Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Legacy of Failure?

FiveThirtyEight has an insightful post on GM's problems. Obviously, they have quite a few, but the legacy costs the automaker faces are daunting:
"GM was willing to cut its employees some very attractive deals in the 1950s through the 1980s -- provided that they took them in the form of retirement benefits rather than salary, which wouldn't hit GM's books until much later and which until 1992 weren't even required to be carried on its balance sheets all, making its financial statements (superficially) more appealing to its shareholders. That health care costs have risen so substantially in the United States have made a bad matter worse.

"This issue is wrongly portrayed by both the liberal and the conservative media as one of management versus labor, when really it is a battle between General Motors past and General Motors present. In the 50s, 60s and 70s, everyone benefited: GM and its shareholders got the benefit of higher profit margins, and meanwhile, its employees benefited from GM's willingness to cut a bad deal -- for every dollar they were giving up in salary, those employees were getting a dollar and change back in retirement benefits. But now, everyone is hurting.
I'm sure glad the U.S. doesn't have national healthcare. Of course, you could argue that GM didn't need to offer such generous health benefits in the first place, even if they were doing it in exchange for lower salaries.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Shutting Detroit Down

Flint Basketball Tradition Continues

You just know when a Flint school plays a team from Zeeland — which is apparently located somewhere between Holland and Hudsonville, wherever that is — things are going to go well for the Vehicle City.

Powers Catholic took time out from its search for a new home to win the state Class B basketball title on Saturday, beating Zeeland East 62-54. It's the first state title in boys hoops for a Flint team since Northern won it in 1995.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

A Good Question

Talking Points Memo asks: "Why is Rick Wagoner getting the boot while the management of the big banks remains in place?"

Wagoner Finished at GM

The New York Times reports:

"The chairman and chief executive of General Motors, Rick Wagoner, is resigning, just hours before President Obama was expected to unveil his rescue plans for G.M. and the ailing American auto industry, a person close to the decision said Sunday.

"Mr. Wagoner was asked to step down, and agreed to do so, as part of G.M.’s restructuring agreement with the Obama administration, according to an administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity because a formal announcement has not been made yet."

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Ghost Town

Flint High School Enrollment: Depressing Math

It's difficult for many Flint Expatriates who haven't been back in a while to realize just how much the city has changed over the years. Some basic numbers from the Flint Community Schools Facilities Advisory Committee Report reveal that the school-age population has disappeared along with the G.M. jobs.

When G.M. employment peaked at approximately 80,000 jobs in 1968, Flint schools (K-12) had 46,557 students.

By the fall of 2008, there were just 14,056 students.

Enrollment is projected to dip to 10,432 students by the fall of 2013. That's a 78% decline since 1968. It means that there will only be about 2,500 high-school students in the entire district.

So why is the city agonizing over whether to close Central or Southwestern? With numbers this low and the budget problems that come with plummeting enrollment, shouldn't the city opt for a single high school for Flint?

The enrollment would still be small compared to the biggest high schools in the country, which tend to be more efficient and offer more classes and programs. Here's a list of the largest high schools by enrollment:

