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Detroit's Suburban Office Centres.


Aujourd'hui presque la moitie de la force de travail dans les pays developpes fait sa besogne dans des immeubles de bureaux ou les prises de decision corporatives sont soutenues par les services d'affaires et ou beaucoup de travail a lieu en conglomerations d'immeubles de bureaux dans les grands centres metropolitains. Depuis 1926 il y avait des equetes sur Ia morphologie de bureaux nord-americains New York, Toronto, a San Francisco et dans d'autres villes, mais en general, notre connaissance de la morphologie de conglomerations de banlieue est inadequate. Cette recherche-ci visait ce manque en utilisant des donnees publiees, des visites sur place, des entrevues pour examiner les etablissements de bureaux et leur besoins de se localiser dans les deux plus grands centres de bureaux en banlieue de Detroit. La conclusion principale, qui renforce des travailles en ce qui concernent les centres de bureaux en banlieue a Toronto et a Vancouver, est que divers aspects d'acces, et surtout l'acces aux grandes routes, p riment sur toute autre consideration en decidant de l'emplacement de bureaux en centres de banlieue.


Today almost half the labour force in the developed countries works in office buildings, where corporate decision making is supported by business services, and much of the work is located in clusters of office buildings in large metropolitan centres. North American office morphology has been investigated in New York since 1926, Toronto, San Francisco and some other cities, but generally our knowledge of the morphology of suburban office clusters is inadequate. This research was aimed at this void using published data, site visits and interviews to examine the office establishments in Detroit's two largest suburban office centres and the locational needs of those offices. The main conclusion, reinforcing findings in suburban office centres in Toronto and Vancouver, is that various aspects of access, and particularly highway access, are the main considerations in location decisions for offices in suburban centres.

Key Words: Location factors; Access; Highways; Clusters; Linear.


Views of city form have evolved sequentially from Burgess' (1925) concentric and Hoyt's (1939) sectoral models, which depended on dynamic central business districts, to recognition that centrifugal forces (Colby 1933) and growing distances in an expanding urban area produce a polynuclear form (Harris and Ulman 1945). The polynuclear view was refined by ideas on stages of suburban nucleation (e.g., Vance 1966), the role of offices in the nuclei (e.g., Armstrong 1972), typologies of office work (e.g., Thorngren 1970) and the nature of contact patterns (e.g., Gad 1975). Muller (1976) argued that an 'outer city' (rather than 'suburbs') exists in uneasy tandem with its central city. Erickson's (1983) stage model posited a third stage where suburban nucleation enabled businesses to reap higher demand than if they were scattered and the fourth stage of Hartshorn's and Muller's (1989) model focussed on suburban downtowns. As Goldberg and Mercer (1980) had challenged the 'myth' of a typical North American city, Matthe w's (1993a) model posited a third stage likely to be one of two urban forms and a fourth stage that might produce any one of three patterns.

Also, although half or more of the labour forces in developed countries work in office buildings, and half or more of the office building floorspace in large North American metropolitan areas is now located in their suburbs, there has been little enquiry into the patterns and dynamics of suburban offices that locate in a 'nucleation'. This has been addressed to some extent regarding Atlanta (Hartshorn and Muller 1989; Fujii and Hartshorn 1995), New York (e.g., Hoover and Vernon 1956; Armstrong 1972), Vancouver (e.g., Hutton and Davis 1984), Toronto (e.g., Gad 1975; Huang 1989; Pivo 1993) and a few other cities. To explore the dynamics of suburban office nucleations, I conducted studies of suburban office centres in Toronto, Vancouver and Detroit, deliberately choosing metropolitan areas that differ in both form and function: one U.S. and two Canadian; two of four million people and one of two million; two with vital CBDs and one decaying; two inland and one coastal; one the auto capital of the U.S., one the f inancial and corporate control capital of Canada and the third an emerging service gateway to the Pacific Rim. The Toronto and Vancouver studies have already been described (Matthew 1993 a, 1996) and this article presents findings in Detroit, with comparisons to the findings in Vancouver and Toronto. The objective is to confirm that highway access to a variety of destinations is the prime consideration in decisions to locate offices in suburban office centres, and that only if more than one centre would meet that need are other factors considered.

This article presents an examination of a late twentieth-century suburban phenomenon, suburban office centres that rival a major metropolitan CBD in size. A synoptic background on how Detroit's urban form evolved aids in understanding how and why these centres have become so strong, but this section is not intended to be a definitive examination of either the City of Detroit or its metropolitan area. Windsor, across the Detroit River, was not ignored in designing the study but its economy relies on manufacturing, particularly automobile assembly and parts manufacturing that is largely subject to head offices elsewhere. As its service sector is a tiny fraction of the metropolitan whole and it does not have any large suburban office centres it is not presented in this examination of such suburban centres.

