"Inside Detroit" Aims to Change Attitudes of Locals, Visitors

An effort to change perceptions about Detroit – one bus tour at a time – continues to develop in the old Woolworth Building on Woodward Avenue. WDET’s Rob St. Mary goes “Inside Detroit”.

(click the audio link above to hear the feature)

(Tour Audio)

On a Saturday morning, a bus full of about 20 people mostly from the suburbs and some former Metro Detroiters are being shown some of Detroit’s more noteworthy places. The tour guide is Jeanette Pierce – co-founder of “Inside Detroit”.

“We’re going to see the bad stuff… we’re going to talk about how we got to where we are but more importantly what people are doing to solve some of these problems and where we’re going in the future.”

Over the past five years, “Inside Detroit” has worked to give out-of-towners as well as Metro Detroiters a new understanding and appreciation for the Motor City. Pierce says when she started “Inside Detroit” the city tour business was dead. Aside from some maps at places like Cobo Hall – there wasn’t a place where groups could go to learn about Detroit from an insider.

“We wanted to tell the story of what it’s like to live here. To live in the city, to be a part of it and give people that insider’s perspective of things and there really wasn’t anybody doing that.”

Pierce says while she seeks to give out-of-towners an understanding of Detroit she says her real goal is to get the locals to confront the perceptions they have about the city.

“I do feel that I have to work harder with people that are in the region because of that assumption that they know… that they know things… and because of watching the local news and reading the local newspaper… and yeah, I guess if that’s all you saw of Detroit was the crime and the violence and the government mishaps and stuff… it would seem pretty depressing… but that’s not the story of Detroit that we know… that I know as someone living here. So, but yeah, the short answer is yes, there is a worse perception from people in the suburbs that out of the city or out of the state. Also, people from other places out of the state, know cities. So, if they are traveling to Detroit chances are they have traveled to a lot of other places or they are from another other city and I think that the more people know cities and have been to multiple cities and they see similarities in cities across the world, then they understand Detroit a little bit better. Where in the Metro Detroit area Detroit is the city that we know.”

Hitting key places like Eastern Market, the Heidelberg Project and a few community farms as well as the boutiques in Midtown many on the tour say they were experiencing these Detroit landmarks for the first time or through new eyes.

(Tour Audio)

One of the people on the tour was former Metro Detroiter, now, Bostonian, Hope Koski.

“I lived and grew up in the suburbs of Detroit and I had a lot of preconceived notions… and I haven’t lived in Michigan in 8 or 9 years… but it was a really refreshing sort of picture of Detroit and I liked how she was really positive about a lot of the things that are up and coming… a lot of people who are making things happen… a lot of the grassroots stuff that’s coming out of the city. It really gives me a really nice view of what’s going on here and I want to learn more… I want to search more on the Internet tonight about Detroit… I want to spend more time here. So, I feel it really drew me into the city.”

Koski says negative feelings about Detroit were always around here where she grew up.

“You know, I grew up in a white suburb. So, there was a lot of racism… a lot of fear was the main thing… like fear of the city, fear of being in an area where black people are. There was like this big thing among my friends like when you cross over into Detroit you lock your car doors and you don’t really relax until you get to your destination. You know we would come to clubs down here… but there was a lot of fear associated with this city… and poverty. But it was mostly fear… fear of black people.”

Today, Koski says she’s considering moving back from Boston to live in the City of Detroit. She says she wants to be a part of the exciting changes taking place.

(Tour Audio)

A few weeks later, another Saturday, another tour for “Inside Detroit” is taking place. This time a group of about 20 ladies from Scotland is being shuttled around the city. They were in town as part of a national curling tour.

Carolyn Clark is from Helensburgh in western Scotland. She says this isn’t her visit to Detroit. Clark says she came years ago with a Scottish field hockey team and was struck then by the factories. But she says this time she was looking forward to seeing how Detroit had changed. Clark says she came away very impressed with the city’s downtown.

“I think there is evidence of your industrial past, still… but you’re doing everything in this city that I think is being done worldwide. You know projects that you’re doing here are projects that we’re doing at home. So, I think we’re all in the right lines.”

Jeanette Piece says whether tour members are from western Scotland or the western sububs… her goal at “Inside Detroit” is the same.

“If we can get them to the point that they don’t hate Detroit… then, that’s a step. If they go back and go “guess what I learned today?”… and it starts dominoing… that we are in all this together. And I mean, every study shows, you can’t have a hollowed out core and then develop… there’s no such thing as economic development as a donut… which is Sandy Baruah’s from the Chamber’s spiel.”

And in the end, Pierce says she often leaves those who take an “Inside Detroit” tour with a few questions to consider - like yes, it might be a blighted house, a vacant lot or an empty field… but what is your vision? What do you see? And… why don’t you come be a part of what Detroit can be in the future?

I’m Rob St. Mary – WDET News.

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