Thursday, February 28, 2008

Flint Artifacts: Stroh's Beer

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Detroit Tiger Omens

The gods seem determined to remind me that after all the years of suffering, the Tigers really are good, and this year they could be great. Farley's, my favorite coffee shop in San Francisco, ushers in spring training every year with a great display of baseball paraphernalia. This afternoon I strolled in and locked eyes on the olde English D near the door, emblazoned on a baseball shaped cup suitable for Stroh's, provided you drink your beer with a straw. I think it's a good omen.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Flint Calling

A little Flint history with help from The Clash.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

In Search of a Cure

Flint may turn to casinos to cure its economic ills, but the The Economist points out that hospitals might be just what the doctor ordered. (Sorry for that tortured healthcare metaphor.)
All this is an extreme example of a growing phenomenon. After the 20th-century factory town, such as Flint, Michigan, comes the 21st-century hospital town. Rural hospitals are often the main employers in their communities. Even Flint is trying to re-position itself as a medical hub. But a select few cities have entered the era of the mega-hospital. The most dramatic are Rochester, a medium-sized city where Mayo has long been a star business, and Cleveland, Ohio, a rustbelt city that has seen its hospitals boom and one, the Cleveland Clinic, become a new economic force. Each hospital is a behemoth: Mayo's revenues in 2006 totalled $6.3 billion, Cleveland's $4.4 billion.

Semi-Pro T-Shirts

For all you Semi-Pro fans, Flint Tropics t-shirts are for sale on eBay. It's a great way to channel your inner Will Ferrell.

State of the Unions

Are unions dead? Lawyer, policy analyst and longtime labor activist Nathan Newman doesn't think so.
200,000 union members were added in California alone last year. And this is based on a labor vision that had ten-year horizons for organizing, a level of long-term investment that few American institutions have been willing to make.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Flint's Patron Saint of the Arts

The conceptual artist Gordon Matta-Clark died 30 years ago and, as far as I know, he never stepped foot in Flint. But as the Whitney Museum in New York prepares to launch a retrospective of his work, it's clear to me his art has a visceral connection to the place where General Motors was born, lived and now staggers on life support. Long before Flint was forced to start destroying its abandoned homes — the gutted reminders of more prosperous times — Matta-Clark was cutting derelict houses in half.

"Matta-Clark may be best known for his “building cuts,” in which he sliced structures like loaves of bread," Karen Rosenberg explains in New York Magazine. "This house in Englewood, New Jersey, was split in two, over four months of jacking and tilting. Manfred Hecht, who helped out, said, 'It was always exciting working with Gordon—there was always a good chance of getting killed.' The house’s corners are now in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, but the rest is gone— it had been chosen because it was slated for demolition anyhow."
Matta-Clark also knew how to transform abandoned industrial sites — the closest things Flint has to tourist attractions — into artistic statements, into the cathedrals of economic decay.

"Matta-Clark cut five openings into the decrepit shed of Pier 52, calling it a “basilica” with a “rose window” (a bean-shaped hole facing the sunset) and illuminating a spot known for seedy nocturnal misbehavior," Rosenberg writes. "It was all done illegally—he later said, 'I had no faith in any kind of permission … there has never, in New York City’s history, with maybe one or two minor exceptions, ever been any permission granted to an artist on a large scale'—and once the city got wind of the project, Matta-Clark ended up leaving the country to avoid arrest."
Matta-Clark carved out a name for himself in the seventies, a decade when many exhausted residents wanted nothing more than to escape from New York, to flee from the crime and economic indignities. Sound familiar?

Here's to Flint's kindred spirit and unofficial patron saint of the arts.

Gordon Matta-Clark 1943-1978

No jobs but plenty of pit bulls

The Genesee County Humane Society has stopped taking in stray pit bulls due to overcrowding.

"We've got overpopulation. We've got a bad economy, and the majority of pit people are in the bad economy," said Edith Campbell, who works with Last Chance Rescue.

Perhaps they could be used for security at the new casino.

Viva Las Flint

I'm surprised it took the local braintrust this long to come up with this particular far-fetched plan to save Flint — Indian casinos.

"I think we have a 50-50 chance of getting it," Mayor Don Williamson told The Flint Journal. Williamson dispatched adviser Joe Conroy to Washington, D.C. last week to lobby those connected to legislation that would bring a casino to either Flint or Romulus.

