detroit lisa singh writer No need to wait for Newt Gingrichs tax free Detroit vision to take a chance on the city

Workers cleaning up a statue by Marshall Fredericks titled 'The Spirit of Detroit.' Photo: Lisa Singh

Detroit has always been a trailblazer. Even when it comes to being the first to crash the economy.

So, it’s no surprise that the city — which now ranks as the first metropolis in U.S. history to see its population drop below 1 million — has become a cautionary tale. For some, of big business; for others, “bad” government. The latest to weigh in is Newt Gingrich. The other week, the former Speaker of the House offered this eye-opening suggestion for the city’s woes: Make it a total tax-free zone. For 10 years.

I’m not saying he’s right, and I’m not saying he’s wrong. (For that, check out takes here and here.) But at least one bit of Newt’s advice didn’t exactly come across as a news flash. “Put on the table the future, not the past.”

It’s something that Detroiters are already doing — something I saw, first-hand, during my own visit to the city. Sure, investors seem to have given up on the city. Within one square mile of downtown, you won’t find any national restaurant chains, except one lone Hard Rock Café. But the locals are still forging ahead.

About 125 locally owned bars and restaurants call the city home. What’s really eye-catching is how many of these establishments are run by Detroiters under the age of 40. People like Jeanette Pierce, who helped launch a tour guide company about four years ago. And, Tim Tharp, owner of Forans Grand Trunk Pub, which serves up some 15 varieties of Michigan beer.  Then there’s Torya Blanchard, a former French teacher who launched a creperie business two years ago, and now has two new locations on the way.

“What people don’t get is the resilience of Detroit and the surrounding metro area — we’re a very resilient people,” says Blanchard.

Tharp, the pub owner, tells me: “There’s a lot of us that have such a strong love for this city because it’s our heritage … it’s given so much.”

Check out the full story here.

You’ll see how Detroiters are putting the future on the table. One beer, and crepe, at a time.

Picture 6 300x197 Inside Detroits Jeanette Pierce dares you: Fall in love with Detroit (yes, Detroit)

She's got a thing for Detroit: Inside Detroit's Jeanette Pierce. Photo: Lisa Singh

Jeanette Pierce was feeling a little tired the other morning. Then she got to talking. About Detroit.

Watch out!

“I get really excited,” said Pierce, by phone. “Detroit’s kind of my drug of choice … I’m not allowed to have caffeine and talk about Detroit at the same time.”

Before we go any further, let’s get a few things off the table. Yes, Pierce lives in Detroit, and yes, she “loves” it. But, no, she’s not stuck here.

“People think we must be here because we can’t sell our homes,” says Pierce. “That is not the case. If you gave me a million dollars I wouldn’t live anywhere else. The more I travel, the more I love Detroit.”

Detroit house Inside Detroits Jeanette Pierce dares you: Fall in love with Detroit (yes, Detroit)

TIME's Detroit House. Photo: Steven Gray

No matter what the critics say. This past fall, TIME bought a house (right) near downtown Detroit. There, a bevy of journalists camp out in between reporting on the city. So, why the media fixation? The country’s economic and innovative potential — its middle class — largely started here. Then, came the decline. The 1967 riots. The foreign automakers. And the jokes that keep on coming. Like the other night on Conan O’Brien.

None of which shakes Pierce’s belief in the city — or her passion for sharing its story. She’s a third-generation Detroiter (her great-grandparents settled in the area, from Poland.) Along with fellow Detroit native Maureen Kearns, Pierce started a tour guide company, Inside Detroit, four years ago and, get this, 2009 was the company’s best year yet — yes, the same year that brought us more news of the Big Three Auto bailout and a terror attack on a US flight to Detroit.

“If all you do is watch the news, it’s depressing,” says Pierce. “But the life I live is not depressing … every day, when I wake up, I’m happy to be in Detroit.”

Detroit: From the ashes

Picture 2 300x262 Inside Detroits Jeanette Pierce dares you: Fall in love with Detroit (yes, Detroit)

Detroit's motto since 1806: "We Hope For Better Things; It Shall Rise From the Ashes."

Part small town, part big city, Detroit’s where community and entrepreneurial spirit meet, and where the latest rebirth is underway, says Pierce. It’s been that way from the start. Back in 1805, the city burned completely to the ground but was soon rebuilt, earning it the state motto, “Speramus Meliora; Resurget Cineribus” — Latin for, “We hope for better things; it shall rise again.”

Pierce isn’t just hoping for better things; she’s helping make it happen. With the North American Auto Show underway, Inside Detroit is offering tours of the city that take on the question: “Is Detroit Really Dying?”

Read More

lewis and clark 300x258 Lewis and Clark expedition still fascinates; “Arrival at Camp River Dubois” December 12 13

Photo credit: Lewis & Clark State Historic Site

More than 200 years after their historic expedition, Lewis and Clark are still part of the national conversation. That was clear the other day on Capitol Hill when Sen. Christopher Dodd invoked the famed explorers’ names to justify federal support of a National Infrastructure Bank.

“You cannot find a period of economic growth in our country … where we did not make investments in infrastructure,” said Dodd, who quipped: “Had Thomas Jefferson had the Congressional Budget Office around he wouldn’t have gone … we’d still be 13 colonies running around.”

Maybe so. Maybe not. But this much is clear: Dodd’s timing was fortuitous.

This month — December 12, to be exact — marks the 206th anniversary of Lewis and Clark’s arrival at an Illinois winter camp on the banks of River Dubois. Five months later, that location would serve as the expedition’s official point of departure for the ultimate mission: American westward expansion.

lewis and clark map Lewis and Clark expedition still fascinates; “Arrival at Camp River Dubois” December 12 13

American Detours recently caught up with Brad Winn, site manager of Lewis and Clark State Historic Site in Hartford, Illinois. Since its opening in December 2002, the museum — and accompanying camp recreation, based upon William Clark‘s journal descriptions — has provided visitors a look at what became known as “the core of discovery.”

Read More