Thursday, May 15, 2008

Whose side are you on?

So if someone asked you where you lived in Flint, what would you say?

There's been a great discussion in the comment section about Flint's geographical boundaries and neighborhood designations, which often have little to do with actual geography. While the Flint River does play a role, especially with older Flintoids, race, class and personal preference are just as important:

smurfs inc: I always considered everything north of the river and west of GT from DTM, Mott Park, New Northern, Longfellow, and up to Civic Park to be the west side too. In fact, a few businesses around Civic Park had "west side" in the name; West Side Upholstery for one. Where the north side began and the west side ended was a bit hazy. Pasadena Ave? McClellan? Stewart?

I still argue with a few Corunna Rd./Zimmerman west side pals. They claimed the west side stopped at the river and everything north of the golf course was thus "north side." My neck of the woods near Longfellow was always considered "west" by people in the neighborhood, but was "north" to Corunna/Miller Roaders. Hmmm.

Recently I was watching WJRT and they referred to the intersection of Chevrolet and Flushing as the "north side." WTF?!? I know it is north of the river, but that was never a defining factor to me. Similarly, I know some people consider the Johnson/Carpenter Rd. Elementary area east side while others say it is on the north side. It is interesting to note what peoples perception of the city is. Race seems to be a major factor in "north" and "east" designations. Geography — specifically the river — plays a role too. The cardinal directions? Not so much.

Slick: Well, in growing up at Corunna and Ballenger we considered the north side to start at about Welch and Ballenger...after all the "new" Northern was just down the street.

My folks always referred to it as the north end, which usually meant from Pasadena north. The north end had a more intense, rough feel, while the south end sounded cheesy in comparison to south side.

But today you have the Norf' Side which really starts at about Flushing and Ballenger.

Yes, I suppose you could argue that race has something to do with it, but there seems to be more African-Americans living on the east side and west side than say in the 70's. Some of the older people used the river as some sort of boundary reference. Even Mayor Woodrow Stanley used the river as a racial boundary reference for the citizens of Flint.

While the east side still seems to encompass the area it always did, and the west and south side are still about the same. So, in the case of the north side. — after talking and writing myself through this — regrettably I think race has some bearing, and I really wish that it didn't. But perception is often reality.

: I grew up around Fleming/Stewart and was always told that that was the northwest side. For us, the north side seemed to be the area between Detroit St. (as it was called then) and Saginaw St. on up toward the Mt. Morris line. I always thought of the area between Dupont & Saginaw St. as the north and not northwest side, too. So maybe everything north of the river is north with divisions within that for the northeast and northwest sides. The old Fair Store was clearly the northwest side, for example. Now I'm starting to confuse myself.

Anyway, I used to go over to the west side and my friends and I would go into Glenwood Cemetery, crawl through a hole in the fence and sit on the steps leading down into the river, drink our assorted beverages and wave at the train engineer as the train went through. There was also a clear perception among my west side friends that I was from another part of town, one that clearly had a reputation for being unsafe. Even in the early '80s they kept asking why my family hadn't moved yet. I, in turn, always felt a bit like a "foreigner" in their "territory." And I can assure you that at least some of those westsiders were far more into trouble-making then anyone on my street!

geewhy: The only side of town I ever referred to was the east side, and I considered Angelo's the epicenter. Then I'd use streets — "He lives off East Court" — or landmarks — "I live across from Bassett Park" or "I live near Haskell Community Center." For me, the north end was up by Powers High School, but I know my mom has a very different location for it.


  1. have to agree w/Slick on this one. grew up in between miller rd. and corunna, off ballenger. I moved later on to north chevrolet, by welsh bld., and both my parents(my dad grew up three doors down from where I lived on chevrolet, the old gm houses), and they both called everything from welsh north the north end. and yeah, it was racially orientated.

  2. I grew up a block or so from Sir Gordon. My (admittedly fading) memory is that I agree with Gordie, WE primarily used the term 'East Side' in reference to the the greater Angelos area, and when we wanted to be real specific we often used terms like 'state streeter' to reference the blocks where all the streets were named after states or 'College area' for stuff near MCC. We did use the expression 'North End', but in all honesty I think that boundary was drawn somewhere around where people started to feel uncomfortable about racial tension. I do not really recall the terms west/south side or west/south sider widely used by friends or their parents.

