The Great Lakes Megaregion and Sterling Heights
I’m fascinated by maps and statistics, and today I somehow found myself on a tangent concerning the relative size of population centers and local economies. Sterling Heights, and the Detroit metropolitan area in general, turn out to be in an important place for more reasons than just the simple fact that you and I live here or that the automotive industry centers here.
What is the Great Lakes Megaregion?
I have long known about the northeastern megaregion, that area along the eastern seaboard with tens of millions of people, where interstate travel is intra-urban travel: you never really “leave town”. It’s one, big, giant city that has been subdivided along traditional political boundaries that belie the way they are inextricably linked to one another.
What I wasn’t aware of (and it’s not a new idea) is that there are 10 other similar megaregions (a.k.a. megalopolises) elsewhere in the country.
Wikipedia defines a megaregion as follows:
A megaregion is a large network of metropolitan regions that share several or all of the following:
- Environmental systems and topography
- Infrastructure systems
- Economic linkages
- Settlement and land use patterns
- Culture and history
It turns out that there is a vast, emerging megaregion that we all call home: the Great Lakes Megaregion. Its population, already at 54 million, will be 63 million by 2025. Detroit is at its geographical center, and it includes Chicago, Milwaukee, Toledo, Cleveland, Toronto, Indianapolis, Columbus, etc. It is the largest such region in the country, bigger in terms of population and land area than the northeast, and second only in terms of GDP.
I think that my surprise at discovering the true statistical nature of the place we call home stems from the fact that we’ve spent so much time being told by the mainstream media that we’re unimportant “flyover country.” Quite to the contrary, where we are and the conditions we live in are extremely important to the nation at large. We represent the largest statistical region in terms of land mass and population, and the second largest economy.
Moreover, we in Sterling Heights are, statistically, culturally, and geographically one and the same as the rest of the region.
This brings into sharp focus the significant disconnect between Detroit and the rest of the nation, and the scope of the problems we face here and their relative importance. Right at the core of the single biggest, most populous region in the United States, we have a city that exists in third world conditions. This is unacceptable, and we should not allow it to continue to be ignored.
Why? Because we’re in this together.
Why is this important to us in Sterling Heights?
It is my observation that much in Sterling Heights politics is driven by the desire to not allow the urban decay of the City of Detroit to reach our borders.
I have often heard it said in council meetings, “we don’t want to become another Detroit.”
Yet, we are the City of Detroit. Statistically, geographically, culturally, and infra-structurally one and the same. I know that when I’m visiting other parts of the country and people ask me where I’m from, I say “Detroit”, because nobody knows anything about Sterling Heights. The distinction only matters to people who live around here, and really, it should hardly matter at all. Once again, the traditional political boundaries belie the way that we are inextricably linked to one another.
The grouping of all of these towns together across the several states in the region is by no accident. As a region, we have similar interests, a similar culture, and similar connectivity to every other point in the region.
In my estimation, as residents of Sterling Heights, we have the right to demand from our governor and president that something be done to correct what is going on in Detroit, so it cannot happen in Sterling Heights, because for all practical intents and purposes, what happens there is already happening to us.
And as the third largest city in the state that anchors the region, it is incumbent upon us as residents to pay careful attention to what is going on in local politics. It has a direct impact on our success as a city, certainly. But it also has an indirect impact on our overall success as a region as well.
If you are content to remain interested only that Sterling Heights does not become “like Detroit”, well I have news for you: the real issue should be in helping Detroit to become “like Sterling Heights.”
It speaks volumes that city council meetings are sometimes only sparsely attended and that our city council allows one of their number to routinely insult the integrity of our city’s businesses. Remember, folks, this “global economy” idea is even more acute in your own neck of the woods. The statistics show that a business that wants to locate in the Great Lakes region can just as easily do so in Ohio as here, and have access to all of the same benefits.
I encourage you to read about the megaregion phenomenon and to consider what it means to our city. I think the concept opens doors for our continued success…I also think that if ignored, it will be to our extreme detriment.