Monday, July 28, 2008

Can immigrants improve Flint?

We've been wildly speculating in the comment section of The River's Edge post on demographic and economic trends that might help cities like Flint. I know many readers don't venture into the comment section, so I'm bringing this discussion above ground.

Here are a few thoughts from readers:

Smurfs, inc: "What most mid-sized Midwest cities would benefit from is a massive influx of immigrants. People with kids, hope, reasonable expectations, and motivation. I'm sure they exist out there in the third, fourth, and fifth worlds. In fact we Americans have made millions of 'em in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Open the floodgates I say. Educated whiteys won't salvage urban America, but I'm pretty sure given the opportunity a few million Sudanese would. I can see it now: Little Missouri is usurped by Little Darfur. St. Michael's becomes the Al-Haji Mosque. Issa's Party Store is converted into a Halal market.

"So bring it on Barrack Osama and the Demopublican congress, we need MORE immigrants not less. Immigrants will save urban America."

Jim Holbel: "So there is a town, Lewiston, Maine. Not a lot to offer, but due to a strange set of circumstances, ends up with a (relatively) massive influx of Somalis.

"The interesting thing is the Somalis had been settled by relief agencies into big US cities, but in crap neighborhoods within those cities. Disappointed, they networked among each other. What they were after, they found in Lewiston: 'Lewiston had good schools, a low crime rate, and cheap housing.' So take a gander at the article, and let me ask:

1. Can you see a town like Linden, Davison or whatever appealing to immigrants? What about Flint Proper?

2. Does anyone feel the part about about the influx of immigrants versus upset mayor/locals/opportunist out-of-town nazis would play out anywhere near as progressively in the Genesee county?

"Ready... set.... BLOG amongst yourselves..."

1 comment:

  1. I'm always leery of discussions that speak of "saving Flint"- I'm perhaps the most guilty of using that phrase from time to time. Let me be clear, there is no "saving Flint". No knight in shining armor (be they refugee, yuppie, or college student) is gonna single handedly "save" the city. Good or bad, the Flint of the future will be MUCH smaller than it is even today. The trick is to first stem the decay and then inject "new blood" into the populace. No city can thrive without immigration and Flint has not seen a significant influx since the tail end of Great Migration in the early 1960s- almost 50 years without substantial in-migration. Flint needs new residents who see possibility and opportunity. Land developers and yuppies will go elsewhere and the few that do arrive will leave when they realize that mass gentrification aint a comin'. College students will be gone in four years or less, and most of them will spend their time and money in the suburbs.

    An influx of foreign immigrants would have a much greater impact that a few creative classholes. Perhaps most important is the fact that immigrant families often include large numbers of children. Flint needs successive generations to fill the schools.

    Funny that you mention Lewiston, Maine. I drove through there last summer and was pleasantly surprised at how vibrant the town was. It reminded me of a more "happening" version of Bay City. I had read mixed accounts regarding the Somali settlement there, but what I witnessed was a beautiful mid-sized town bustling with activity... a far cry from a decayed mill town... and yes, I did spot a few "urban pioneers" sipping pints at the local brewpub, but for every honky intellectual there were 10 East Africans... and most importantly ALOT of kids.

    Flint could make penance for the entire United States by giving away these homes (with a few improvement related conditions) to refugees from Iraq, Afghanistan, Sudan, etc etc. Think about it- immigrants made Flint back in the olden days. Besides, do you think someone from Bagdhad or Darfur is gonna be intimidated by some crack head thugs bent on stealing their copper pipe? Picture Flint filled with big families, children attending public schools, mosques in all of the old churches, storefronts refurbished to serve a large ethnic community. If you could nix the endemic racism/prejudice held by many native Flintoids I think you'd see VAST improvement with just a few thousand immigrants.

    Now what about jobs? Well, that is an issue but if you go to most ethnic enclaves in a major city what you see are hundreds of small "mom and pop" businesses. Immigrants to the U.S. are generally highly-motivated and hard working. By essentialy giving away property to immigrants the city would be inviting people who are by and large self starters. Additionally with Flint's aging population there will be a need for more and more young entry level health care workers. These fields are often filled with immigrants. Maybe Dan Kildee could hire some as demolition crews...

    One last thing. I know it'll never happen so spare me the naysaying. Still, what is more realistic- yuppies dining at an Argentinean steakhouse on Saginaw St., taking in a few foreign films at a renovated Capitol, before finally settling into their spacious downtown loft for a nitecap of chardonnay and imported cheeze (sure, an exaggeration but there are actually people who think Flint can become a "college town" and draw comparisons to Ann Arbore and Royal Oak) OR a family of 6 or 7 Pashtun refugees taking a stroll in Ballenger Park, shopping at the local halal market (say the old Midway Market), then going home to do homework, watch a little tube, pray, and then go to bed EARLY.


Thanks for commenting. I moderate comments, so it may take a while for your comment to appear. You might enjoy my book about Flint called "Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City," a Michigan Notable Book for 2014 and a finalist for the 33rd Annual Northern California Book Award for Creative NonFiction. Filmmaker Michael Moore described Teardown as "a brilliant chronicle of the Mad Maxization of a once-great American city." More information about Teardown is available at