Historical Context

Two centuries ago, land traffic in what are now Michigan and Ontario converged on the Detroit River, a strategic crossing of the Great Lakes water route and the focus of the region's fur trade. Detroit's importance as a trade and transportation centre stimulated its growth throughout the eighteenth century and as its agriculture began to develop it became an important inland port. In the second half of the nineteenth century it boomed as a manufacturing centre and its population mushroomed from 21,000 to 285,000. By 1900 electric streetcars had replaced horse drawn ones but by 1923 capital had moved from street railways to motor vehicle manufacturing (Yago 1984) and Detroit had become the world's automobile capital. The CBD reached its largest area by the late 1920s, expanding upwards to meet demands for commercial space, but still could not meet all the space needs for 'central' functions. New Center came into being 5 km north of the CBD, and a variety of 'central' cultural buildings were erected along Woodw ard Avenue between it and the CBD (Doxiados 1970). By 1930 the City's population had risen to over 1.5 million with a great expansion of the urban area, while car registrations were increasing at more than twice the rate of population growth.

Automobile makers have been instrumental in shaping the growth of Detroit and its suburbs during the twentieth century. New Center was largely a creation of General Motors (GM), which built its head office there in 1919, and later three other large office buildings. In 1917 Henry Ford built his main plant in Dearborn and in 1928 moved Ford's head office there. In 1925 Chrysler set up its head office in Highland Park (Garreau 1991). However, by 1923 the car, rubber and oil markets were saturated. GM's Alfred Sloan masterminded a cabal, including Henry Ford, Charles Nash, the National Automobile Chamber of Commerce and others to neutralize mass transit so as to raise the demand for cars. GM initiated various initiatives which included establishing National City Lines (NCL) to buy transit systems, replacing streetcars with buses, or to provide technical support and attractive terms to finance bus purchases from NCL or GM in return for sole-supplier contracts. In the mid-1940s, NCL was prosecuted and later convic ted for anti-trust activities, but by the 1930s Detroit had become so reliant on cars that public transit had little influence on the urban pattern thereafter (Yago 1984).

The City's population rose to 1.85 million in 1950, while the population of the PMSA (which now covers 4957 [km.sup.2]) grew four times as fast to pass three million. The increasing car traffic and slowing demand for CBD space brought physical deterioration there and centrifugal forces strengthened after the first highways were built. Manufacturing was moving outwards; more and more high income people moved from the inner city to the suburbs leaving a void that was filled by lower income people; and shopping centres appeared to serve the new suburbs. By the 1950s new industries moving in could not offset job losses in the central city and, although the PMSA's population grew by 25 percent in the 1950s, the City of Detroit's population fell by 10 percent. As car registrations rose existing highways were improved and new ones built, but the highways fragmented the CBD, accelerating decentralization and spawning further decay. Federal Housing and Veterans' Administration programs favoured suburban development t hat also met people's dreams and middle income people joined the exodus. Suburban regional shopping malls evolved into multi-purpose centres that provided many of the services and facilities once available only in the CBD and, as retailing declined and major central functions contracted in the CBD, buildings there became vacant and some were converted to other uses.

In the 1960s the urban area continued to expand at relatively low densities and the population of the PMSA reached 4.2 million, while the City's population fell by another ten percent. Total income in the city decreased steadily and the physical environment continued to deteriorate. The city centre had become a ghetto of low incomes and rising unemployment and by 1965 land uses related to cars occupied half of the land in the CBD. The l967 riots accelerated the middle income exodus (Doxiados 1970). In the 1950s and 1960s Detroit's suburbs housed mainly families with one car, but a rising proportion of women were working outside their homes and, if they had cars, work places also in the suburbs would be convenient to them. The number of cars in the U.S. more than doubled between 1970 and 1987 (Garreau 1991). By 1990 the city's population had dropped to 1,028,000 (56 percent of its 1950 population) and even the PMSA population had stabilized. "In 1990 Detroit City was 75% black and only 8% of the PMSA's whites lived in the city... [and it] was the most racially segregated metropolitan region of one million or more" in the U.S. (Darden and Kalel 2000, 4). Processes that appeared in the 1930s have created a doughnut pattern, with office rents higher at some suburban sites than in the CBD.

Construction of the Renaissance Center and a 'people mover' downtown in the mid-1970s were followed by the erection of a few new office buildings. However, the people mover is a circular, elevated, one-way system that may have improved public transit access within the CBD to some degree but has not improved access to the CBD. Many tenants in the newer office buildings have moved from older buildings so that the net effect has been to raise vacancy rates and hold down rents, particularly for the older office space. Most office building construction is now in the suburbs; between 1955 and 1994 the CBD share of the PMSA's office building space fell from half to one-fifth, and 95 percent of all new office space built from 1985 to 1994 was in the suburbs (Table 1).

A few huge companies have dominated Detroit's economic development. Eleven 'Fortune 500' companies had head offices in the PMSA in 1995 (Table 2). In 1995, the eleven generated $393 billion of revenues, with the 'big three' automakers accounting for 85 percent of that (Greater Detroit Chamber of Commerce 1996). This specialization has inhibited the growth of services, which have not been able to make up for the loss of production jobs from increasing automation. However, some recent developments may hold promise. In 1996 GM bought, and moved its head office to, the 2.8 million sq. ft. Renaissance Center in Detroit's CBD. The Detroit Tigers have a new baseball stadium just north of the CBD, the Detroit Lions will build a new football stadium there also, and three casinos have opened. So the entertainment district now includes two major league sports stadiums, three casinoes, two large theatres, the symphony and opera halls, other smaller theatres and some restaurants, all within 3 km of the Detroit Red Wings' Joe Louis Arena and the convention centre, both in the southwest corner of the CBD. While this may form a critical mass of entertainment to attract conventions and visitors, it is doubtful whether it will revitalize the CBD as a multi-purpose downtown. One new initiative is the erection of row houses, most of which are occupied soon after completion, on formerly derelict sites along Woodward Avenue near the growing entertainment district.

