from a sense of damage because of the exploitive nature of those resource taking activities.
In conclusion, it should be noted that the regionalization of places is a process many engage in. The regions that result reflect the variety of characteristics selected by people. Garreau looked out at what he saw and categorized it.
Book by and map from Joel Garreau, 1981, The Nine Nations of North America, New York: Avon.