Sunday, July 26, 2009

On the Road for Architecture

Three architecture students from UM-Ann Arbor. On bikes. In Flint, Detroit and Saginaw. What could possibly go wrong? Follow their progress and offer suggestions on their Rusty Mitten blog. Here's a sample:
"Many of the sites we’ve visited are now nothing more than vast, empty and windswept concrete fields dotted here and there with small heaps of garbage. Of the abandoned buildings we’ve visited, nearly all of them are in such a state of decay it’s hard to imagine any kind of re-development or renovation being possible.We know, from our own observations, as well as from the various interviews we’ve conducted so far, that these sites are heavily contaminated by years and years of pollution from industrial processes. The clean-up costs for any one of these sites would be considerably high. So the question I find myself asking now is: What should/could be done with these post-industrial sites that have accumulated throughout the Rust Belt?"


  1. Just the fact that these students' minds have already been poisoned by environmentalist propaganda disturbs me. Add that the fact that U. of M. Ann Arbor has a generally bad attitude toward Flint and other industrialized cities, and I would take their assessments with a grain of salt.

    There are some buildings in Genesee County that were designed by famous architiects, the Saarinen family in particular.

    Frankly, I find U. of M. Ann Arbor to be environmentally questionable. You might want to check the area aorund the old Chemistry Building, for example. For years, many buildings on the U. of M. Ann Arbor Campus operated with broken themostats shorted out to the on position, resulting in sweltering buildings such as dormitories where windows had to be kept open in the middle of winter to achieve a comfortable temperature.

    I think the fact that they find post industrial sites so disturbing is a prejudice in and of itself.

    They might also want to check sites in Europe and Asia, where environmentalism has not yet made much progress.

  2. Excuse me? Is "Anonymous" (please) arguing that, because U-of-M had a building that was too hot, the industrial former residents of abandoned industrial sites in Michigan must have been environmentally responsible??

  3. Is someone actually arguing that the former Flint factory sites aren't environmentally compromised? Come on. I don't think the students are going out on a limb saying that they are. And if you read their blog, you'll see that the purpose of their trip is to think about ways to put the land to good use now that the factories are gone. They aren't anti-Flint. It's just the opposite.

  4. If I had a dollar for everytime someone discriminated me for having gone to U-M Ann Arbor.

    You know Anonymous, not everyone who went there is a crunchy nut rolling their way to California. There are some other students who attend there as well.

    I'm not saying you're entirely wrong in your assumption, as the protesters are surely more visible on U-M campus than the rest of the student body. As I recall, they had a protest for every holiday... even Valentine's Day.

    But you need to understand, U-M is a huge university that houses students with more than one agenda, and to lump this new blog into your assumptions is just sad.

  5. Here we have Ann Arbor dictating that we pollute too much and use to much energy, and they didn't, and probably still don't properly manage the energy usage of their own buildings. That is the point.

    And there are other buildings at Ann Arbor who probably pollute besides the old Chemistry building. The only reason that the University didn't pollute more is that it didn't produce tangible products that people bought. It's easy to point fingers when they don't understand that this is how the world works.

    It is now so obvious that we have listened to these people too long already. Developing countries don't even buy into their anti-industrial diatribes.

  6. From what former factory workers explained to me regarding how dangerous material was disposed the students are vastly understating how much damage has been done to the area.

  7. You just never know where the comment section will lead you.

  8. I probably know things about auto-manufacturing-related contamination in the Flint area that aren't common knowledge. I'm certainly not a defender or excuser of environmental degradation.

    It's absurd, though, to suggest that the Flint area is significantly environmentally damaged, except in a relatively few highly localized areas where materials were dumped back when that was accepted practice.

    By comparison to locales that historically have been used for metals and coal mining, smelting of all kinds, leather tanning, wool felt production, lead paint manufacture, steel manufacture, chromium and cadmium plating, heavy metals fabrication, chemical production, oil extraction and refining, radioactive materials refining and fabrication, and many other industries, the auto industry historically has been quite clean.

    Flint has many opportunities for improvement, but our environmental record is actually pretty good.

  9. If these same students visited sites in some areas of Europe and Asia, they wouldn't be freely allowed to leave with their data, if they were allowed to leave at all.

