Mapping America's Financial Nations

The biannual listing of the Global Financial Centers Index was recently released and the headline-worthy news from it was that New York City has overtaken London as the global financial hub, if only by two points.  Of greatest interest to me, however, are the numbers lower down on the list - New York and London will always be the first and second so the order of their seats at the top of the list are fairly insignificant to an evaluation of the meaningfulness of this ranking.  While Boston fell one spot to eighth and was overtaken by Seoul (which jumped three spots) it remains the second largest financial center in the country, with San Francisco being the only other American city in the Top 10 globally.  

I see regionalism as an extended version of urbanism: both disciplines being about understanding the identity and dynamics of a space, just at different scales.  My thinking on this has been largely informed by Joel Garreau's 1981 book "The Nine Nations of North America" and more recently by Colin Woodard's "American Nations".  Both books seek to explore ideas for how North America should and is already divided into nine or eleven distinct nations, respectively, largely along the lines of the regions we already understand to exist.  Their approaches are quite different, but what they are essentially attempting to explain is an understanding of how the disparate parts of the US actually function.

Joel Garreau's nine North American nations (left) verses Colin Woodard's eleven (right).  Their approaches vary on a spectrum from observational anthropology to ethnocultural historic analysis.  

Looking at regionalism and the idea of New England's nationhood through the lens of financial ranking may not seem to have much significance, but these sorts of statistics really can have an impact on the idea of a place, and engage in complex cause-and-effect dynamics.  A simple example: saying Boston is the second largest financial center in the US is likely to encourage further financial activity and investment, thereby bolstering and affirming its ranking.  

The Federal Reserve Bank has divided the US into not nine or eleven, but rather twelve distinct districts (Hunger Games, anyone?)  Boston is home to the Federal Reserve Bank for the First District, which is coterminous with New England and is the only district to be so neatly defined along the boundaries of a spatially and legislatively formalized region of the US.  In fact, 11 states are divided amongst two of the other districts signifying that the Fed is keenly aware of the arbitrary nature of most state boundaries and understands that it is crucial to see the US along more meaningful dividing lines.  Indeed, Missouri is the only state to host two main Fed banks (in Kansas City and St. Louis) as its eastern half is in the Eighth District and its western half in the Tenth.

The Federal Reserve Bank's 12 districts.  Black squares represent each district's main office in (1) Boston, (2) New York City, (3) Philadelphia, (4) Cleveland, (5) Richmond, (6) Atlanta, (7) Chicago, (8) St. Louis, (9) Minneapolis, (10) Kansas city, (11) Dallas, and (12) San Francisco. The red dots represent smaller branch offices, and the headquarters of the Fed in DC (which is not part of any district) is represented by the star in a black circle. 

In the small districts of the Northeast, every major city of the Bos-Wash megalopolis (Boston, New York, Philadelphia, the District of Columbia [and Richmond if we wish to extend it that far]) is the home city for the main branch of the Fed.  As opposed to the western districts where the distances between main offices are vast, the Fed recognizes that the densely populated northeast has many regions (or nations) and therefore has provided each district with a main office in distinct capital cities in which to do business.  

Boston's Federal Reserve Bank Tower designed by Hugh Stubbins in 1969 is the tallest Fed building and sometimes referred to as the world's largest washboard.  

That Boston is understood by the Fed to be the seat of a distinct financial region, and is the US's second largest financial center, despite being the closest on the list to New York and having a drastically smaller population, suggests that New England as a region, district, and nation is uniquely solidified and bears a strong independence from the rest of the nation.  This certainly is not news to most New Englanders, but the degree to which Boston and New England can hold their own from a global financial standpoint is an important part of understanding the future role the region will play on the national and international stage.