As a major part of this inquiry into suburban land conversion, three Standard Metropolitan Statistical Areas were studied in some detail. Findings are summarized in this chapter and the next.
The three SMSAs studied were Washington, D.C.; Wilmington, Delaware; and Springfield, Massachusetts. The fact that Washington is the national capital gives it special economic characteristics. It is the fourth largest SMSA in the Northeastern Urban Complex -- bigger than Baltimore, but smaller than Boston and, of course, much smaller than Philadelphia and New York. It is also the most southerly SMSA in the Complex. Since World War II the Washington SMSA has had the fastest growth rate among the major SMSAs of the Complex.
Wilmington is about an average-size SMSA, whose rate of growth in the past two decades has been rather rapid. It is the headquarters of some of the largest American industrial firms; some of their manufacturing plants are in its metropolitan area but outside the central city.
Springfield is a relatively old city. Its SMSA was slightly larger than the Wilmington SMSA in 1960, but its growth rate has been low in recent decades.
Each of these SMSAs has climate, topography, and soils common to the whole Northeastern Urban Complex as described in Chapter 10, although there are variations which locally are highly important. Washington was located at the head of navigation on the Potomac River, but the river is more important today as a source of water than as a means of transportation. Wilmington is located on the Delaware River, where transportation was once highly important and is moderately so today. Springfield is on the Connecticut River far above significant water transportation, but water power from the river was important in its early industrial development. All have air, rail, and highway transportation services of varying quality today.
Washington draws official visitors and tourists from over the nation and from other parts of the world, but it makes and exports few goods. The other two SMSAs produce goods of various kinds which are shipped to other urban areas in and outside of the Complex. While each of these SMSAs is physically distinct from others, each is closely interrelated with many other urban areas in economy and culture.