Detroit is located strategically within the Great Lakes megalopolis, being a natural gateway between the J.S. and Canada, with Highways 401 and I-75 already a major 'NAFTA highway'. It is a large market for consumer goods, materials and parts, and has the transportation system to distribute them. It provides high order services to that market. And it has a pool of experienced manufacturing workers. However, the inner city's infrastructure has deteriorated badly and it is viewed as unsafe. In 1990, "... blacks remained highly segregated and isolated from whites at all socioeconomic levels. Furthermore, blacks in the suburbs were more segregated and isolated from whites than blacks in the City of Detroit" (Darden and Kalel 2000, 9). Many suburbs provide attractive and safe living environments at reasonable cost relative to other metropolitan areas of similar size, enabling the Population Crisis Centre in Washington consistently to award Detroit a high ranking for the quality of life found in one hundred western cities. And it is these suburbs that are now the home of four-fifths of the office building space in the PMSA.

Trends in Office Building Construction

The big three auto companies strongly influence the office space market in metropolitan Detroit (Table 3). Ford's huge real estate holdings have long been consolidated in Dearborn, GM built its Technical Center in Warren in 1956, and Chrysler set up its Technical and Computer Centers in Auburn Hills in the mid-1980s, moving its head office there in 1995 (Greater Detroit Chamber of Commerce 1995). In 1996, the big three auto makers owned 27 million sq. ft. of office building space, one fifth of the PMSA total; controlling 20 percent of the office building space in the 'central city' (i.e. Detroit + Hamtramck + Highland Park) and 62 to 84 percent in each of Dearborn, Warren and Auburn Hills (Figure 1).

Dearborn was the main suburban office complex from the 1930s until recently, largely due to Ford's presence there, but in the 1970s Southfield and Troy emerged as significant office centres and both have since overtaken Dearborn. Table 4 shows ten-year increases in the office space of all the PMSA's municipalities that had over one million square feet of office building space in 1994. The four with over ten million square feet in 1994 were:

* The 'central city' with 33.5 million sq. ft. of office building space, 25 million of which was in the CBD. But only 2.3 million sq. ft., 5.4 percent of what had been built in the PMSA, had been built in the city in the previous ten years, all of it in the CBD

* Southfield, with 21.2 million sq. ft. of office building space is the PMSA's second largest office market, having experienced consistent growth since 1965.

* After a slower start, Troy equalled Southfield's growth between 1985 and 1994 and had 13.7 million sq.ft. of office building space.

* Dearborn, with 12.7 million sq. ft. of office building space, was the only other suburb with over 10 million sq. ft., three-quarters of the space being owned by Ford.

Of the six suburbs that have over five million square feet of office building space (Southfield, Tray, Dearborn, Warren, Farmington Hills and Auburn Hills), five lie in a west to north crescent 16 to 35 km from the CBD, with only Auburn Hills being further north (Figure 1). All seven with an increase of over one million square feet from 1985 to 1994 (Southfield, Troy, Auburn Hills, Farmington Hills, Livonia, Dearborn and Allen Park) are in a north-south arc from Allen Park, 16 km south-west of the CBD, to Auburn Hills in the north, with none being in the eastern part of the PMSA. Allen Park, Tray and Auburn Hills straddle I-75, Southfield and Farmington Hills are on I-696, and Livonia is on I-275 near its junction with I-696. Since only Dearborn is not linked closely to either I-75 or I-696 and many of its offices predate today's highway network, these two highways appear to be significant factors in the development of metropolitan Detroit's office pattern in recent years.

Case Studies

The suburban share of the PMSA's office building space increased from half to four-fifths between 1954 and 1994. The two largest suburban office markets, Southfield and Troy, which urbanized as growth in the PMSA slowed and the City of Detroit's population fell after 1950 (Table 5), were selected for case studies to identify the types and sizes of offices that have been located there, whether the offices in those centres have similar functional profiles or specializations, what attracted them to locate there, and what the executives in them perceived the advantages or disadvantages of the centres to be post facto.

