In March 2015, 23 businesses and organizations collaborated to create the “Get to Know M.E.” campaign (M.E. standing for “Metro East”) to counter the negative images some people may have about the Metro East.
Founded by Carol Bartle, the campaign’s goal is to help everyone in the Metro East get to know their communities better and to embrace each other as neighbors, all while working to improve the overall image outsiders may have about the region.
“We feel we have [a positive image], but many others don’t,” she said. “We would like to change their minds. We would like for them to come over and see what we have in the Metro East.”
Andrew Theising, SIUE professor and director of the Institute for Urban Research, said the image of the Metro East has changed overtime. Much of the industry of what the area used to be is gone, leaving many people to assume that only bad things happen in the area.
“Metro East served a purpose for the St. Louis area,” Theising explained. “When you think of all the heavy industry that used to be in Allerton, East St. Louis and Granite City, those factories are gone. That purpose is gone. I think for a whole generation, the purpose the Metro East served disappeared.”
East St. Louis is one of the areas of the Metro East that has a mostly negative image. Because it is a major thoroughfare to other towns in the region, many people avoid traveling to the Metro East altogether.
However, Bartle said that despite the coverage East St. Louis gets and the image it has, not all is negative.
“It’s not just a negative thing in East St. Louis,” she said. “Certainly we have buildings torn down, but we have to look at the positive images of what’s happening. The Christian Activity Center is doing wonderful things for the children.”
“I think that there are some wonderful regional assets in the Metro East,” Theising added, “and I don’t know that most people are aware.”
Some of the assets Theising mentioned are Scott Air Force Base, which is one of the largest employers in the St. Louis-area, and the warehouse district in Madison County.
Bartle said the campaign began at area universities and colleges. The goal is to attract younger audiences in hopes that they will want to live in the Metro East after graduating.
Gerald Daugherty, mayor of Mascoutah, Ill. and president of the Illinois Municipal League, said that his town boasts of some of the most affordable housing options in the Metro East.
Whether or not there is a ‘perception vs reality’ problem, Theising said there are some perceptions of the Metro East to overcome as well as some realities. “I think that the media tend to grab on to some of the sensational and crime headlines,” he said, “and the Metro East is so much more than just those communities that are struggling.”
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