    There are toxic and radioactive sites in those areas that would make the worst in the USA pale by comparison.

    It makes no sense for the USA to handicap itself economically while the rest of the world refuses to protect their own environments.

    If there were a use for those types of sites in Europe or Asia, they'd be reused in a heartbeat.

    And many so called toxic sites in the USA have been proposed for uses that would require little if any human exposure, and they have been refused.

  10. Annonymous, your clear logic has convinced me. I'm sold! Let's just throw up some houses or farms on the old factory sites and start competing with the rest of the world. Maybe a few people will die as a result, but who cares, we need to lower our standards to compete with the rest of the world. Hey, we started torturing people and data mining our own citizens to keep pace in the war on terror, so why not go all the way? Thanks for showing me the light.

  11. Some of you need to consider watching "The City on the Edge of Forever" Star Trek episode.

    If it were up to many of you, we would have lost World War II, the ongoing real War On Terror notwithstanding.

    You can't play nice with tyrants. You assume tyrants are logical, but they are not.

    I have to wonder who is really behind some of the most embarrassing incidents like Abu Ghahib. Perhaps people like some of you who are undermining the USA.

    Some of you people are even advocating that we lower our standards to the rest of the world economically under the guise of environmentalism. The rest of the world is laughing at us for that very reason.

  12. Würstside WarlørdJuly 27, 2009 at 10:09 AM

    I agree wholeheartedly with Anonymous. The United States will never be able to compete in the global economy unless we lower our environmental protection standards to the levels found in North Korea. Indeed, U.S. policy should be dictated by what is deemed safe in Belarus and Tajikistan.

    How dare the U of M spread it's lib environmentalist hate speech when it has broken thermostats and plastic wrappers blowing about throughout campus.

    Ann Arbor produces nothing of economic value besides hot air. Perhaps it should be leveled to make space for something that generates actual revenue like foreign toxic waste. The import of waste from Canada is one of Michigan's few growth industries, perhaps we should expand it. UM would make a fine repository for Pakistani toxins and depleted Israeli uranium.

  13. It's not an either or thing Wurstside. If you don't think I see your sarcasm, you are the one that is deluded. You are using one of the the tactics of the far left which is ridiculing and underestimating people you don't THINK you agree with.

  14. I suspect that there are areas of chemical, biological, nuclear, and medical waste at many points on the Ann Arbor campus, from before more stringent restrictions and regulations, and perhaps even after. I'm sure that chemical (including explosives) and biological agents used in warfare have been researched and developed at the University. So your claims of somehow being so clean are suspect at best. There has probably even been research used in nuclear weapons done on the campus. I agree that we should do more of our own polluting instead of importing pollution from Canada though. Governor Granholm has been instrumental in those imports, as we recall.

  15. Würstside WarlørdJuly 27, 2009 at 4:27 PM

    I suspect that there aren’t areas of chemical, biological, nuclear, and medical waste at any point on the Ann Arbor campus because the people involved in such work understand the dangers. So your claims of Ann Arbor somehow being so polluted are suspect at best. If you can’t prove me wrong than I am right. Right?

    I disagree that we should do more of our own polluting. What is wrong with importing trash if it produces income? Wouldn’t this be a positive use for former industrial sites? Canada has been exporting its rubbish to Michigan since that far left lunatic Jim Blanchard opened the floodgates in the mid 1980s. It has been one of our few growth industries. I can't tell what your take on the subject is, but I’m marching for trash.

  16. You forget that students make a lot of mistakes, professors discard research that doesn't fit, and workers in hospitals cut corners, to name a few examples. Students pour benzene and other hazardous chemicals down sewer drains. Professors have to discard materials somewhere. You make the mistake in assuming that just because professors and students are "smart" that they are ethical. That is one huge lesson that dismayed me about Ann Arbor. That is discovering that so-called "smart" people are often intellectually combative and unethical. That and truly hateful people who did well on every standardized test imaginable.

  17. No Longer AnonymousJuly 27, 2009 at 8:24 PM

    I'm going to get another handle after this. Anonymous, you are giving us anonymous folks a bad name.

  18. ...and homeowners pour bleach and paint down the drains whenever they clean their mops or paint brushes... seriously, what's your point? And what exactly does it have to do with 3 bloggers appreciating architecture?

