Genesee County Land Bank Chairman Dan Kildee. (Photo courtesy of Jon M. Brouwer/Grand Rapids Press)
When temporary Mayor Michael Brown told a Rotary Club luncheon last month that one solution to Flint's woes might be "shutting down quadrants of the city," it sounded more like wishful thinking than actual policy. In fact, a Brown spokesman claimed it was just an off-the-cuff remark.
But a front-page story in yesterday's New York Times indicates that the concept is gaining momentum. It's even got an environmentally pleasing name; it's a "greening strategy."
As you might have guessed, Genesee County Land Bank Chairman Dan Kildee, who also happens to be the county treasurer, is leading the charge.
“Decline in Flint is like gravity, a fact of life,” Kildee told David Streitfeld of The New York Times. “We need to control it instead of letting it control us.”
(Streitfeld's article builds on a good piece by The Flint Journal's Ron Fonger published a month earlier.)
One thing the Times story inexplicably failed to mention is that Youngstown, Ohio has already put a similar plan into action that would be an obvious model for Flint. I mentioned this in an earlier post about shrinking Flint, and Fonger zeroed in on it in his Journal article:
The Land Bank chairman said he's prepared to promote talk about shrinking Flint by helping to bring in an expert on the subject, like Youngstown, Ohio, Mayor Jay Williams.
In Youngstown, the city is demolishing homes but also monitoring neighborhoods that have largely been abandoned, and is offering up to $50,000 in grants for remaining homeowners to relocate, according to news reports.
Flint is in the process of updating its master plan for the first time since 1965, so now would be the time to map out a "greening strategy" and make it official city policy.
For a racially diverse — some would argue racially polarized — city like Flint, it’s bound to be a controversial process. Namely, which parts of Flint get eliminated? And what happens when the predominantly white power structure selects predominantly African American sections of town to turn into verdant pastures? I don’t think I’m going out on limb in predicting that the north end will go before Mott Park or East Court.
And do you offer out-of-state speculators who own abandoned property the same payment as an actual Flint resident living in a house slated for removal? There's no question this whole process would be very complicated.
Are you wondering what this might resemble if it’s handled badly? Look at the mess Flint has made trying to close schools in its shrinking, cash-poor educational system. Shrinking the entire city could make that fiasco seem like a model of cooperation and efficiency.
Don’t get me wrong. I think this is a good idea. Flint has become a poverty-stricken town trapped in the boundaries of a once-prosperous city. Providing services for 34-square miles just doesn't make sense. But it will take leadership in the mayor's office to pull this off, something that's been in short supply for a long time in Flint. (Given his temporary status, I'm not including Mike Brown in this negative assessment. His short stint as mayor has reminded us what a competent, rational leader looks like after the Don Williamson years.)
At least Kildee seems to know what he's up against:
"I am pretty well sold on this, but the challenge is to do this openly, with participation of the citizens," Kildee told the Journal. "Really, the question is whether the city is going to let this happen in the most destructive manner or the most constructive."
UPDATE: Kildee appears to be on the porch of a house on Sanford Place, a dead-end street off W. Third Ave. in Carriage Town. It's not on Google Street View, but here's a shot of the street from Third Ave.
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