Southfield was mainly farmland until 1955, when Northland Shopping Center was built at the intersection of 8 Mile Road and Greenfield Road. It drew both shoppers and subdivisions, particularly when Highway 10 reached it and simplified commuting to the CBD. Its population doubled between 1960 and 1970, then rose more slowly to 75,700 in 1990. In Southfield, Highway 10 and some major streets crossing it attracted mixed commercial activities, and office buildings started appearing at intervals on both sides of the highway after 1965. A loose cluster began to form 22 km from the CBD in the triangle bounded by I-696, Evergreen Road and Highway 10, and Southfield is trying to create a municipal focus there. The plan is for indoor parking so as to free the surface parking areas for a complex of retail, office, entertainment and residential space in a pedestrian environment (Dulzo 1992). The centre, known as the Prudential Towne Centre because of that company's investment in it, is Southfield's largest cluster of of fice buildings, having eight office buildings, an hotel (all high rise) and shopping. But,"[s]uburban residents will not readily give up the freedom and convenience that the automobile is still able to provide" (Smith 2000, 240) and despite indoor parking, parked cars still surround the buildings. Northwest of the Town Center there are office buildings on either side of a 6 km stretch of Highway 10 but, other than four buildings in the Galleria Center, they do not form a cohesive mass. The population of Troy, 34 km from the CBD, also doubled between 1960 and 1970, and then grew more slowly to 72,900 in 1990. Here urbanization produced fragmented land uses with most of the offices, which started to appear after 1975, strung out along 5 km of Big Beaver Road near its junction with I-75. Although the highway provides good north-south access, few of these office buildings are at the interchange.

Troy and Southfield lead the City of Detroit in various measures of the 'good life'. In Detroit, where 36 percent of the houses are pre-1939, the housing market stagnates so that 1995 average house prices ranged from $22,000 to $77,000 in its twelve real estate districts. The average was $104,000 in Southfield and $171,000 in Troy, with less than 3 percent of these houses pre-1939. In 1990, 29 percent of Detroit's families were classified as low income compared to 3.5 percent in Southfield and 2.0 percent in Troy. The two suburbs' populations are also younger, with only 6.6 percent of the residents being over 65 years of age in 1990 compared to 20 percent in Detroit. These characteristics are reflected by the occupational profiles of the residents in the three municipalities and the way in which these have changed since 1960 (Table 6). The high proportions of production workers and labourers in Michigan, in Detroit and in Troy in 1960 reflected a reliance on manufacturing. As automation brought rising produc tivity between 1960 and 1990, this proportion shrank steadily in Michigan as a whole and in Detroit. In Southfield, with a proportion of blue collar workers already below average in 1960, it fell more rapidly while in Troy it dropped more rapidly yet, so that in 1990 the proportions of resident production workers and labourers in both Southfield and Troy were half that of Michigan and the City of Detroit. The proportion of managerial and professional workers in Michigan's workforce rose steadily between 1960 and 1990, but the proportion of such workers living in the City of Detroit remained almost unchanged. Meanwhile, in Southfield and Troy this segment of their resident workforces grew to more than double the proportion in Detroit.

Every office building in Troy and in Southfield's highway corridor was visited to interview front desk personnel in each establishment briefly to elicit objective data. A response rate of over 80 percent yielded 459 interviews. A random sample of the offices was then selected and all the offices with over 500 employees, that had not already been selected, were added to the sample. I attempted to interview executives in each of these offices about the factors that were considered in the decision to locate in that centre, and the advantages or disadvantages they had found after opening the offices. Some were reluctant to cooperate but 38 interviews were completed. Tables 7 and 8 show the centres' profiles in terms of objective data from the initial interviews. 26 percent of the office establishments in Southfield and 14 percent of those in Troy were law firms (Table 7). These firms were generally small, with a few medium-sized ones, and did not include the large, departmentally-specialized firms, with a hundred or more lawyers, that are still located downtown. Apart from the high proportions of law firms there is little similarity in the functional profiles of the offices in these centres, Troy being the more functionally diverse one. The high degree of specialization in one function resembled what had been, found in two of the three Vancouver centres, but the specializations differed, and neither centre is as diversified as the three examined in Toronto. Also, 13 percent of the Southfield offices and only 3 percent of those in Troy were foreign owned, similar to Vancouver's but far lower than in the Toronto centres (Matthew 1996). This difference may be related to Detroit's role in the U.S. auto industry, with foreign car manufacturers preferring to locate most of their plants in more southern states, whereas Toronto has a diversified economy and has a growing role of linking Canada to the world's financial markets.

About 45 percent of the establishments in each of the two centres had ten or fewer employees (Table 8), which is significantly less than in Vancouver at 72 percent and Toronto at 65 percent (Gad 1975; Matthew 1993a, 1996). The head offices of two of the big three auto companies are in the suburbs, but not in either of the centres surveyed. However, Troy's Big Beaver strip has the head offices of KMart (the fifteenth largest U.S. company on the Fortune 500 list) and Kelly Services (ranked 476th), while Southfield had the head office of only one, Lear Seating (355th). There has been minimal physical movement of offices to either of these centres from outside the Detroit PMSA, and few of the offices in the suburban centres have moved there from the CBD. In fact, over 80 percent of the offices in each of the centres were born either in the centre or elsewhere within the Detroit suburbs, reinforcing findings in Toronto and Vancouver that the suburbs are self generators of offices, with little physical relocation o f offices from the CBDs to suburban locations in the metropolitan areas.

The factors that were considered most frequently in the location decisions for the establishments in both centres were a sufficient supply of cheap parking and good highway access (Table 9). This supports the importance accorded highway access in the Toronto centres, all of which abut Highway 401, and that half of the sample in the Vancouver centres deemed adequate parking to be an important consideration. These were followed by the centre's 'image', operating costs there (mainly space rental costs), space availability and building security, which were all considered to be important by a noticeably higher proportion of the interviewees than in the Vancouver and Toronto centres, except that the Vancouver ones cited low operating costs more frequently than any other factor. The effectiveness of public transportation, a factor considered in a significant proportion of the Canadian suburban offices' location decisions (Matthew 1996), was seldom considered seriously in the Detroit centres, where public transit is virtually non-existent.