    Which gets me thing about no man's land.... how about that Avenue A, B, C area near Buick city? What kind of city runs out of street names? I can understand if there was a SYSTEM, where N/S streets had letters, and E/W numbers. Try to find Avenue D... My Guess - it saved time for officers filling out police reports....

  3. Jim, we are definitely on the same page on this. Maybe this is the way people in our neighborhood approached it, but I never referred to the west side or the south side.

    And, unfortunately, for many white residents, I think the "north end" began at the point where they felt uncomfortable because there were black residents, so the boundaries were always changing. Flint isn't exactly racially enlightened. As we all know, some whites felt uncomfortable around any black people. For them, the "north end" probably started a few blocks north of Miller Road. And for some Grand Blanc residents, I'm sure the entire city of Flint was the "north end." (This is not an indictment of everyone from Grand Blanc; it simply reflects my experience with several people from various Flint suburbs.)

    I think "north end" was often used as a coded way to refer to almost any black neighborhood.

    While this is a sad reflection on the city, I think this attitude, to a lesser extent, extended to the east side as well. My grandparents grew up there, and I went to St. Mary's, so it never occurred to me that the east side was considered rough or dangerous. Then I'd hear people talking about how terrified they were to go to Angelos in the late 70 and early 80s. It was like a daring adventure for them to get a coney. I think a lot of people used "east side" to mean poor white trash. It was an convenient way to say it with out saying it.

    These aren't my views, but I think they reflect the views of some Flint residents when I lived there.

  4. Gordie, I lived on the east side of Flint from birth to my mid-20's and I can agree with you that the greater "Angelo's" neighborhood (or maybe the greater St. Mary's neighborhood, if you will) was not really a bad part of town from the pre mid-60's to the mid to possibly late 80's. My late grandparents lived on the 1400 block of Indiana during that time period, and the neighborhood was nice with really polite and caring neighbors as well. In fact my grandmother (who was in her early to mid 80's at the time) would WALK up Indiana to Lewis Street to purchase fresh cut meats at the meat market/store immediately north of Jules Market. She always said the store sold better meat than Hamady or Hickory Meat Block ever had. As for the east side being poor white trash, at that time of my youth there might have been a small number of people to be classified as such, but not like the examples of some that reside there today. Simply put, can you personally recall some of the fellow students you attended school with at St. Mary's? Could they (at that time) be labled as "trash"? Not hardly...ninety-five percent of them were pretty good kids who came from nice families.

    As to this day in age, you couldn't give me a home free and clear in that area to occupy now.
    If you have seen it lately, you'd know what I'm talking about. It's very sad and disturbing, as is much of the city of Flint.

  5. Exactly...the kids I went to school with came from good families, etc. I think that negative view of the east side was held by a lot of people who never spent much time there. My grandma lived alone in her eighties up until 1987, and she never had any problems with crime. But, as you say, that's not the case now.

  6. Yes, my grandmother lived on Indiana for 31 years until she was 84 years of age, and never at any time was she bothered by anyone.

    I have heard the one terrible story Lewis Street is now a "red-light" district from Davison Road north. Even the building that housed Ritter's Flowers is vacant, along with Brown Funeral Home at Davison and Iowa, and of course
    Homedale School.

  7. While the boundaries of Flint’s “sides” or “ends” are difficult to define, identifying the cultural hearth of each neighborhood is fairly easy. The crossroads of the Eastside in my mind has always been Franklin and Davison. Anything along that axis would qualify as Eastside… except for East Village. The East Court Street area always seemed culturally removed from the rest of the city. Not only is the neighborhood wealthy, but many of the inhabitants are professors, business people, doctors, and assorted other "outsiders" one doesn’t typically find in other Flint neighborhoods. You don't meet too many non-natives living in Flint, but if you do meet someone from say New England, NYC, or Chicago chances are they live in East Village. Since large scale migration to Flint largely ceased in the early 60s, the trickle of upper middle class folks forced to move to Flint for the few jobs in education and the white collar world tend to cluster here. Additionally, East Village is physically removed from other neighborhoods by I-69, Cultural Center, and AC/Dort Hwy. Industry, Mott, St Joe., Kearsley Park, and the Longway Blvd / Longway Pl. / parallel railroad. East Village is an island, however the blight has already begun to creep in.

