The Division of Districts and People

After watching the latest Hunger Games movie, Catching Fire, one of the many things I began wondering was  “How did 12 Districts come to be?” For those who aren’t familiar with the Hunger Games Trilogy (don’t worry, I haven’t read any of the books), the nation of Panem is a dystopian North America divided into 12 Districts, corresponding to area and commodity produced. District 12, located most likely in the Appalachian region (my guess), focuses on coal mining, other districts harvest lumber, raise livestock, grow crops, engineer electronics, or design jewelry/textiles. My guess is that aside from political turmoil, the Districts were mainly divided based on natural resource. In a dystopian world where efficiency is highly stressed, it would make sense simply to focus all industry on the one resource most abundant in the region. This got me thinking, what other ways could one divide North American, or any other land mass for that matter?

I should first state that I am no history expert and have never taken a political science course, so my knowledge of how the actual state divisions of the United States came to be is minimal. I can only guess that since we have both squiggly lines and unnatural straight lines dividing our fifty states, that the states were divided by a combination of natural landmarks (mountain ranges and rivers) and political disputes (that straight line between the U.S. and Canada sure looks suspicious). The age of imperialism is over (at least, I’m pretty sure it is), so we won’t be seeing any redivisions of political powers, but I wonder if given the chance to do it all over again, would there be a better way to divide the world? I say “better” in the most subjective sense, as the world we have now is a product of hundreds, if not thousands of years of history, and has been studied intently by historians. I am merely a curious citizen of the world wishing to spend a little of his mental energy on a completely hypothetical situation.

The Washington Post posted an article which re-divided North America into 11 nation-states. Colin Woodard, the architect of the reimagined States, based his borders on cultural and political beliefs as well as historical events and dialects. His nations bear names such as The Midlands, Greater Appalachia, and the incredibly original, “The Left Coast.” Because the divisions were based partly on the founding cultures, you find “New France” including present day Quebec, Eastern Canada…and southern Louisiana (home to Baton Rouge and New Orleans). To include a personal anecdote, I was somewhat surprised to find that even though I had moved from my hometown of Madison, Wisconsin to study in Ithaca, New York, under Woodard’s North America, I was still solidly in Yankeedom.

Source: FastCo

John Lavey based his version of the United States on watersheds. Our current state boundaries are quite inefficient in the division of natural resources, and water is certainly no exception. Some southern states have been in conflict over watersheds as water scarcity grows. Lavey’s U.S. seeks to avoid resource-centered conflict by dividing the fifty states based on where the state’s water comes from. This way, states can focus on their own watersheds without worrying that their water supply is being polluted from nearby states, or if their hard-earned treated water is serving other states instead of its own citizens. Interestingly, such a map was proposed during the early years of the nation, but was quickly shot down by the rail road lobby, probably because building winding railroads was far more expensive than straight ones. Still, it seems that dividing political boundaries based on natural resources would seem like a reasonable thing to do.

Similarily, Biohabitats, an ecological restoration and regenerative design firm, structures their administrative network based on “bioregions” – areas of similar ecological attributes. In this way, they can better distribute their employees to fully recognize the importance of interweaving processes and communities.

While we aren’t going to see any redistributed political boundaries anytime soon in the well-established nations, regions of conflict such as the middle east or parts of Africa constantly struggle with these issues. There are always cultures who seek land to call their own in order to seek legitimacy by other nations. Unfortunately, such conflicts are solidly based on historical events, and are not fought with the future in mind. Perhaps dividing states based on things such as environmental resources would be wiser. To a certain effect, boundaries based on cultures also considers the importance of sustainability (as cultures who have existed in these regions have no doubt discovered resources nearby). Then again, if every distinct culture had their own nation-state, the United Nations would be looking at a lot of membership applications.

One thing to keep in mind is that although the area you grew up influences who you are, it does not define you wholly, and it does not determine where you will be for the rest of your life. The moment your life is determined solely by where you were born and who your parents were is the moment our society regressed back into medieval times. Then again, such a structure exists now in many parts of the world. The division of states should not mean the division of people.

(Note: if you are looking for something to watch, you should definitely check out the Battlestar Galactica Episode, “Dirty Hands,” which deals a lot with inherent class divisions in a society wracked with conflict. Also, if you have any other examples of re-imagined boundaries, I would love to see them.)

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