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Unfiltered: Two Tales of One City

Airfoil Public Relations, a marketing communications firm headquartered in Metro Detroit with a Silicon Valley office, celebrated its 10-year anniversary last week with a day of discovery in Detroit.

The game, named an “Airmazing Race,” was one part scavenger hunt and one part knowledge quest through downtown. The chance to juxtapose a native perspective with that of a novice D-town resident is rare, but it is evident here in this side-by-side post of how the city was received by a local and one of the firm's west coast colleagues. (More on Time.com: See 10 things to do in Detroit)

They got some help from tour-guides extraordinaire Inside Detroit. All said, more than 50 Airfoil employees raced through the city, collecting clues and stopping at famous locations throughout the city to complete tasks.

It's an interesting read. It leaves me musing: What do your friends say when they visit Detroit for the first time?

***

By Sue Barnes, Airfoil Public Relations (Silicon Valley)

I was very much looking forward to the “Airmazing Race” and to exploring the “real” Detroit. I was not sure that I had ever even SEEN Detroit's downtown before; my experience was limited to quick visits in and out to one or two locations – and it was never clear to me if those were actually “downtown” or not.

I must admit that my expectations were very low, partly due to the media, partly due to experiences retold by friends and colleagues, partly due to a career spent in the Silicon Valley and partly due to my own assumptions. I expected litter and dirt; nobody but the homeless; shuttered businesses and silent, abandoned buildings. (More on Time.com: See a TIME special on how Detroit lost its way)

Sue Barnes, Airfoil Public Relations (Silicon Valley) --- Continued.

I'm delighted to admit I was completely wrong. On a cerebral level, I was already very aware of the shared foundation of technology Detroit and my backyard, Silicon Valley, share. The two regions have more in common than a superficial comparison might reveal; our people and industry are deeply rooted in innovation and the drive to pioneer world-changing products – whether electric vehicles or mobile technologies – are shared passions. However, different parts of Detroit reminded me of other, vibrant, bustling cities, rich with historical architecture and modern design.

Some of the business areas reminded me of Chicago; the shops and schools of Boston; Comerica Park of Candlestick; the riverwalk area of Austin; Campus Martius Park of San Francisco neighborhood parks. As I walked (and ran, usually behind my team!) and later, in talking with some of my Detroit-born colleagues, I came to realize that downtown Detroit is NOT like any other city. Like all cities, it is an expression of its unique history, its unique ambitions built and molded by its own people – its unique culture. (More on Time.com: See pictures of 50 years of Motown)

I thoroughly enjoyed my express tour of downtown Detroit – to me, the city seems not just poised, but excitedly awaiting more prosperous times and I look forward to returning sometime soon to leisurely explore the real Detroit.

*

By Brad Marley, Airfoil Public Relations (Detroit)

There is a scene in the movie “Airplane” when Ted Striker, the anxiety-ridden protagonist of the flick, flashes back to a bar he used to frequent during the war, calling it “a rough place – the seediest dive on the wharf. Populated with every reject and cutthroat from Bombay to Calcutta. It's worse than Detroit.”

I bet that line drew some nervous laughter from the crowd in 1980 when the movie opened in theaters – especially those people actually watching in Detroit who had to get home safely after the movie.

Last Friday, during Airfoil's 10-year anniversary celebration, the stunning realization that Detroit can double as a safe, vibrant city caused a locally-based colleague of mine to remark to a California colleague: “Wow. There are actual people downtown today.” (More on Time.com: Read “Fixing Detroit: A Laboratory for Saving America's Cities?”)

Of course, having worked downtown n Airfoil's Detroit office on Campus Martius for a little more than a year, I can attest to the fact that people come down to the city in their free time, no matter how empty the People Mover seems. We were a smaller company then. Our growth forced us to find larger offices in a suburban office tower, but I miss the downtown location.

And during Airfoil's “Airmazing” Race, we got to see the city at its best. We saw schoolchildren on field trips marching through the streets. We saw city workers enjoying an outside lunch at Small Plates. We saw Tiger fans buying their tickets for that night's game, well in advance of the first pitch at 7:05. We saw people bustling and mingling in the shops on the first floor of the Penobscot Building.

And, on a beautiful early August day, Campus Martius was buzzing with people sitting down for a quick bite, enjoying the weather or hoping to catch a refreshing mist from the fountain.

In short, we saw people living and breathing in a city that many outside of its border have been led to believe is on life support.

There are tons of things to love about this city. You just have to open your eyes – and heart -- to them.

See more from TIME's yearlong look at Detroit.


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