1. Belmont -- Los Angeles 5,299

1. Elizabeth -- Elizabeth, N.J. 5,299

3. Fremont -- Los Angeles 5,083

4. South Gate -- South Gate, Calif. 5,020

5. Roosevelt -- Los Angeles 4,940

6. Monroe -- North Hills, Calif. 4,881

7. Los Angeles -- Los Angeles 4,876

8. Bell -- Bell, Calif. 4,855

9. Garfield -- Los Angeles 4,844

10. Lynwood -- Lynwood, Calif. 4,818

11. Long Beach Polytechnic -- Long Beach, Calif. 4,779

12. Judson -- Converse, Tex. 4,778

13. Sachem -- Lake Ronkonkoma, N.Y. 4,718

14. Fort Hamilton -- Brooklyn, N.Y. 4,679

15. Felix Varela -- Miami 4,655

16. San Fernando -- San Fernando, Calif. 4,602

17. G. Holmes Braddock -- Miami 4,598

18. Huntington Park -- Huntington Park, Calif. 4,577

19. Marshall -- Los Angeles 4,550

20. Lane Technical -- Chicago 4,527

21. North Hollywood -- North Hollywood, Calif. 4,509

22. John F. Kennedy -- Bronx, N.Y. 4,422

23. Barbara Goleman -- Miami 4,417

24. Wilson -- Long Beach 4,383

25. Robinson Secondary -- Fairfax County 4,378

Friday, March 27, 2009

Credit Crisis Explained

Are you still a little hazy on how Citizens Bank and the rest of the country's financial institutions got us into such a mess? Are you wondering why the so-called "best and the brightest" who made horrible decisions are now demanding bonuses? I highly recommend watching The Crisis of Credit Visualized by designer Jonathan Jarvis. It "distills the economic crisis into a short and simple story by giving it form. It is also argues that designers have the ability to see a complex situation, then turn around and communicate it to others. By giving graphic form to the credit crisis, it becomes comprehensible. Not only do economic activities take shape, but new relationships can emerge between these shapes."

It's about 11 minutes and you'll be glad you watched it. View it below or click here.

The Crisis of Credit Visualized from Jonathan Jarvis on Vimeo.

Hot Housing Trend

While Flint tries to figure out how to get rid of unwanted houses, Shantytowns are popping up all over.

Goodbye to Dubai

Flint and Dubai finally have something in common — empty buildings and a shrinking population. Newsday.com reports:
"The same belt-tightening mood is found almost anywhere. A report last week by the Jones Lang LaSalle consultants showed the supply of empty office in Dubai has doubled to 16 percent over the past six months. Standard & Poor's this month cut the credit ratings of six Dubai government-backed entities and a leading property developer.

"The Shuaa capital report forecast a 5 percent drop in Dubai's population from about 1.7 million last year to 1.62 million by the end of 2009 as Gulf construction and financial markets seize up, sending expatriate workers packing."

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Bonuses, Bailouts, and Lawsuits at Citizens Bank

According to a lawsuit filed in Genesee County Circuit Court, John D. Schwab didn't retire as executive vice president at Citizens Republic Bancorp in January, he was "fired for questioning a $7.5 million bonus for the company's chief executive [William R. Hartman] on the eve of a federal bailout payment," according to BusinessWeek.

High School Angst

It's hard to tell if Powers and the Flint Board of Education are just being cagey negotiators as they try to work out a deal on the fate of Powers Catholic, Central and Southwestern High Schools...or if nobody is really sure what they're doing.

As Kristen Longley of The Flint Journal shows in her most recent coverage, all parties are suddenly being very vague: Powers isn't sure it wants Central, and Flint Superintendent Linda Thompson isn't sure Central's even closing...and if it is, she's not certain Flint wants to part with the building.

There's no offer on the table, but Powers would consider a move to Central if Flint's Board of Education follows through on recommendations to close it, an attorney said Wednesday.

"Central may not be right for us, but at least we should be talking about it," said attorney Michael Manley, who represents Powers. "We would have to inspect the building and see if it's doable for us before we ever made a formal offer."

The Flint School District last week declined Powers' $5-million offer for Flint's Southwestern Academy. Powers for years has been trying to move further south so it can compete with districts such as Grand Blanc and Fenton.

"We hear our parents and our future parents loud and clear," Manley said. "They have told us we need to come closer to where they live."

Flint Superintendent Linda Thompson said the matter would have to be discussed with the Board of Education. There are no plans for the Central site at this time if it does close.

"There's a lot of history at Flint Central for the Flint Community Schools," she said. "The fact that we can't run it right now doesn't mean we've given up on that site."

What are the odds that Powers ends up closing or leaving Flint, and the city is left with a vacant, boarded up high school?

Flint Photos: Flint Swim & Racquet Club

More great shots from the Mary Fisher Collection. These photos of the Flint Swim & Racquet Club, 1126 N. Elms Rd., in Flint Township have a fifties feel but were taken in 1967, shortly after FSRC opened. Go here for a compendium of other Mary Fisher photographs. (Click on photos to enlarge.)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

High School Roulette

But wait...Powers Catholic isn't giving up on getting its hands on a Flint public high school. Southwestern wasn't for sale, but Powers says Central High will do just fine.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Flint School District Not Interested

K-12 Corner, Kristen Longley's excellent education blog, reports that the Flint School District has turned down Powers' $5 million offer to buy Southwestern. That spells trouble for Flint Central.