    The North End (not "side", but "end" hmm) is a bit more nebulous. Was the old St. John St. Neighborhood north or east? What about the Branch Rd. / Western Rd. neighborhoods? Civic Park? River Village? North Saginaw Street between McClellan and Carpenter Rd. is without a doubt the heart of the north end. The fringes- Clio Rd., N. Dort Hwy., and Hamilton Ave. would qualify as the North End to most folks in this day and age, but again race is the ever-present factor in that equation. For many a Black neighborhood= North End. Not sure what that means for the predominantly African-American Scott, Stewart, Manley Elementary region on the south side.

    My Southside is centered on Fenton Rd. between12th St. and Hemphill Rd. Little Missouri as it is also known, is very white and very southern. I always thought this part of town (along with the Corunna Rd. corridor west of the city limits in Flint Township) was the most... uh, "hillbilly" part of Flint. I used to be close friends with a dude who lived on Alvord Ave. Definitely some Ozark action going on down there. Circle Drive, Nethercutt, and the aforementioned Black Southeast Side never seemed quite “Southside” enough for me. Hmmm, maybe race, income, and ethnicity all play a role.

    Now the Westside is perhaps the most poorly defined part of Flint. High-income areas south of Miller Rd., Mott Park, and Glendale Hills abut formerly working class neighborhoods around DTM, Zimmerman, Halls Flats, and near Longfellow. Meanwhile, Hurley Hospital, New Northern, and Merrill School were for much of the 70s through the 90s quite racially mixed. The river dividing what is geographically “west” doesn’t help much either. Maybe the reason why the Westside is so ill-defined has to do with the fact that it has always been sort of a microcosm of the city- you can (or could) find a little bit of everything there- rich and poor, black and white, factories and a college, the finest champagne at Woodcroft Market or a case of Altes at Farahs. Man… what I’d do for an ice cold Altes right now.

    Some neighborhoods outside of the city limits deserve honorary Flint status mainly their grit and unincorporated status. Mayfair, Flint Township between Corunna and Miller, the area between Ballenger, Flushing Rd., and the river, Lavelle Rd., Bendle, and of course Beecher are more "Flint" than many parts of Flint proper. Go Bucs.

  8. Now while I'm at it lemme tell you about something that’s been sticking in my craw. For years people who lived outside of the city made it clear that they wanted no relationship with Flint. Flint Township considered changing its name to Green Acres Township for crissakes. Snotty suburbanites thought Flint sucked. Fine. At least you knew who THEY were.

    The advent of the ironic 90s however brought about a reverse trend. In attempts to garner street cred, kids from Grand Blanc, Swartz Creek, and Davison now claim Flintoid status. What the fuck?!? Just because you go to UM-F, hang out downtown, and slum it in some flophouse for a few years that does not mean you can claim my city. You may think it makes you look tough or edgy or "real", but in reality you just sully the reputation of true Flintoids.

    I'm telling all of you Flint Expats, this is a highly annoying and increasingly common phenomenon. From conversations at The Torch to Myspace profile viewing (ok, I admit it), dummies from Fenton to Clio are perpetuating a myth that they represent Flint... or as the often say "Flinttown". Ugh. I hate it hate it hate it.

    I may not know what makes an "Eastsider" truly an "Eastsider" (although a few dudes at an Eastside Bar offered to educate us "Westsiders" a few years back), but I do know the difference between a Flintoid and Grand Blank suburbanite scum. Do you?

  9. Smurfs, I've experienced this trend firsthand at the Kezar Pub in San Francisco, where the Michiganders gather to watch the Red Wings playoff games. Apparently, when seeking street cred, the city of Flint magically expands to include any number of suburban locales.

    And did Flint Township really try to change it's name?

