Blog: Mark Nickita

Mark Nickita is the cofounder of the award-winning multi-disciplinary design firm Archive Design Studio. A resident of Birmingham, Mark was selected by Crain's Detroit as one of its 40 under 40 business leaders, is the winner of several architectural & urban design awards and sits on the Birmingham Planning Board. Mark will be writing about Metro Detroit's need for livable, workable, and walkable urban neighborhoods.

Post No. 3

As the world becomes smaller, or flatter as some would say, the identification of our place within it becomes increasingly important. The global economy allows us
all to interact in ways that we may not have dreamed in recent years. To participate in this changing circle of activity, whether financially, technologically, creatively or with entertainment, we need to speak the terms of global business leaders. I am not referring to English or German or Spanish as a common language but to a more universal concept  - identification by place or location.

The global economy interacts from city to city, and that is how the world's players see each other.  In the eyes of the world’s business movers and shakers, a person is from Hong Kong, from London, from New York, from Buenos Aires. Increasingly people are integrated with the city they are from and this connection is the way we are perceived in the global environment.

When there is discussion about activities in other parts of the world, you hear the name of the city and the country. For example, Tokyo, Japan - Paris, France
– Madrid, Spain – Shanghai, China - Toronto, Canada – Cairo, Egypt. You hear very little about the region, province or state that they are in; most people
wouldn’t be able to name a city’s region. To adhere to global terminology standards, American cities should  also be identified with city and country ie; Boston, USA, San Francisco, USA and Detroit, USA - no need for the State identification.  

Why is it that Americans commonly inject the State into the discussion, often dropping the city name altogether and using only the name of the State? This is contrary to global standards. You often hear  an American say, "I’m from Michigan," but when communicating internationally, that doesn’t typically help someone in Jakarta or Kiev. However, the chances are that they probably know the name Detroit and one of its identifiable characteristics like the automotive
industry, Motown, Cranbrook Academy, the Henry Ford Museum, The Tigers or even the Detroit Symphony Orchestra.

Having traveled abroad extensively in recent years, I find that many people of the world don’t know much about our individual States – other than California, Florida and maybe Texas – they identify with our cities. I always use Detroit as an identifier and I have yet to get a question about where it is – people know Detroit. However, Michigan to most of the world is a more abstract place, they may have heard of it but do not know where it is or what its known for, other than cars, which is really Detroit’s identity.

We need to accept the global reality; Detroit is the face of Michigan, our calling card. As I sat in Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport a few weeks ago, I overheard flight calls to Berlin, Lagos, Athens, Beijing and Detroit – but not one for Florida, Massachusetts or Minnesota.

Its all about Cities

The global economy doesn’t see Michigan –it sees Detroit; it doesn’t think Illinois – it thinks Chicago; it doesn’t know Georgia – it’s Atlanta. Typically, the titles of our cities mostly refer to the region where the major city is the physical and
historic center. As we all know, the term Detroit is used to refer to the overall region, which includes approximately five million people. That includes Livonia, Mt. Clemens, Pontiac, Plymouth and so on – it’s all "Detroit."  

The population of Metro Detroit is 55 percent of the State’s total – over 1 of every 2 people in Michigan call Detroit home. Trends indicate that urban regions are strengthening in importance and are even finding ways of becoming more
integrated. For example, the Megaregion of Bowash (a compilation of the American Northeast – Boston, Providence, New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington D.C) is getting to be more of a single integrated urban conglomeration. People live, work and play in numerous cities as if they are one. Many office workers in Manhattan live in Philadelphia, Providence residents spend the evening in Boston for dinner and a show and so on.

Megaregions are the next new branded economic zones, and they are starting to materialize across North America as the U.S. population rises. Developing Megaregions include the Southeast, the Southwest, the Northeast, Southern California, Northern California and the Great Lakes which indicates that Detroit will be a part of an urban grouping that runs from Toronto to Milwaukee including London, Detroit, Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids and Chicago. Again, the urban zone is at the heart of the discussion, not the State. This is mainly due to the fact that economic generation and the population base is primarily in urban areas.

Population and Economic Generators

Washington-based Brookings Institute recently put together an initiative called the "Blueprint for American Prosperity"
 which highlights the issue that cities are more important to our country’s success and health than most American’s think. The strategy identifies that although the States are important, the top 100 metropolitan regions make up most of the economic strength of the United States.  

The findings indicate that the top 100 urban regions are where 65 percent of
the country’s population resides. Additionally, within these regions, almost three quarters of the Gross Domestic Product is created and it is also home
to nearly 80 percent of America’s well established "knowledge jobs."  

Brookings indicates that our economy is all about these 100 regions – our urban
centers. In Michigan’s two largest metropolitan regions, Detroit and Grand Rapids, nearly 70 percent of the State’s population resides. If 3 out of 4 people in Michigan live in either Metro Detroit or Grand Rapids and most of our economy is based there as well, shouldn’t these two regions receive three quarters of the financial resources from Washington D.C. and Lansing?

Accept the Identity of the City

To allow the United States to grow economically and within the world economy, we need to nourish our economic generators and the places where the majority
of people live and work. The States and the Federal Government of America should seek ways to embrace and enhance America’s urban regions and acknowledge them as our most important asset.

The sooner we see and accept the significance of the City as an identifier, the more suited we will be to compete in the national and international market. As
most businesses understand the need to brand themselves in order to compete with businesses at every level and location, primary cities of the world will need to do the same to find their place and prosper over time.  

State of Michigan leaders should embrace and focus on their primary urban regions and allot resources to make them stronger. When the State loses focus by distributing too many resources in too many directions, the critical mass is difficult to establish and the efforts usually falls short. Michigan will win if Detroit succeeds, but without a strong Detroit, the State will never find true prosperity.