Ann Arbor News, R.I.P.

The Ann Arbor News bites the dust. AnnArbor.com is born.

(Confession: I always read The Detroit Free Press during my short stints in Ann Arbor.)

Flint Portraits: Howard Bragman

Need advice on getting famous? Flint Expatriate and PR guru Howard Bragman has advised everyone from Cameron Diaz to Paula Abdul. The Coolidge Elementary and Zimmerman veteran offers up his secrets in a new book called "Where's My Fifteen Minutes?"

Howard described his early experiences dealing with public opinion while growing up in Flint in a recent email:
"I know what it’s like to be an outsider—I grew up a fat, Jewish, gay guy in Flint. In Hollywood, those are the first three rungs up the ladder of success, but in a town like Flint, it’s three strikes and you’re out. It’s a little like that Twilight Zone episode with a whole planet full of deformed people and they make fun of the normal guy. You just have to be in the right place for you. I’ve been out of the closet—open about my sexual orientation—for a very long time, going all the way back to when I graduated college and began my professional life more than thirty years ago. I made the choice early on to live honestly and authentically for me.

"Early on, I was doing PR for the Lou Rawls Parade of Stars concert to benefit the United Negro College Fund in Flint. The day before the concert, the local paper did a huge story on Lou Rawls. My grandmother read the paper and called me.

“'What a coincidence,” she said to me. 'You’re here for a Lou Rawls concert…and there’s a big article about him in the paper today.'

“'I did that,' I said modestly.

"'You did what?' my grandmother asked.

“'I got the article in the paper,' I said.

"Long pause.

“'So,” my grandmother asked, confused, “where’s your name?'”

Flint Artifacts: Smith Bridgman's Bunny Land Souvenir

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Spring Training

Hey, let's not forget that it is spring training for the Tigers.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Running Quarterback

Are the Detroit Lions cursed? The fate of fugitive ex-QB Jeff Komlo would indicate they are.

The Commonwealth of Flint

Flint Expatriate Rand Simberg has a fascinating blog called Transterrestial Musings that's tackling the idea of shutting down parts of Flint to make the rest of the city economically viable. He's getting some comments from readers who point out that Flint could go a lot further than simply turning parts of the city over to the county.

For example, why not create a commonwealth — like Puerto Rico with bad weather, good hockey, and blander food — in Michigan.
Jim Bennett says:

"This has been discussed in Detroit for a while. I suppose it the area were given back to county jurisdiction there would be no obligation for the county to provide any greater amount of police or fire services than they do to rural areas. Also, in Michigan, any unincorporated part of a county automatically is organized as a township, so there would be some vehicle for providing some governmental services locally.
Rico with bad weather, in Michigan?

"Of course the Federal government could try exempting such areas from federal taxation, which would certainly revive them. That’s been proposed for DC. But that’s probably too radical, so I suppose they’ll just get torched.

"I’ve thought of the idea of taking some of the rapidly depopulating parts of the Great plains and offering them the option of becoming a commonwealth on the model of Puerto Rico. It would require the consent of the states involved, but hey, it would relieve them of a big expenditure obligation. No Senators, no presidential vote, just a non-voting delegate in the House. Still US citizens. But no federal taxes. Like the “buffalo commons” idea, only for libertarians. A 'libertarian commons.'"

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Why Not Just Close Parts of Flint?

One particular solution to Flint's woes has come up repeatedly in conversations I've had with friends, urban planners, economists and drunk guys in bars. Sometimes they are kidding, sometimes not. The solution? Shut down entire sections of the city and concentrate the population and the city's meager resources in the areas that are still "open."

It's an interesting urban planning question, but what happens when the mayor of Flint suggests the same thing?

Kristen Longley of The Flint Journal reports:
Temporary Mayor Michael Brown made the off-the-cuff suggestion Friday in response to a question at a Rotary Club of Flint luncheon about the thousands of empty houses in Flint.

Brown said that as more people abandon homes, eating away at the city's tax base and creating more blight, the city might need to examine "shutting down quadrants of the city where we (wouldn't) provide services."