  10. When people over here find out I'm from Flint, MI, their first comment is invariably something like "THE Flint?" or "you mean where Michael Moore's from?" I have often been asked things like "So what was it like?" - as if I'm supposed to have a few battle scars to talk about.

    Gordie & Jim, you're definitely right about how the north end and east side were/are coded and fairly fluidly defined in people's perceptions. The equation of hispanic and poor with the north end and east side also seems to have played a role, though to a lesser extent than the black/white divide.

    Regarding designations such as "northwest," I think there are some at least semi-official designations. The bit with our area being referred to as "the northwest" turns up in some property-related docs my parents have. At the time their subdivision was built (early-mid 1950's) it was bordered to the west by fields, so maybe calling it northwest was a way to designate a new extension from initial core areas in the north. Just hazarding a guess... In our direct vicinity we often (but not always) used to refer to the area someone was from by subdivision, so when asked I would say I lived in Lakeforest.

  11. Having grown up near Hamady High, the so-called Westwood Heights area in Mt. Morris Township, anything to do with Flint was a step up. I think Flint even had less violence than MM Township. I tell people I'm from Flint, and around here (Chicago) the Hamady area seems to qualify. By the way, we call ourselves Flintstones. When I lived in Ann Arbor, and my Flint friends came down to party, my A2 friends would get all excited: "The Flintstones are coming!" Ann Arbor certainly benefited from the levity and sense of humor delivered by the Flintstones.

  12. Smurfs, I understand what you mean, but I may fit into what you're describing. I lived outside the city for most of my life (although I had family on the east side the entire time) and only moved to it a few years ago. I identify myself as being from Flint: I was born here, I have a deep appreciation of its history, I was here a lot as a child, and I don't plan on leaving. Like I said, I understand what you're saying, but you have to see it from my point of view too; I wasn't lucky enough to grow up in the city proper, but I want to experience it now.

  13. I have to make an observation here. Having lived in the South End (it was always North End, South End, Westside and Eastside in our family) I think it was a lot to do with what mall you lived closet to. Okay - horribly oversimplified but think about it. Which mall was closest to your house? If it was the Valley - you were clearly from the West. If you lived near Eastside then... And I think of the shopping stripmalls count too. The shopping area that was up on N. Clio Rd (wasn't that where the old Fair store used to be) not far from Armstrong Elementary and Northern High was thought of as the North End as well as Carpenter Rd to 475. I lived first ten years on the Freeman School side of Atherton Rd. In 5th grade we moved less than two miles to the Circle Drive area (or Flint Golf Club area depending on how snoody you wanted to make of yourself). But just north of Thread Lake past the Country Club was a very poor and always thought to be dangerous neighborhood. All of this in just 2 miles of one another and all very different in what people thought of themselves. In the 70's, all of these neighborhoods were white but socially and economically very different. So maybe it's NOT what side you lived on but what neighborhood you lived in. That is more or less how I thought of it. Right or wrong from the eyes of a kid it was where you rode your bike, went to the nearest 7-11, and where you went to buy groceries. Landmarks, malls, stores, roads - not by the direction of the sun. And then there is Burton. I remember people talking smack about our end of town because of it's proximity to Burton (which I never understood) but they were usually from Flushing or Grand Blanc (otherwise known as South Burton - thanks to Andrew Heller.)

  14. Here's how I always (subliminally) defined the areas in Flint:

    North End: North of the river, east of Chevrolet/Dupont/Welch/Clio. Yes, the definition is racially oriented. Beecher is considered an extension.

    East Side: East of the river, north of the Chevrolet-Buick Freeway. Poor whites, the "trash" part came from my father after a marriage with an eastsider went down in flames (although a female friend's pregnancy from an east sider didn't help matters much). Center Road is the furthest east the east side goes.

    South End: South of the Chevrolet-Buick Freeway, East of Van Slyke. Southern whites and the black neighborhoods to the south west. This can extend to Bristol Road and, depending on the neighborhood, to Maple Road.

    West Side: The neighborhoods WEST of the Welch Blvd/Dupont St/Chevrolet Ave/Mobley Park/Miller Road/Hammerberg Rd line. Working-class whites to the richest neighborhood within the city. This may or may not go past the city limits, depending on whether the neighborhood continues the grid pattern past the city limits.