A bill is expected to be voted on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives that would allow a casino to be established by the Sault Ste. Marie tribe of Chippewa Indians.
There's only one problem: casinos tend to suck more money out of the local economy than they put into it. Philadelphia City Paper lays out the numbers:

During their yearlong study, professors William N. Thompson and Ricardo C. Gazel of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas found that Illinois loses $6.7 million to casinos each year which otherwise would have been spent on local businesses. The sum does not include regulatory and infrastructure costs, or social costs.

In addition, the study found that areas closest to casinos suffered the most. The study also determined that riverboat casinos do not promote tourism, noting that 84 percent of Illinois gamblers live in-state. By comparison, Las Vegas attracts 85 percent of its gamblers from out-of-state.

Of course, look how Detroit has magically transformed itself into a safe, economically robust city with the help of casinos.

That was a little joke.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Mott Brothers Hardware Auction

Flint's venerable Mott Bros. Hardware closed in 1997, but it's taken until now to auction off the merchandise, antiques and collectibles.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Sufjan Stevens: Greetings From Michigan

If you haven't already, check out Detroit-born Sufjan Stevens' 2003 album Michigan, which begins with the song Flint (For the Unemployed and Underpaid).

It's the same outside
Driving to the riverside
I pretend to cry
Even if I cried alone

I forgot the start
Use my hands to use my heart
Even if I died alone
Even if I died alone

Since the first of June
Lost my job
And lost my room
I pretend to try
Even if I tried alone

I forgot the part
Use my hands to use my heart
Even if I died alone
Even if I died alone
Even if I died alone
Even if I died alone
Even if I died

Spring Training

Detroit Tigers pitchers and catchers reported for spring training today. We can now officially erase the Lions from our minds.

Photo via (Julian H. Gonzalez/Detroit Free Press)

Fire Chief on the hotseat

Why would Flint Fire Chief Richard Dicks be running a private security firm — City Security Guard Company Ltd. — out of his home? Isn't running the fire department a pretty big job all by itself? And why would the fire chief's private security firm be doing business with Career Alliance Inc., a troubled non-profit job-training agency? And why is there an ongoing criminal investigation of Career Alliance? Perhaps the FBI was looking for answers when they visited Dicks' home on February 13.

Too many deer, not enough people

I've already written about the strangely rural qualities Flint seems to be exhibiting as the population drops, as well as the increasing popularity of community supported agriculture in the Vehicle City. Now comes word that the Genesee County parks commissioners have approved deer hunting in some county parks.

"We are looking at some form of managed hunt to get the deer population under control. But right now open hunting is not one of the options we're considering," said parks Director Amy McMillan. "For us, it's not about the recreational aspect of hunting. It's about wildlife management. And it's not about to hunt or not to hunt. It's about protecting the environment."

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Eastside Memories

I've had a request from an anonymous reader to post something related to the late, great St. Mary's school on Franklin Avenue. This photo is from June 1984. It's all the kids from St. Mary's returning for Mass before they graduated from high school. Sr. Agnes is on the left, Sister Ellen on the right. I distinguished myself at Mass by almost passing out and having to briefly leave the church. Afterwards, Sister Ellen walked over to me. I was wondering if I was still eligible for a swat since I was technically on school grounds. She just winked at me, smiled, and said, "Too much partying last night, Mr. Young?"

(Left to Right) Joe Serna (shaming us with his National Honor Society sash), Robert Hurley, Duane Gilles, Gordie Young (with a horrible "new wave" haircut), and Michael Kennedy.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

GM losses and buyouts continue

After losing $722 million in the fourth quarter, General Motors announces buyouts for all 74,000 union workers.
“Despite progress and buoyant markets outside the U.S., falling volumes and competitive pressures in the U.S. will continue to pressure G.M. North America and hence overall G.M. operational results,” Brian A. Johnson, an analyst with Lehman Brothers, wrote in a note to clients Tuesday.
The Wall Street Journal has details of the UAW-approved buyout offer:
This new buyout offer is different in that it is designed to open the door for a flood of new workers that GM has said it will hire following its recently inked contract with the UAW. Currently, workers at GM plants typically make $73 an hour, including wages and benefits, no matter what role they fill. The UAW is allowing GM to reclassify about 16,000 of these jobs, such as janitorial jobs, as "non-core" assignments with wages and benefits equaling $25.65 an hour.