He did not define what that could mean -- bulldozing abandoned areas, simply leaving the vacant homes to rot or some other idea entirely.
Don't laugh. Youngstown, Ohio is already putting the plan into action. And as this article in American City & County shows, Flint officials have been observing the former steel town's progress. Go here to listen to an NPR podcast on Youngstown's attempt to downsize gracefully.

Downsizing for the Future

How prevalent is the shrinking city phenomena in Michigan? Habitat for Humanity is tearing down houses in Saginaw.

Monica Davey of The New York Times reports:

Volunteers are learning to rip down plaster, pull apart walls and tear off roofs. To the nonprofit group’s long-held aim of constructing houses for those in need, Saginaw’s affiliate has lately added to its mission by doing the opposite.

As part of an agreement with the city, and with at least $500,000 from the state and federal governments, the Habitat volunteers and paid workers plan to deconstruct and demolish two vacant, dilapidated houses here a week, every week, over the next two years. As for creating homes, they will build or refurbish eight houses this year.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Flint Artifacts: Michigan State Bird T-Shirt

Flint Artifacts: Vernor's Recipe Booklet

Monday, March 16, 2009

Central's Call to Action

Abnstranger says:

Flint Central has been the victim of deferred maintenance for quite some time. Whether this is a symptom of construction dollars gleaming in the eyes of those who build the modern, soulless, unimaginative, flat-roofed, neo-con boxes or simply another circular firing squad maneuver by Flint's finest is not apparent. However, the direction of Flint should be toward historic restoration (Cmon fools, if tiny Dollar Bay, MI can do that for their high school, so can you!). Flint can be something other than an industrial wasteland and declining monument to dips that 'put all their (automotive) eggs in one basket and left the area. It's up to all of us who benefited from the schools, the largess of the Mott Foundation, excellent programs, parks, and more to stand up and kick some bore-o-cratic butt. Class of '66, and here to say, Everyone deserves quality education, arts, music and a beautiful campus. Everyone. Alumni, get your efforts up and going, because we owe it to do so! If nothing else, think of it as cheap insurance. We all live downstream from Flint's problems. Please, stop whining and sniffling about 'those good old days' and let's build some fine new ones.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Flint Murder Map, R.I.P.

My experiment with the Flint Murder Map has ended.

It sparked some good discussions about how to cover homicides, but it proved to be way more work than I imagined. More importantly, I didn't feel it was really providing much of a memorial to the people who died in Flint. I was basically reprinting information gathered by the overworked and under appreciated reporters at
The Flint Journal, especially Shannon Murphy, Bryn Mickle and RoNeisha Mullen. I didn't have the time to conduct interviews with family and friends or offer a more complete portrait of the deceased that I thought they deserved. (Believe it or not, this was actually my original plan. After 19 years as a journalist, I should have realized how unrealistic this goal was.)

Although it is not complete, one thing the Murder Map provides is a reasonably comprehensive look at where murders occurred in 2008. It also offers a database for readers to begin making their own judgments about what counts as murder and what doesn't. As this January story by Shannon Murphy shows, the Flint Police are more than willing to revise the murder count:

"Flint police now are saying 2008 had one of the lowest reported number of homicides in a decade.

"On Monday, interim Chief David Dicks said the city had as much as a 10 percent decrease in homicides from the previous year.

"That comes just a week after Dicks reported there was a 16.6 percent increase — from 30 homicides in 2007 to 35 in 2008.

"A closer look at the statistics revealed that up to eight of the homicides are justifiable, which would bringing the number down to 27, Dicks said.

"'This is a big deal for us and the citizens,' Dick said. 'It's showing we are doing the best we can.'"

Anyone who has ever watched The Wire knows that statistics compiled by the police should be verified independently.

In season three, Major Howard "Bunny" Colvin complains about pressure to "juke the stats" to create the appearance that crime is decreasing. "You can reclassify an agg assault, unfound a robbery, but how do you make a body disappear?" he asks.

Apparently, you simply reclassify the murder as a justifiable homicide.

High Schools and Murder: Location, Location, Location

I've added icons for the various Flint high schools — Central, Northern, Powers and Southwestern Academy — to the 2008 Flint Murder Map. It provides a nice visual representation of why Powers is willing to part with $5 million to relocate to Southwestern.

Please note that Northwestern and Powers are so close to each other that I couldn't figure out how to get an icon on the map for both of them. Nothing personal.

