Friday, June 26, 2009

Flint Without Us

The site of the old Double D Market on Dayton Street in Civic Park reverts to forest.

I picked up a copy of The World Without Us by Alan Weisman a few months back. It was surprisingly boring. Yet I found myself thinking about it a lot in Flint. I don't want to overstate this because Flint is definitely alive and kicking, but the city's dwindling population, industrial tax base and housing stock have led to numerous "renaturalized" areas, to use the term being floated by public officials these days.

Here's The New Yorker's brief take on the book:
"Teasing out the consequences of a simple thought experiment—what would happen if the human species were suddenly extinguished—Weisman has written a sort of pop-science ghost story, in which the whole earth is the haunted house. Among the highlights: with pumps not working, the New York City subways would fill with water within days, while weeds and then trees would retake the buckled streets and wild predators would ravage the domesticated dogs. Texas’s unattended petrochemical complexes might ignite, scattering hydrogen cyanide to the winds—a “mini chemical nuclear winter.” After thousands of years, the Chunnel, rubber tires, and more than a billion tons of plastic might remain, but eventually a polymer-eating microbe could evolve, and, with the spectacular return of fish and bird populations, the earth might revert to Eden. "

The grasses thrive and the houses suffer on Paterson Street.

The shrubbery makes a hostile takeover of the abandoned Genesee Bank drive-thru on Welch Blvd.

The backyard ghetto palm forest of an abandoned house in Carriage Town, courtesy of an out-of-state homeowner.

A fence tries unsuccesfully to stop the tide of vegetation near downtown.

The beautiful savannas near Atwood Stadium.

The path back to nature off Grand Traverse, just across the river from downtown.

Protection from grass fires.


  1. Nice photos. I especially like the savannahs one. :)

  2. When I saw the Will Smith movie "I am Legend" I thought it was ridiculous that they showed corn growing in the middle of an abandoned street in New York City and deer running through the empty downtown. Maybe it was not so far off.

  3. The subject matter is sad, but the photographs are really very nice...

  4. "...the spectacular return of fish and bird populations, the earth might revert to Eden."

    Why do I have a feeling that the author looks forward to that? Except he'd like an Eden without Adam and Eve..."

  5. As in so many ways, we are living through "Atlas Shrugged."

    Remember the scene where Dagny and Hank are driving through a forest primeval and discover, hidden under the greenery, the remnants of a gas station?

    Ayn was fifty years too early, but the headlines are proving her terrifyingly prescient.

  6. Hi Gordy,
    It was nice bump in to you while you were in Flint. When will your NY Times piece be out?

  7. Ayn Rand? To me, it approaches terrifying that you seem serious about her "prescience"! Even Nostradamus got =some= things right.

  8. As a photographer, I do find some of the images beautiful if a little sad. As a former expat who has indeed come back, I would acknowledge that this blight does exist but we have a lot of beautiful areas: The Farmer's Market, Cultural Center, Downtown Saginaw Street, Mott Park, etc. They exist because hard-working people make them exist. How can expats help Flint from so far away? We can talk, but work does not get done by talking alone.

  9. phhowe, one of the drawbacks of simply posting photos is that there is no context. I'm constrained from giving too many opinions on certain aspects of Flint because I'm still working on a few freelance stories about the city, but it's safe to say that I was heartened by a lot of what I saw in Flint. Mott Park, East Court, Miller Road and some of the neighborhoods in the north end off Saginaw look good, if not great. Even places like Civic Park had meticulous homes where people weren't giving up. I visited an old neighbor on Bassett Place who has stayed and helped the street survive. And I think the open vistas in the photos are beautiful and can be an asset at some point. I met so many people with multiple lots near downtown, great houses with huge, wonderful yards.


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