Of advantages found post facto in the centres (Table 10), convenient and cheap parking and highway access were each cited by over 75 percent of the respondents in both centres, with the availability of suitable space a strong third, all of which reinforces the importance accorded them in the initial decision. A difference between the factors considered important initially and the advantages found later is the frequency with which convenient commuting, particularly for executives and professional staff, as well as high accessibility to clients and to peers, all of which depend upon effective highway access, were mentioned as advantages. The related issues of the centre's business atmosphere and its image scored strongly in both centres. As in the Canadian centres, various aspects of accessibility (excepting public transit) were cited so often as advantages that the centres clearly provide at least the level of highway, client and commuting access that had been sought by most of the respondents. The suitability of the office space, a centre's image, and the business atmosphere there all depend more on the nature of the centre and its buildings than its location and may be secondary to overriding needs for the various types of accessibility. A considerably higher proportion of the interviewees in the Vancouver centres than in either Detroit or Toronto cited low rents and efficient public transit, including service to the CBD, as advantages.

The respondents identified fewer disadvantages than advantages in their centres and mentioned them less often (Table 11). Traffic congestion was cited most often in both the centres, followed by high rents and poor public transit. It seems that a minority of the executives considered that the centres did not live up to their initial expectations, but it is ironic that one-fifth of them were dissatisfied with the public transportation service despite transit hardly ever being considered in the initial location decision. In contrast to complaints of inadequate or expensive parking in the Vancouver and Toronto centres and the inadequacy of the hospitality services in Toronto's centres, these were not identified as problems in the Detroit centres.

Morrison (1990) identified rent gradients for office space along four radials from the CBD, and the profiles fitted the traditional pattern along two of them but not along the other two. Along one, running northwesterly on Woodward Avenue, Highway 10 and I-696, rents ranged from $19.50 in the riverfront Renaissance Center to $14.00 in the financial district and then dropped to less than $8.00 at the northern edge of the CBD. However, rents in New Center, 5.5 km from the riverfront, were $14.00 to $16.00, exceeding rents in parts of the CBD. Beyond New Center there are no office buildings until Detroit's northern city limit, 32 km from the CBD. Thereafter rents rose rapidly to over $23.00 per square foot in Southfield's Prudential Towne Centre, higher than anywhere in the CBD, before falling to $15.00 to $18.00 thereafter. Completion of I-696 in 1990 stimulated Southfield's office building market but many tenants simply traded up to new buildings from smaller, older ones in the southern part of Southfield so t hat the overall office vacancy rate hovered between 19 and 24 percent from 1992 to 1994, with even higher vacancies in buildings over 25 years old (Tschirhart 1993, 1995).

Another radial also follows Woodward Avenue to the New Center but then branches along I-75 to Troy. From New Center it cuts through residential and retail areas with few office buildings until Troy, 35 km from the CBD, where rents reached $18.00 per square foot and stayed there for just under 10 kin, after which there are no office buildings. Troy's offices have excellent highway access as I-75 provides links to both the CBD and to Pontiac, while I-696 and Michigan Route 59 provide good east-west access. Tray's office rental market boomed in the early 1980s but then supply outpaced demand and vacancies rose to 22 percent in 1991 (Tschirhart 1991). The market improved over the next three years and vacancy dropped to 15 percent in 1994 (Tschirhart 1995, 8), but occupants of some offices complained of traffic congestion in the Big Beaver corridor and offices continue to move both into and out of the area. A large new mall on Big Beaver and improvement to major roads in the corridor were completed in 1996 but, wh ile shopping in Troy has improved, it generates additional road traffic and it is still unclear whether the road improvements have reduced congestion enough to attract more offices to the corridor.


Detroit shows how strongly the early strengths, weaknesses and economic role of a city influences the office pattern that evolves later. A city that became the 'world's automotive capital' early in the last century remains specialized in motor vehicle production and has relied almost completely on cars for personal travel since the anti-transit cabal of the 1920s. Poor public transit, the exodus of people and central functions, the post-war highway and housing programs, and the 1967 riots all contributed to the decentralization and downtown deterioration. As people fled to the suburbs an escalating proportion of new office building construction followed, where the complete reliance on cars and highways has fostered a linear pattern of office development with few true nucleations of office buildings.

The central city and CBD might be healthier today had not the auto companies, which control a fifth of the metropolitan area's office building space, chosen non-CBD locations for their head offices and support services. None of the big three auto companies had their head offices downtown and both Ford and Chrysler remain firmly rooted in the suburbs. Even GM's recent head office move into the CBD is unlikely to counteract tides that have been in motion for half a century. Despite some redevelopment in parts of the city of Detroit, including the Woodward Avenue corridor, it is not likely that the inner city's population will increase appreciably in the foreseeable future and there is almost no prospect of an influx of white collar executives and professionals from their comfortable, safe and fiscally sound suburbs. It is no surprise that the proportions of executive and professional residents are high in Southfield and Troy while the city of Detroit has a very high proportion of blue collar residents, or that Southfield's office buildings can command rents significantly higher than those in the CBD while Troy rents are only slightly lower. Nonetheless, older office buildings in the southern part of Southfield are vulnerable when vacancy rates are as high as they have been in recent years, while Troy is rather volatile as offices, including ones as large as Volkswagen, continue to move away and be replaced by newer offices.