Monday, February 11, 2008

More on church closings

After a post about possible Catholic church closings in Genesee County, an anonymous reader offered some more information. This is unconfirmed, so take it for what it's worth, but given the realities of certain Flint neighborhoods, it seems like a plausible scenario:

I still live in the Flint area and have connections with St. Mary's. I've been fortunate to be involved with meetings with Diocese of Lansing officials in future of all parishes and it does not look favorable for some.

My personal belief is the diocese has already made the decision, but the confirmed word this person has heard is that St. Mary's and St. Leo's in Flint, and Holy Rosary, and Blessed Sacrament in Burton will form a cluster, with St. Leo's closing immediately, and one of the remaining three will close within two years. No matter what happens, there's going to be some upset people.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Flint Portraits: Eric Koziol

It’s not easy to categorize Eric Koziol’s career.

Let’s start with the basics. He’s a media artist whose work has appeared everywhere from San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum to Lincoln Center in New York, not to mention exhibitions in Europe and Asia. He’s also a director and cinematographer who has created music videos for dozens of bands, including Public Enemy, Soundgarden, and Nine Inch Nails, along with commercials for Clearasil and Red Stripe Beer, to name a few. Eric’s interest in choreography and live performance inspired him to create “inter-active video environments” to accompany staged dance, theater, and musical events. Then there’s his experimental videos, fashion photography, and work with corporate clients like Cisco, Marriot, Jansport and Eddie Bauer.

But his eclectic pursuits are underpinned by a fundamental theme: “I like working with ideas and turning them into pictures and sound,” he explains. “My focus as an artist is to reveal the hidden or invisible. I use technological tools in order to see, hear, and express things in a new way. I often work collaboratively with dancer/choreographers, as the expressivity of the human body is my primary material.”

Eric traces his interest in film and video back to Flint. His grandfather, Charlie Koziol, was a master mechanic at AC Spark Plug known as “Crowbar Charlie” for his ability to fix the massive machinery at the plant. But Charlie also loved shooting film, starting with a Super 8 before moving on to 16 mm and, eventually, video. Charlie used to show 16mm films outdoors in Ballenger Park, and he set up the P.A. and lighting system for the polka bands at the Polish Legion of American Veterans summer fests. He introduced his grandson to the equipment, and Eric quickly put it to use in a project for an American history class at Power’s High School.

Flint was also helping shape Eric’s aesthetic. He remembers going to Family Day at AC with his grandfather and being awed by the assembly line that stretched for blocks. Flint’s industrial history — its rise and fall — has definitely played a role in his work; he admits he’s still “obsessed” with machinery. The unique aspects of life in Flint influenced him as well. Eric grew up on Crest Court near the IMA sports arena, one of those incongruously rural and industrial areas in the city.

“As a kid, I could wake up to the screech of a pheasant or the sound of a freight train, and I held both in equal esteem,” he says.

After graduating from high school in 1984, Eric attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where his grandfather continued to motivate him. Charlie, who died the year Eric went off to college, had collected a huge library of 16 mm industrial films — everything from NASA training films to highway safety footage starring crash-test dummies. Eric used them to splice together collage films for school assignments and project them as a backdrop for a band he was involved with called Ungh!

“My grandpa basically p
rovided me with all the materials I needed for my first year of art school,” Eric says.

The band eventually morphed into H-Gun Labs in 1989, a broadcast production company that embraced a gritty filmmaking style and relied heavily on material traditionally left on the cutting room floor. As a founder, Eric was part of team that helped H-Gun evolve from making cutting edge music videos to encompass experimental live action, animation and what has come to be known as broadcast design. By the time Eric and his partners dissolved H-Gun in 2000 to pursue other interests, the company had worked with an extensive list of clients ranging from MTV to the San Francisco Opera to Michael Moore.

Eric worked directly with Moore in 1998 to create the opening titles and on-air identity for Moore’s series “The Awful Truth” which was broadcast on BRAVO in the U.S. and Channel 4 in the U.K.

