Friday, July 24, 2009

Flint as Cultural Reference Point

Why is Flint always used as the worst-case scenario when people write about their own cities? Here's Paul Wilham writing about Cincinnati on his Victorian Antiquities and Design blog:
"We are at the tipping point and either those who love old houses, believe in neighborhoods and want this city to 'be something' need to get involved and push the city council and this mayor to get off their 'lazy' and develop a long range plan to develop this city's historic Tourism potential or we will be another rust belt 'has been' city like Detroit or Flint Michigan."


  1. The natural human tendency is to want to identify somewhere else that's worse than we are. Comparisons are a staple of communication.

    It's natural that those who get negative press will have high mindshare among communicators elsewhere, who are likely to be readers.

    Flint gets negative press because negative things happen.

    The best way to avoid negative press is to have significantly positive things happen.

    Significance has to be real to project out-of-town. That means economics.

    Significantly positive economic news about Flint would pretty much have to involve creation of new manufacturing/technical-service jobs.

    New manufacturing/technical-service jobs can come from existing businesses, or start-ups.

    We don't have a lot of control over existing businesses deciding to locate their new intergalactic research center in Flint instead of Timbuktu. Marketing programs that claim to try to influence these kinds of decisions are mostly make-work programs for Chamber of Commerce types.

    We can however take certain steps to encourage the formation of manufacturing/technical-service startups.

    So: that's what we need to do, to avoid being negatively characterized by Cincinnati writers.

  2. It's funny that someone from Ohio would say this. When Ohio isn't flat and boring, it smells bad.

  3. With all the bad press Flint has been getting lately, one would think that the word "Flint" has just become a adjective synonymous with "decrepit," "out-dated" and "has-been." As a current resident, I see all these things but I also the good in Flint. JWilly you said, "The best way to avoid negative press is to have significantly positive things happen." I disagree. Flint did not get into the mess it is in by "significantly" bad things happening. It was a nearly 30 (or 40?) year process of GM pulling out and the resulting vacuum.

    Good things are happening. Five restaurants have opened in the past six months in downtown Flint. U of M opened res life halls and is planning on opening more. The Capitol is being refurbished. The cultural center continues to be vibrant. One factory is not going to make the difference.

    As for the direction of Flint, I prefer Richard Florida's "Creative City" approach. (Of course sometimes Florida does come off as elitist.) Build a city that utilizes people as a resource and create an environment in which attracts the creative people.

    Ultimately, we are our worst enemies. It's time that we stop badgering Flint ourselves and start showing the good that resides in Flint. Even if it is only to extol the wonders of coney dogs and boston coolers.


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