The conclusions that can be drawn from the studies of the offices in the two suburban centres reinforce what has been found elsewhere. First and foremost, if a suburban office centre is to attract enough offices with enough diversity to form a 'suburban downtown' of the type identified in Atlanta (Hartshom and Muller 1989) or Toronto (Matthew 1993b), it must have extremely good access to a variety of destinations. The required level of access can only be satisfied if the centre abuts an interchange to a highway or highways that provide good car access both within and beyond the metropolitan area; and preferably there should be multi-directional highway access that includes quick access to the CBD. Detroit's linear pattern of office buildings along some highways and major roads precludes development of strong suburban downtowns around the interchanges. Allied to car access is a critical need for the centre to contain an adequate supply of free or cheap parking in or adjacent to all its major buildings. These two factors are clearly the most critical ones in the location decisions for suburban offices and this is reinforced by the advantages also seen in various forms of access, including good client access. A centre also benefits if it is within convenient car commuting range of housing, particularly housing that is suitable for executives, a further facet of accessibility. The minimal attention paid to public transit shows that the anti-transit alliance 75 years ago has had a lasting influence on location decision-making for Detroit offices.

If an office establishment's accessibility needs can be met by more than one suburban centre then other factors may become significant in choosing between them. A centre must have a positive 'image' and be seen to be a good place in which to do business, and must have a range of sizes and types of good quality and reasonably priced rental office space to suit a wide variety of sizes of offices. Some companies advertise themselves by locating their large offices in custom-designed buildings named for the corporation, but even some large offices lease space and they seek centres with a positive image. However, centres that are able to attract offices may spawn their own problems of traffic congestion, rising rents, and inadequate parking. "Far from relieving suburban transportation and environmental problems, suburban centers are major generators of car journeys and therefore exacerbate traffic congestion" (Filion, McSpurren and Hueter 2000, 420 interpreting Paterson and Connery 1997).


This research was made possible by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.


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Table 1: Office building space (sq.ft.) added by decade in metropolitian
Detroit: 1954-1994

 Period Detroit CBD Central Other PMSA
 CBD % Total City Total

1954 Total 12,678,871 47.5 19,047,621 7,624,964 26,672,585
1955-1964 2,652,956 17.7 2,961,996 12,021,480 14,983,476
1965-1974 3,436,670 17.1 4,619,666 15,472,670 20,092,336
1975-1984 4,021,920 16.8 4,535,920 19,419,049 23,954,969
1985-1994 2,286,667 5.4 2,286,667 39,643,670 41,993,337
1994 Total 25,077,084 19.6 33,451,870 94,244,833 127,696,703

Note: In this article, "Central City" includes the small municipalities
of Hamtramck and Highland Park, both of which are surrounded by the City
of Detroit.

Source: Greater Detroit Chamber of Commerce, The Detroiter,
1984- 1995.
Table 2: Fortune 500 corporations headquartered in the Detroit PMSA in

Corporation Head Office 500 Rank: Revenues Cumulative Profits
 Location Revenues $000,000 % to Total $000,000

General Motors Detroit 1 154,951 39.4 4,900.6
Ford Motor Dearborn 2 128,439 72.1 5,308.0
Chrysler Auburn Hills 11 52,224 85.4 3,713.0
Kmart Troy 15 34,313 94.1 296.0
Masco Taylor 264 4,468 95.3 193.7
CMS Energy Dearborn 316 3,619 96.2 203.0
Detroit Edison Detroit CBD 325 3,519 97.1 419.9
NBDBancorp Detroit CBD 332 3,461 97.9 531.7
Lear Seating Southfield 355 3,147 98.7 59.8
Comerica Detroit CBD 443 2,559 99.4 387.2
Kelly Services Troy 476 2,363 100.0 61.1

 Total 393,063 16,074.0

Source: Greater Detroit Chamber of Commerce, 1996. Information mimeo.
Table 3: Office space occupied or controlled by the "Big Three"
 automakers in 1995

Auto Location Office Space Year
Co. (sq. ft.) Built

GM HQ in Detroit CBD 2,770,000 1973
 4 office buildings in New Center,
 Detroit 2,049,900 1919-36
 Technology Center in Warren 7,451,600 1956
 Total 12,271,500

Ford HQ + 32 office buildings in
 Dearborn 7,718,200 1923-80
 17 office buildings for lease in
 Dearborn 1,753,300 1931-92
 Total 9,471,500

Chrysler HQ + Tech and Computer Centers in
 Auburn Hills 4,288,000 1986-95
 Former world HQ in Highland Park 1,008,000 1925
 Total 5,296,000