Flint Artifacts: Huckleberry Railroad Hat

Friday, March 13, 2009

Mayor Gets Vague about Flint High Schools

Wurstside Warlord just alerted me to a post on K-12 Corner, Flint Journal education reporter Kristen Longley's new blog, that has some interesting info if you're trying to read the tea leaves and figure out the fate of Central, Southewestern and Powers High Schools. A few highlights:

1. Temporary Mayor Mike Brown says he wants Powers to stay in Flint. (Even though, as Wurstside points out, it's not actually in the city limits now. I say if the location is accessible by the Dupont Street bus, it's within the spirit of the Flint city limits. But technically it's in Mt. Morris Township, even though it has a Flint mailing address. Whew!)

2. Even though Brown wants Powers to stay, he's not sure Southwestern is the right spot for it.

3. Brown says he won't try to influence schools Superindentant Linda Thompson, even though he meets with her weekly.

4. Brown attended St. Michael's, but all five of his kids went to Central.

5. None of Brown's kids went to Southwestern.

Old School Hoops

Since we're talking about old schools like Central High, how about some old-school basketball? After a post on the Catholic sports leagues, Flint Expatriate Kelly O'Connor came up with these shots of a game between St. Mary's Swartz Creek and Holy Redeemer in the St. Mary's Flint gym. (St. Mary's Mt. Morris was also in the league, proving that Flint area Catholics really like Mary.) Check out the socks and the Chuck Taylor's. You can see the banners for all the Catholic schools hanging on the walls. Also note the lack of real estate once you left the court. Dive for a loose ball and you got introduced to a metal folding chair. Number 55 in blue is Larry Ragnone. (Click on the photos to enlarge and get full nostalgic effect.)

St. Mary's Swartz Creek cheerleaders Kelly O'Connor (left), Ginny Thompson (top), and Maureen O'Brien (doing all the work). Note the ref lounging at the scorer's table in the background.

The transition after a basket. One of the St. Mary's cheerleaders appears to be putting some kind of hex on the ref. As you can see, there was approximately six inches of out-of-bounds space under this hoop, so the refs were fairly lenient if you stepped on the line taking the ball out. If you drove to the basket, you made sure to stop yourself before you slammed into the front of the stage. (By the way, in gym class kickball games at St. Mary's, it was home run if you kicked the ball onto the stage from the other end of the gym.) Notice the banners on the wall. Was the Holy Family nickname really the Hustlers? Seems mildly inappropriate, but this was the seventies.

Mark Burdgick, in blue, with an unidentified player at mid court. Years later, Mark used the lessons he learned on the court to graduate at the top of our class in high school and throw an amazing party our senior year when his parents were out of town.

Kelly O'Connor (left) in cartwheel mode, Maureen O'Brien (back), Virginia Thompson and Debbie Voller. The St. Mary's coach is on his knees in the background giving instructions. It wouldn't matter; nobody ever beat Holy Redeemer.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

High School Confidential

Powers Catholic's public offer to buy Southwestern Academy has added some new heat to an already emotional subject — closing Flint schools as the city's population and resources decline. It appeared from committee reports that Flint Central was being set up as the most likely candidate to shut down.

As Flint Journal reporter Kristen Longley recently reported, "an advisory committee has labeled Central as 'an example of possibly the worst facility' in the district. The high school, once home to as many as 2,000 students, now houses fewer than half that and is one of the most expensive schools to operate." Worse, a facilities committee report included in an evaluation by the engineering firm THA Architects Engineers of Flint called the landmark "a poor performer with many deficiencies including wood construction, narrow classrooms and poor building layout. Not great facility for investing future school funds."

But closing Central would not be easy. The majestic brick school on Crapo Street has a long history and is located in the heart of the cultural district. It has a lot more alumni who might fight to keep it open than Southwestern. Perhaps the Powers offer makes the decision on which high school to close a little easier for the school district. After all, school officials can argue that the city will actually make money by closing Southwestern and avoid the hassles that would come with shuttering a local icon like Central.

I'm left wondering if Powers didn't approach the district and get some positive feedback on the offer before going public with their desire to buy Southwestern. It would seem odd to just float this idea in the press without having some inkling of where the district stood on the proposal. Going even further, who's to say the district didn't approach Powers about the sale? Just thinking out loud.

