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 2: It's Detroit, Not Southeast Michigan

While traveling over the years, I have recognized that globally, people know the name Detroit, but not necessarily Michigan. Around the world, my experience has shown that Michigan has a very limited reputation. Internationally, individual states do not carry a huge awareness factor.  Surely, a few states are quite well known, like California, Florida, Texas and New York, for example, but ask a guy from Antwerp what he thinks of Tennessee and you’ll probably get a blank stare.  Now, Nashville on the other hand, will probably bring about some recognition.  In our increasingly global society, most individuals relate to city regions or Metros (the overall regional population that is statistically connected to the primary historical city) more than they do states, provinces or other zones.  People commonly pair the city with its country, for example, Tokyo, Japan; Paris, France; Johannesburg, South Africa or Toronto, Canada.   To the nation and the world, when referring to activities, businesses or events in our region, most outsiders will know us as Detroit, USA, not Michigan or Southeastern Michigan.  Additionally, they typically wouldn’t know of Troy, Trenton, Southfield, Livonia, Birmingham, St. Clair Shores, or Redford.  In the end, we all are Detroit, and as residents, business people we are deeply connected and rooted here.  Our strength is with unity and with our brand.  Therefore, we should embrace the region as “Detroit” and work to make it better – it is in our best interest.  I do not believe we should exchange the name Detroit with Southeastern Michigan any more than we should call Pittsburgh "Southwestern Pennsylvania", or Denver "Central Colorado".  We have our brand, it is internationally known, I suggest that we use it and work make it stronger.

I know that we have probably all heard this message before in one way or another, but I do think that it means more now than ever.  When answering questions about Detroit from my national peers, I had to begin with corrections.  Many of their comments were based on misinformation, most likely from articles that didn’t have the whole story or reports that may have presented one side or were incomplete.  Then, I would add the “rest of the story”, as Paul Harvey would say, completing the picture regarding issues about our business climate, urban farming, the auto industry, etc.  I found it important to clarify, but it also made for some intriguing dialogue.  Most importantly, what I found was that people are very interested in what Detroit is all about.  We are an intriguing place; unique things happen here and have for over a century.  Love or hate us, the world is taking note of who we are and what happens here.  Some would say that it is better to be discussed, for whatever reason, than forgotten.   This is a great opportunity for us, as professionals we are in a unique position to contribute during this transformative period, in molding the future of our region.

In these challenging times, we have an opportunity to step up our efforts to make the Detroit region a leader, not a follower, or worse, irrelevant. Within the city of Detroit we see strong, new leadership.  Mayor Bing, a renewed City Council, and the school board’s Robert Bobb are all challenging the status quo.  This is difficult and daring, but the right thing to do.  These changes are going to set the stage for a new, improved core city.  It is a lesson for the region and all of its individual communities.  We need to focus on re-examining and re-evaluating our status quo, and be willing to face opposition to create a healthier outcome.

We can go on and on about our troubles, but what about the assets?  Over the years, I have personally toured many seasoned travelers through Detroit and the region.   What I have found is that there is a consistent gap between Detroit reality and reputation.  When you start adding together all of what we have to offer it builds up quickly.   From our incredible architectural and planning heritage, natural elements, neighborhoods, to our educational and cultural attributes, it is actually easier to impress that we might think.  Even the size of the region is often misunderstood, where Metro Detroit (at over 5 million people) is bigger than greater Toronto and about the size of the entire country of Denmark.   I see these things as a solid foundation to build upon.  

As members of the Detroit community, we need to assist in leading this region to its next plateau.  I strongly suggest that we all focus on identifying the positives in our region and help to enhance them while creating more. Pessimism helps to set the stage for failure. A leader recognizes the realistic elements of a situation and proceeds with optimism.  We should all work as problem solvers in the communities where we live and work to move “Detroit”, as a whole, forward.  If we work as a unit, while being innovative and efficient, we will have a bright future.