Total Detroit + Highland Park ("Central
 City") 5,829,900 1919-73
 Dearborn 9,471,600 1923-92
 Warren 7,451,600 1956
 Auburn Hills 3,388,000 1986-91
 Total 27,039,100

Source: Greater Detroit Chamber of Commerce, 1995, The Detroiter.
Table 4: Suburbanization of office building space (sq. ft.) in Detroit

PMSA: 1954-1994

Municipality 1954 1955-64 1965-74 1975-84

CBD 12,678,871 2,652,956 3,436,370 4,021,920
Rest Central City 6,368,750 309,040 1,182,996 514,000
Southfield --- 1,539,268 7,061,801/ 5,722,807/
Troy --- --- 2,077,700 4,721,657
Dearborn 5,304,316 1,737,844 1,948,439 1,329,710
Warren 351,740 7,535,100/ 700,293 74,400
Farmington Hills --- --- 309,883 1,785,185
Auburn Hills --- --- --- ---
Livonia --- 103,262 346,750 1,004,993
Pontiac 1,108,213 366,570 260,877 699,500
Bloomfield Hills 33,000 95,846 144,699 670,281
Bingham Farms --- --- 177,000 1,039,846
Novi --- --- --- 430,500
Birmingham 124,629 --- 160,119 405,791
Allen Park --- --- --- ---
Oak Park --- 218,808 781,767 134,603
Bloomfield Twp --- 90,293 249,034 257,672
PMSA Total 26,672,585 14,983,476 20,092,336 23,954,969

Municipality 1985-94 1994

CBD 2,286,667 25,077,084
Rest Central City --- 8,374,786
Southfield 6,878,755/ 21,202,631
Troy 6,886,612/ 13,685,969
Dearborn 2,380,675 12,700,984
Warren 187,779 8,849,312
Farmington Hills 5,208,037/ 7,303,105
Auburn Hills 6,066,371/ 6,066,371
Livonia 3,033,716 4,488,721
Pontiac 212,035 2,647,195
Bloomfield Hills 753,000 1,696,826
Bingham Farms 90,792 1,307,638
Novi 816,773 1,247,273
Birmingham 480,319 1,170,858
Allen Park 1,168,150 1,168,150
Oak Park --- 1,135,178
Bloomfield Twp 450,717 1,047,716
PMSA Total 41,993,337 127,696,703

Note: All municipalities having more than 1 million ft of office
building space in 1994 are shown. Increases of over 1 million ft in any
decade are italicized, and those over 5 million ft are /.

Source: Greater Detroit Chamber of Commerce, The Detroiter, 1984-1995.
Table 5: Population and office building space in Detroit PMSA: 1950s -


 PMSA Central CBD Southfield

 1950 3,016,200 1,849,570 n/a
 1960 3,762,360 1,670,140 31,500
 1970 4,200,000 1,511,480 69,290
 1980 4,388,000 1,203,370 75,570
 1990 4,266,650 1,027,970 75,730


 1950 n/a
 1960 19,060
 1970 39,420
 1980 67,100
 1990 72,880


 PMSA Central CBD Southfield

 1950-1960 +24.7% -9.7% n/a
 1960-1970 +11.6% -9.5% +119.9%
 1970-1980 +4.5% -20.4% +9.1%
 1980-1990 -2.8% -14.6% +0.2%


 1950-1960 n/a
 1960-1970 +106.8%
 1970-1980 +70.2%
 1980-1990 +8.6%

Office space

 PMSA Central CBD Southfield

 1954 sq.ft. 26,672,600 19,047,600 12,678,900 nil
 % of PMSA 100% 71.4% 47.5% ---
 1974 sq.ft. 61,748,400 26,629,300 18,768,500 8,601,100
 % of PMSA 100% 43.1% 30.4% 13.9%
1994 sq. ft. 127,696,800 33,451,900 25,077,100 21,202,600
 % of PMSA 100% 26.2% 19.6% 16.6%


 1954 sq.ft. nil
 % of PMSA
 1974 sq.ft. 2,077,700
 % of PMSA 3.4%
1994 sq. ft. 13,686,000
 % of PMSA 10.7%


 PMSA Central CBD Southfield

 1955-1964 +56.2% +16.5% +20.9% ---
 1965-1974 +48.2% +21.8% +22.4% +458.8%
 1975-1984 +38.8% +17.8% +21.4% +66.5%
 1985-1994 +49.0% +7.6% +10.0% +48.0%


 1955-1964 ---
 1965-1974 ---
 1975-1984 +227.3%
 1985-1994 +101.3%
Table 6: Changes in residential occupational composition: 1960 - 1990

Occupational Type Census Michigan Detroit Southfield Troy

Production + Labourers 1960 45.8% 43.2% 33.2% 44.7%
 1970 40.4% 42.7% 19.5% 28.8%
 1980 33.8% 34.7% 14.8% 19.7%
 1990 29.3% 29.3% 14.0% 14.6%

Managerial + Professional 1960 14.3% 17.1% 32.3% 22.5%
 1970 17.4% 16.0% 43.1% 39.6%
 1980 21.4% 16.6% 39.5% 44.3%
 1990 24.7% 18.7% 40.2% 44.1%