Now living in San Francisco, Eric continues to pursue an array of projects. He’s consulting with the innovation design firm IDEO, collaborating with various choreographers, and putting together a book of his still photography — “a visual anthropology” taken in a “sketchbook spirit” over that past five years. And like much of his work, you can catch an echo of Flint in the images.

“Flint still resonates with me,” he says. “My sensibility was definitely formed there.”

The other side of the coin

Joel Lovell has a great piece in New York Magazine this week called "The Upside of the Downside," in which he hopes that troubled economic times may end the obsession with materialism that accompanied the recent boom years in many big cities. Having grown up in Flint and lived in San Francisco for the past 15 years, I can relate to his desire to live in a place where people's lives no longer revolve around real estate, kitchen remodels, and designer children's clothes. When he writes about his childhood in upstate New York, it reminds me of Flint:

I’ve done plenty of trashing of upstate New York, where I’m from, but mostly I mock because I love. And one thing I love about where I grew up (though it’s a complicated love) is that because no one really had a lot more than anyone else, people’s money woes felt like a shared burden, at least psychologically, rather than a uniquely humiliating one, and everyone kind of dealt with them as best they could and tried not to become too undone. A little bit of that mind-set might be good for New York right now. You don’t own a place yet? You haven’t eaten that $100 truffled foie-gras hamburger yet? You missed that wave of wealth that everyone around you rode to glory? Well, that wave’s receding now, and it’s bringing a lot of people back with it.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Going to pot

Come on, was there ever any doubt that Flint, of all places, would approve medical marijuana?
"While we expected to win, the victory margin was rather surprising," said Michigan NORML President Tim Beck. "It seems [that] public support for medical marijuana, at least in Michigan, is now deeply entrenched."

That just might be the understatement of the year.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Empty churches

Some Catholic parishes could be shut down, according to The Flint Journal:
"There could very well be some closings," said Michael Diebold, director of communications for the Catholic Diocese of Lansing, "but we're not at that point yet."

Math is hard

Is Chevy fudging their sales numbers?

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Great Blizzard of '78

Sorry I missed the official anniversary by a few days, but the Great Blizzard of 1978 struck the Great Lake State thirty years ago on January 26. Snowdrifts ten-feet high. Winds howling at 60 miles per hour. Barometric pressure lower than most hurricanes. 125,000 stranded vehicles. More than 20 dead in Michigan alone.

On the bright side, we all
got out of school for a few glorious days, and snow-fort construction reached an all-time high. And it inspired some flawless documentary filmmaking:

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Autoworld's Cousin...Astroworld!

There's no doubt that AutoWorld was an unmitigated disaster. But my friend Carlo, who hails from Texas, has alerted me that it's not the only Six Flags experiment that crashed and burned. He's talking specifically about his beloved AstroWorld in Houston. Granted, it survived from 1968-2005, but its financial collapse was as fiery as Flint's misbegotten theme park, according to a group that tried to save it:

"Six Flags was in a real mess. Kieran Burke, the CEO of Six Flags was desperate. He had the stockholders breathing down his neck and had to do something. Six Flags was in debt for 2 to 3 BILLION dollars. Burke though the could make over 100 million of the sale of the property. So he decided to sell the property Astroworld sits on, telling everyone that the value of the land was far greater than the value of the park itself. Based on the fact he entertained no other offers, it is my belief that he had deal in place to sell the land before the announcement. Since the demo of Waterworld started pretty much immediately after the announcement, I think he had a very aggressive timetable to meet to clear the land."

Monday, February 4, 2008

Even more shameless hilarity...again

Just how many times do you think Will Ferrell is going to make a movie that's kinda sorta about Flint? Not many. So I feel I'm justified in milking Semi-Pro for all it's worth.

Super Bowl Semi-Pro

Are you sick of Will Ferrell and Semi-Pro before the movie even comes out? Let's hope not because here's a Super Bowl commercial promoting the film set in Flint. Actually, this might be an alternate commercial that didn't air.

Flint Journal Insider

Want to keep track of the financial and staffing woes of The Flint Journal and, by extension, the entire newspaper industry? Read freefromeditors, a blog from a former Journal reporter who recently took a buyout and retired.

While the Flint Journal cleans house of its reporting staff, there has been little reduction in the ranks of the editors.