Regardless of how it went down, the district's next move should be known in a month or two: "Superintendent Linda Thompson, who has called closing a high school 'really possible,' said in an e-mail that there will be no talk of school consolidations before her administration presents its budget proposal to the board," Longley wrote. "That proposal is still being put together and is expected in April or May."

UPDATE: The Flint Journal is now reporting that Powers is offering $5 million for Southwestern.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Is the Flint Journal in a Death Spiral?

Freefromeditors, a blog that's been a font of insider dope in the past, has some unhappy news about the fate of The Flint Journal — layoffs, mandatory salary and benefit cuts, and a paper that only comes out three days a week.

Powers Wants to Buy Southwestern High

Forget Holy Redeemer, Powers wants to buy Flint Southwestern.

Kristen Longley of The Flint Journal reports:
Powers Catholic High School has offered to purchase the Southwestern Academy building from the Flint School District, an official confirmed today.

Details of the offer weren't available, but Michael Diebold, director of communications for the Catholic Diocese of Lansing, said Powers wants to relocate to that site, 1420 W. 12th St., south of I-69, from its north Flint location.

"If the offer is accepted, we would certainly move forward, but there is no firm timetable," Diebold said.

Flint School District spokesman Craig Carter said this morning that the school is not for sale.

The move could be seen as beneficial for both schools. Powers has been looking to move further south for more than a decade and the Flint School District has said it needs to close multiple buildings to cut costs and deal with declining enrollment.

Going Out of Business

Anyone looking for a blog that chronicles every business that shuts down in Saginaw? Yes, you say? Well look no further than Saginaw for Sale. It's pretty brutal. When Burger King franchises start going belly up, you know things are bad.

Monday, March 9, 2009

When God Calls the Plays

Kurt Warner in one of his humbler moments. Or perhaps he's envisioning what the rush would have been like with the 49ers porous offensive line. (Illustration by Janine Kahn at SF Weekly)

At St. Mary's, the basketball players had a pre-game ritual; the coach would yell "Holy Mary mother of god!" and we'd shout back "Pray for us!" We also paid a visit to the grotto before every football game. Sure, we were calling on a higher power for a little help, but we never claimed to actually talk to god like Cardinals QB Kurt Warner.

A Thankless Job

The campaigning has already started to replace former Mayor Don Williamson, and it's a crowded field.

The Return of Victory Gardens

Flint has something Los Angeles wants — urban gardens.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Flint Photos: St. Mary's Basketball

A few photos from the Catholic school basketball league. I remember thinking these uniforms and warmups were very cool. This looks like some kind of post-season tournament in the late seventies. It is not the gym at St. Mary's, where all the 5th- and 6th-grade games were played. Coach Don Beauchamp is in the back on the left. Players, from left to right, Matt Porritt, Jason Lince, Bill Suttles, Duane Gilles, and Greg Fay.

Players from left to right, Jason Lince, Greg Fay, Gordie Young, David Bosak. Coach Don Beauchamp is in back on the right.

Players from left to right, Gordie Young and Joe Serna listen to Coach Beauchamp and Assistant Coach Rick Golombeski. Who's number 24?

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Murder by Numbers

With unemployment levels climbing, it seems the rest of the country is catching on to a reality that Flint residents figured out a long time ago.

Peter S. Goodman and Jack Healy of The New York Times report:

The unemployment rate surged to 8.1 percent, from 7.6 percent in January, its highest level in a quarter-century. In key industries — manufacturing, financial services and retail — layoffs have accelerated so quickly in recent months as to suggest that many companies are abandoning whole areas of business.

“These jobs aren’t coming back,” said John E. Silvia, chief economist at Wachovia in Charlotte, N.C. “A lot of production either isn’t going to happen at all, or it’s going to happen somewhere other than the United States. There are going to be fewer stores, fewer factories, fewer financial services operations. Firms are making strategic decisions that they don’t want to be in their businesses.”
Manufacturing losses are bad enough, but many workers settled for retail jobs when their factory work disappeared. Now retail is drying up? Not good.