    Court Street: The east side that had some money. For me, this extended down to the middle-class black neighborhood near Lippincott and Averill Avenue.

    Some racial definitions, but my definitions also exude heavy-duty class connotations. The north side was by definition poor, the east side bad-poor, the south side blue-collar, the west side and Court Street white-collar.

    Incomplete and problematic I know, but it worked well enough for me while I lived there.

  15. I think I'm showing my age because I can't imagine anyone when I was in Flint ever classifying the Welch Blvd. area as north end. But I left Flint for good in 1987. But it also makes sense that the designations would be pretty fluid if they depend on class and race, rather than strict geographic boundaries.

  16. To be honest, my classification of Welch Blvd being a north-end border comes from two experiences:

    1: My mother talking about how beautiful the houses along that road were (and I do remember that area looking nice) but how you couldn't get any money from it because of its location. This in the late seventies/early eighties.

    2: Living on Begole street, south of where Welch goes from diagonal to east-west. Blacks lived north, whites lived south. This was in the Summer of 1985, same time I worked at Auto-World.

    Like I said, problematic; but that's how things were for me.

  17. I'm gonna sound like a prick, but I gotta take issue with anonymous' comment about his Flintoid status.

    Being born in Flint don't mean much. Most of the hospitals are within the city limits. Having family in Flint is not unusual. Interest in local history and culture is great, but hey I like to read books about Burkina Faso. I never considered myself "lucky" to be from Flint. Cursed, maybe, but lucky? No.

    In reality you are from Otter Lake or New Lothrup or wherever you were raised. That is fine. No shame. Places like Lennon are interesting too. Your surroundings have had a profound effect on who you are. You now reside in Flint, but that does not make you "from Flint". To truly say you are FROM Flint you need to have spent most of your formative years navigating the city's cool and sometimes fucked up fabric. "Riding the Dupont bus" as Gordon says.

    For better or worse a Flintoid (I HATE the term Flintstone- fuckin' deification of atheltes) develops a sort of a visceral "Flint-ness" that is easy to identify. Some people claim to have "gay-dar", well many Flintoids have "Flint-dar". To be a true Flintoid you need to have attended school here, gone to church here, hung out in the parks here, sequestered yourself to your bedroom here, travelled the roads of the city on a daily basis etc etc ad infinitum. Once you've seen all of the sites, absorbed the energy, smelled all of the smells, and witnessed a homeless man masturbating on a street corner- twice- THEN, and only then can you say you are from Flint. You can't fake it.

    This probably comes across as elitist, but ahh... fuck it.

    OakParkMark: Westwood Hts. definately qualifies as Flint. The Flamingo Mkt. was the last place I saw cases of Hamm's. That alone made it worth the drive to Pasadena and Lavelle.

  18. My parents only spoke of two sides--East and West. We moved from the East side to the West when my dad moved up in GM. Still, our grandparents were on the East, our church was on the East, our coneys were on the East, and we traveled across town to get our pizzas from Luigis, on the East, of course. All of Flint was ours to enjoy at that time; the "sides" only gave indication to the direction in which we were headed.

  19. All I know is I am tired of people rolling their eyes and acting like they are better than I am when I tell them I am from Flint. I think I'll make something up or tell them some obscure 19th Century name of a crossroads town in the vicinity. And I'm equally sick of people saying I now live in Detroit just because I live in some place like Clarkston or Rochester.

  20. South of I-69 and East of US-23July 28, 2014 at 7:13 PM

    Looking back on this topic, I am amazed that more of the people who read and post here are not from the West Side. And I really miss Ken's/bustdup's posts from the West Side perspective. The West Side to me was roughly bounded by Pasadena over to Dupont St., and which has now shrunk to Flushing Rd., and along the Flushing Rd./5th Ave. route to Grand Traverse and thence to the Hemphill Rd. City Limits, thence along the City Limits to Pasadena. It is more about social class now than about race. However, the edges of the City of Flint that are part of the West Side by the above definition, cling to the Flint Golf Club and, for lack of a better term, "The Reservation", and the East Village/Court St. Area, desperately clinging together for life and what's left of the City.


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