Source: Bocska, 1994.
Table 7: Three most numerous functions in each centre (% of n in centre)

Functions Southfield Troy Southfield Vancouver
 + Troy centres

Lawyer 26.4 (1) 13.6 (1) 20.0 (1) 6.9 (2)
Manufacturing company 13.0 (2) 8.8 10.9 (2) 6.4 (3)
Wholesale and retail trade 4.3 9.2 (3) 6.7 (3) 4.2
Insurance agent 3.0 9.7 (2) 6.3 1.8
Advertising and P.R. 7.4 (3) 4.4 5.9 0
Accountant 4.8 5.3 5.0 5.2
Health care 2.6 4.4 3.5 29.7 (1)
Real estate/development 1.7 3.5 2.6 5.5
Most frequent 3 functions 46.8 32.5 37.6 43.0
n 231 228 459 595

Functions Toronto

Lawyer 4.4
Manufacturing company 5.7
Wholesale and retail trade 2.9
Insurance agent 6.6 (1)
Advertising and P.R. 2.4
Accountant 6.2 (2)
Health care 2.8
Real estate/development 6.0 (3)
Most frequent 3 functions 18.8
n 800

Note: The percentages of the three functions found most often in each
centre are italicized, followed by their ranking within that group in
Table 8: Establihment size by number of employees (% of n in centre)

Employees Southfield Troy Southfield Vancouver Toronto
 + Troy centres centres

1 - 10 46.5 43.2 44.7 72.1 65.0
11 - 20 21.6 17.6 19.5 9.9 15.0
21 - 100 25.8 29.1 27.4 14.0 15.1
101 - 500 4.7 8.8 6.8 3.5 3.4
> 500 1.4 1.3 1.4 0.6 1.5
n 214 227 441 544 729
Table 9: Factors considered most frequently in the location decision (%
of n in centre)

Factor Southfield Troy Southfield Vancouver
 + Troy centres

Parking supply and/or cost 81 75 78 50
Highway access 81 70 75 34
Centre's image 75 45 58 21
Low operating cost 56 45 50 60
Availability of suitable space 56 40 47 41
Building security 50 40 44 23
Location of related offices 38 20 28 32
Good hospitality services 44 5 22 8
Good public transportation 13 5 9 42
Factors cited/establishment 5.2 3.6 4.3 3.5
n 16 20 36 61

Factor Toronto

Parking supply and/or cost 18
Highway access 73
Centre's image 13
Low operating cost 34
Availability of suitable space 24
Building security 5
Location of related offices 8
Good hospitality services 5
Good public transportation 29
Factors cited/establishment 2.2
n 83

Note: The percentages of all factors cited by half or more of the
interviewees are italicized.
Table 10: Main advantages found post facto in centre selected

 (% of n center)

Advantage Southfield Troy Southfield Vancouver
 + Troy centres

Good parking 94 75 83 43
Good highway access (*) 81 85 83 61
Suitability of space 69 80 75 65
Convenient executive
 commute 81 65 72 52
Ready access to clients 88 55 70 58
Business atmosphere 69 65 67 43
Centre's image 75 50 61 5
Convenient staff
 commute 50 65 58 53
Car access to CBD 56 45 50 28
Low rent 25 45 36 50
Access to associates 44 25 33 30
Good shopping 19 25 22 41
Good hospitality services 31 15 22 20
Minimal traffic
 congestion 19 10 14 33
Efficient public
 transportation 6 0 3 47
Good transit to CBD 0 0 0 46
Advantages cited per
 establishment 8.7 7.4 8.0 7.2
n 16 20 36 61

Advantage Toronto

Good parking 22
Good highway access (*) 78
Suitability of space 28
Convenient executive
 commute 36
Ready access to clients 45
Business atmosphere n/a
Centre's image 10
Convenient staff
 commute 33
Car access to CBD 16
Low rent 25
Access to associates 13
Good shopping 12
Good hospitality services 17
Minimal traffic
 congestion 10
Efficient public
 transportation 28
Good transit to CBD 12
Advantages cited per
 establishment 4.1
n 83

Note: The percentage of all advantages cited by half or more of the
interviewees are highlighted; (*)is the only advantage cited by more
than half the respondents in all cases.
Table 11: Main disadvantages found post facto in centre selected (% of n

Disadvantages Southfield Troy Southfield Vancover Toronto
 + Troy centres centres

Traffic congestion 31 45 39 25 13
Rent too high 31 15 22 17 4
Inadequate public
 transportation 25 15 19 11 4
Poor parking 13 0 6 30 18
Inadequate shopping 6 0 3 7 8
Poor access to clients/
 peers 6 0 3 10 6
Inadequate hospitality
 services 0 0 0 8 20
Poor car access to CBD 0 0 0 5 6
Poor building
 maintenance 0 0 0 0 6
Disadvantages cited per
 establishment 1.6 0.9 1.2 1.6 1.2
n 16 20 36 61 83

Note: The percentage of the complaint cited most frequently in each case
is italicized.
COPYRIGHT 2001 Institute of Urban Studies
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Article Details
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Author:Matthew, Malcolm R.
Publication:Canadian Journal of Urban Research
Article Type:Statistical Data Included
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jun 22, 2001
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