Monday, August 9, 2021

So Much Human Longing

Flint’s Gilkey Creek (Photo by Jan Worth-Nelson)

"Most days my husband and I slept in and he would venture out to get coffee at our favorite place, still open for drive through," writes Jan Worth-Nelson. "I folded myself up on a big green chair and waited for Cuomo to come on with his (up till then) New York charm. What did we know? By midday, it got stuffy in the den. Lucky for me, in 2014 we had taken advantage of one of the remarkable Flint real estate deals and bought a house with a dozen rooms to wander around in. Still, even 2800 square feet can satisfy only so much human longing."

Read the rest of Jan's story and her other recent work on Medium.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

The Infrastructure Solution for Struggling Cities Like Flint, Michigan

Dan Kildee on Jane Avenue in Flint in June 2010. (Photo by Gordon Young)

In the newly released revised and updated edition of Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City, U.S. Rep. Dan Kildee endorses a massive infrastructure project to help troubled cities like Flint. 

The water crisis is the latest egregious symptom of the punishing global economic forces, along with misguided Federal and state policies, that penalize places like Flint. It will take a  monumental national effort to turn things around. That means an investment of federal and state money that gives Flint a chance to prosper but might not pay dividends for years.


Dan Kildee, Flint's Democratic congressman, has championed downtrodden cities for decades. He believes he has the solution to achieve this seemingly impossible goal. We both grew up in the Civic Park neighborhood at a time when the city was slipping but still had a lot to offer. Neighborhood kids had to decide which of the dozens of free summer programs to attend. It was a far cry from today’s Flint.


Kildee believes a massive program that devotes several trillion dollars to rebuilding the country’s infrastructure has the greatest chance of someday getting support in Washington. And if special emphasis is given to Flint, Youngstown, Gary and cities like them, it could function as a new Marshall Plan to “reset” these troubled areas, much the way the U.S. helped rebuild Europe after World War II.


“I don’t think we can chip away at the problem,” he told me. “We need a big, bold, and very significant effort to help areas where you have chronic poverty. Until we fix the fundamental problems, we are really just managing the decline.”


Kildee envisions clearing away the thousands of abandoned structures in distressed cities. Extra funding would be used to rehabilitate abandoned factory sites and provide tax credits for developers to build on them. Cities would also get resources to right-size their aging, inefficient water and sewer systems. Because these projects would take years to complete, job programs could train the chronically unemployed to complete some of the work.


It’s a clear-eyed plan that doesn’t downplay the problems facing Flint. I want to believe this could all come to pass, but I also know that Flint is a place where optimism gets its ass kicked on a regular basis.


Kildee didn't try to reassure me. He simply pointed out that there aren’t very many alternatives, other than tinkering around the edges. “It may well be that this does not happen anytime soon,” he said,” but it will never happen if we don’t define what the real solution is for Flint. And it will never happen if we don’t try.” 

I agree, but I was skeptical Washington would ever approve such an initiative on the scale needed to make a real difference. But Biden's recent proposal — and its positive reception from the public — has left me cautiously optimistic.

White House officials said the proposal’s combination of spending and tax credits would translate into 20,000 miles of rebuilt roads, repairs to the 10 most economically important bridges in the country, the elimination of lead pipes from the nation’s water supplies and a long list of other projects intended to create millions of jobs in the short run and strengthen American competitiveness in the long run.

Flint offers many lessons. One of them is that small, scattered solutions to monumental problems seldom result in real progress. An ambitious infrastructure initiative can change the fortunes of places like Flint across the country. Let's hope it actually happens.

Monday, March 8, 2021

1970s Flint Fashion: Purple Satin St. Mary's Jacket

1970s Fashion: Purple Satin Jacket

Distance Pain

"In Wales, for example, Welsh is spoken by barely 20 percent of the population, so we can only hope that the evocative Welsh word hiraeth will somehow be preserved. It means 'distance pain,' accompanied in extreme cases by tuneful lamentation (mine never got quite that bad). But, and this is important, it always refers to a near-umbilical attachment to a place, not just free-floating nostalgia or a droopy houndlike wistfulness or the longing we associate with romantic love. No, this is a word about the pain of loving a place."

— Sally Mann, Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs

Flint on Film: 1940 Parade

Friday, March 5, 2021

Flint Photos: Ben's Barber Shop, Pierson Road


Thursday, March 4, 2021

Flint Photos: North Land Drive-In, Dort Highway


Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Order the updated paperback edition of Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City

The revised and updated paperback edition of Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City is available now at Amazon and other booksellers. Or order directly from the University of California Press here and get a 30% discount. Just use coupon code 17M6662 at checkout.


“One can read Teardown and go 'My, my, my! What a horrid town! Thank God I don't live there!' Oh, but you do. Just as the 'Roger & Me Flint' of the 1980s was the precursor to a wave of downsizing that eventually hit every American community, Gordon Young's Flint of 2013, as so profoundly depicted in this book, is your latest warning of what's in store for you — all of you, no matter where you live — in the next decade. The only difference between your town and Flint is that the Grim Reaper just likes to visit us first. It's all here in Teardown, a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once great American city.”

“A poignant, often funny look at an iconic Rust Belt city struggling to recover.”

“Young shines a spotlight on a broken city and the efforts of those desperate to save it, but this is also the story of a man confronting a crisis of identity and finding hope where there seemed to be none.”

“Armed with an aluminum baseball bat and a truth-seeking pen, Gordon Young returns to the post-industrial wasteland of his hometown — Vehicle City, aka Flint, Michigan — in search of a derelict house to buy and restore. At least that's his cover story. Young's true mission is to reclaim his past in order to make sense of his present. If you're bewitched by the place where you grew up, you'll find comfort and a sense of home in the pages of Teardown.”

Sunday, August 23, 2020

The Streets of San Francisco: Chevy Nova

An iconic Chevy Nova, hillside in the smoke and fog, on Dalewood Way near Mt. Davidson.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

The Streets of San Francisco: Buick Electra

Buick Electra 225, complete with gold spoke rims on Terry Francois Blvd. in San Francisco.