The Times also provides a depressing county-by-county breakdown of unemployment numbers
across the nation. The numbers are bad in Genesee (12.3%) and Wayne (11.7%), but you have to go Up North to get the catastropic percentages: Presque Isle (20.1%), Cheboygan (18.4%), Baraga (20.6%), and Ontonagon (17.2%). But keep in mind you aren't counted as unemployed when you've given up hope of a job and stopped looking. Genesee County's real unemployment rate is easily over 20 percent.

In California, some of my journalism students have been conducting brief interviews with people about how the recession is affecting them and their families. They've also asked students how much debt they'll have at graduation and how they plan to pay it off. The profiles aren't exactly uplifting:

Name: Nick Arb
Major: Marketing
Year: 2010
Debt: $50,000 and Rising
Deep thoughts on debt: "I have to start paying back six months after I graduate, so I need to find a job and live within my means and not necessarily put a whole lot away. Just pay off the debt as soon as possible. I'm applying for internships this summer and I'm going for the same position as grad students, so I know when I graduate, with or without an MBA I'm going to be going against people with better degrees and more qualifications. I'd like to (pay it off) within 15 years of graduation, hopefully less. The sooner the better. I know there will be something out there. It might not necessarily be your dream job, but you gotta get paid."

Thursday, March 5, 2009

G.M. Takes Billions at a Time

At long last, Flint Expatriates and former members of Dissonance Andy Turpen and Jim Holbel have reunited to form a new band — The Gifted Program. They offer up a timely rendition of the 1976 Johnny Cash recording of the Wayne Kemp song "One Piece at A Time." Instead of an autoworker slowly stealing the Cadillac of his dreams, this version follows our favorite automotive giant as it takes billions at a time from the taxpayers.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Flint's Doppelganger

Photo by Richard Perry courtesy of The New York Times.

Anderson, Indiana looks suspiciously like Flint, doesn't it? And while both cities suffer from a G.M. hangover, Anderson seems to be in the process of recovering, albeit very slowly.

Mary M. Chapman of The New York Times reports:
"It is the home, for example, of two dozen former General Motors factories and thousands of retired auto workers who are still dependent on G.M. for health care and pensions. It once ranked right behind Flint, Mich., as the city with the largest concentration of G.M. operations, and it fell just as hard as the car company faltered.

"But on Monday, Anderson enjoyed some rare bragging rights. A global company, Nestlé, opened a new Coffee-Mate and Nesquik plant here and announced plans to expand to more than a million square feet. Its total investment, $529 million, is creating hundreds of new jobs."

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Mini McMansion

If you think a nine-square-foot house is a bit extreme, why not upgrade to a whopping 100 square feet?

Shrinking Cities and Tiny Houses

While Congress considers legislation that would help shrinking cities like Flint get rid of dilapidated, unwanted housing, designers are working on houses that are only nine square feet.

"The design includes all the main elements that make up a house," writes Michael Janzen at Tiny House Design. "Only the shell is represented in this 3D drawing but the final house would have a toilet, sink, 12VDC cooler, propane heater, bed, chair, fold-down table, and storage. I came up with the size by asking myself how what the absolute minimum amount of space would be needed for someone to live. I did a quick calculation in my head of the amount of space I took up while laying down and came up with nine square feet."

Monday, March 2, 2009

Flint Postcards: Flint Osteopathic Hospital, W. 4th Avenue

Flint School District Continues to Shrink

The number of students in the Flint School District dropped by 9.4 percent in the last year. The district now has a capacity for 30,000 students but only 14,887 are actually enrolled.

Party Time

Ahh, spring break! A time when college students close their textbooks, borrow some extra money from their parents, prepare for an over-abundance of rum-based frozen drinks, and head to...Flint?

Riding shotgun! Well, actually it was a handgun

My mom always told me to wear a helmet and a holster for my revolver whenever I went for a bike ride back in Flint. Now I know why.
"A 20-year-old man was in good condition after his gun accidentally discharged while riding his bicycle last week," Ron Fonger of The Flint Journal reports.

"A Flint police report Saturday said that the man was in good condition at Hurley Medical Center after the incident.

"The man told police he was riding his bicycle Wednesday night on Davison Road, near Averill Avenue, when he hit a pothole that caused his 22-caliber revolver is discharge, shooting his leg."

It's time the city started fixing the streets so bike-riding gun enthusiasts won't have these problems.

Flint Photos: 1947 Flood