Through attrition, a number of copy editors have left, but mostly, the management type editors are still intact. In fact, one good reporter was promoted to an editor spot despite the mass exodus of many reporters.

I did hear that two copy editors from another Booth newspaper were involuntarily assigned to begin working at the Flint Journal Monday, Feb. 4 so as not to overburden the management staff.

In the meantime, reporters are told they must produce as a quota, one news story per day, and a Sunday show piece every two weeks. So now newspapers have gone from a creative enterprise to the newest widget factory.

UPDATE: Here's an interesting big-picture analysis of what's wrong with the newspaper industry.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Flint Images: Steve Jessmore's Community

"I just felt like this is my city, this is home. I'm proud of it. Why should I be ashamed to represent Flint or wear the tattoo so everyone can see where I'm from?" said David Velez, who has the name of his hometown tattooed on his neck. Valez's dream of opening a Latino supermarket and restaurant is a reality. He was renting and this year bought a building and is renovating it. "All my life growing up here there wasn't really anything here for the Latino community," Velez said. "A lot of things I have are necesities for our families. I want people to feel welcome here in Flint, a little bit of sense of their home." La Tienda Familia De Latinos means 'The Family Store for Latinos.'
The photo of Valez is by the Steve Jessmore, who recently left The Flint Journal to become photo editor at The Sun News in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
It is part of a series that earned special recognition in the 2006 Best of Photojournalism contest sponsored by the National Press Photographers Association.

Growth Industry

Community -supported aggriculture (CSA) is thriving in Flint, and Betsy's Herb Garden is a great source for local information. For a more national perspective, check out my friend Novella Carpenter's urban farm in Oakland, California:

Today I went to this salvage yard to get materials for the goat shed--yes, I put a deposit down on a sweet little dwarf Nigerian goat named Bebe, I'm picking her up next Sunday!

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Which is it?

Who needs a recession when you've already got a depression? The University of Michigan News Service explains:

Michigan has endured six straight years of job losses and the next two years will see even more—the longest stretch of employment loss in the state since the Great Depression, say University of Michigan economists.

Vernor's Floats

This photo by Amy Palomar reminds me of the Vernor's floats my Grandma McFarlane used to make for me at her house on Illinois Avenue. I also remember loving chocolate milk and Vernor's, which must be a combination only a Michigander could love. It was my drink of choice at the Flint Golf Club halfway house when I was a lowly caddy in the summers.

Falling Man

I got so excited writing about the Genesee Valley frog that I forgot all about the other sculptures that once adorned the mall that helped put downtown Flint out of business. Falling Man by Ernest Trova used to hang out in front of Hudson's, now Macy's. The work currently resides at the Flint Institute of Arts. Photo courtesy of sarrazak6881.

Friday, February 1, 2008

The housing oasis

Property values are dropping everywhere in Genesee County except...Davison?

Shrinking Cities

Flint and Detroit are certainly not alone as they face the problems that come with economic catastrophe and a dwindling population, as The Next American City magazine points out in its coverage of Germany's Shrinking City project. Pingmag has some depressing, yet oddly beautiful photos of cities on the wane and an interview with the project founder Philipp Oswalt. Although there's a decidedly European angle to Oswalt's efforts, the similarities between seemingly disparate cities like Flint and Leipzig (pictured above) are striking.
Since (1989), East Germany has lost 1.5 million inhabitants (nine percent of its population) and reached an unemployment rate of 18.5 percent. A “survival handbook” with tales of Germans selling used bicycle parts, drugs, or homemade sausages to a diminished clientele in Wolfen-Nord or Leipzig, makes clear the poignancy and pressing nature of addressing cities left behind. Though many of the proposed solutions seem too tired, hypothetical, or playful to have much real impact, the small scale of the interventions, their focus on individual needs and the realities of existing conditions, provides a model for realism in planning. Filling in vacant lots with crops or arts programs makes more sense than trying to lure industry with office parks and other incentives. The (project) seem to prove the wisdom of adaptation, rather than a relentless push for growth. Recognizing that traditional approaches — subsidies, construction, demolition — have failed to turn the tide of shrinking is an important one.

A world map of cities with the highest shrinking rate within the last 50 years (in red) courtesy of Shrinking Cities.