  19. Excellent observations by these students. And they're right, of course.

  20. I am not suggesting that EVERYONE in Ann Arbor or went there is a hypocrite.

    The students seem to be rejecting out of hand reusing sites because of pollution. JWilly suggested that the types of pollution produced by automobile manufacturing are relatively innocuous compared to many. And those pollutants produced in research and hospitals are probably more dangerous. Particularly those used in chemical and radiological laboratories.

    Hence I think that these students should consider that their own campus may not be so clean and pollutant free after all. Instead of rejecting these sites out of hand, perhaps they should do research on economically cleaning up such sites, rather than making it difficult to reuse land.

    And maybe we should expect the same from foreign governments as we do from our own, to level the playing field.

  21. Man nothing worse than people trying to learn about an industry that shaped their own state and the country.

    Even worse is someone going to a school that isn't perfect. They are students of that school and must answer for that school. its like the episode of Star Trek the Next Generation when Worf's family loses its honor because Worf's father was traitor and responsible for the Romulan massacre of Klingons at Khitomer. They cleared him later and his family's honor was restored. But thats TV and we all know that once you sin you can't unsin. So i'm going to try to have U of M closed. Because its pretty much useless now. Oh and Ted Kaczynski. They did that.

    But thats silly. Why should we be so angry with some grad students trying to have some fun, get a good grade, get some fresh air, and see beyond our brand new parking lots? Plus like anonymous said flint produced cars, Ann Arbor produces hot air, i.e. really smart people (ethical and unethical). So its like comparing apples and oranges.

    And i don't think europe and asia are in the scope of the research. Thats just too far to pedal. neither are their school's pollution standards, European and Asian countries freedoms and laws, thermostats, student's loose grip safety in chemsitry class, why ann arbor is not producing cars, radioactive material disposal sites throughout the USA, the USA's economy in relation to polution control, terrorists,torture, nuclear weapons, ethics of intellectuals, standardized tests, and Michigan State.

  22. Gee, Gordie. I never suspected there'd be a trekkie convention on your blog. These posts are hilarious! :)

  23. I must admit, on a tip from Gordie, I scrolled through this and enjoyed the discussion. But to make it to the end and read a statement like "You are using one of the the tactics of the far left which is ridiculing and underestimating people" AFTER reading statements like:

    "poisoned by environmentalist propoganda"

    "U. of M. Ann Arbor has a generally bad attitude"

    "rest of the world refuses to protect their own environments"

    "If it were up to many of you, we would have lost World War II"

    "Perhaps people like some of you who are undermining the USA."

    By my quick count, that is "ridiculing and underestimating" environmentalists, the UM A2 student, staff, and alumni body (in the millions), all non-US nations, and all Gordie's loyal readers (not in the millions).

  24. Hopefully AnonynousJuly 30, 2009 at 10:21 AM

    These leftist kids should be taken to the woodshed. Bad enough they rode their hippie bikes thru Flint; they actually did some thinking and wow; formed opinions. Bad kids!

  25. They formed opinions all right. But it was only based on the propaganda they were given in school. They weren't thinking for themselves.

  26. Anonymous, I believe someone has stepped on you hard in the past and it appears you just can't let it go. Relax, they're just young people in the process of becomming old people. We were all there at one time, with lots of ideas about everything under the sun. Why assume they aren't smart enough to see thru the propaganda; apparently you did.

  27. This whole blog seems dedicated to what a great city Flint was at one time, and how it has deteriorated.

    I don't want to bulldoze Flint, or any other city. I want cities rebuilt to their maximum possible former glory.

    I see that many people, however, are looking for excuses such as environmental ones to not reuse land that would be a perfect place for a new factory if not for that and all the other excuses that favor foreign lands for development, but not the USA for redevelopment.

    I believe this is the hope we should have, not the despair that I see here.

    I realize that this is a tall order, but when people are properly motivated, things can happen.

  28. Jimmy Holbel, I'll have you know that I officially have "several dozen" readers, thank you.

  29. I am the mom of one of those students biking through Michigan. I can tell you after raising her she is not about to be brainwashed by anyone. This trip was not about finding fault. It was based on curiosity, adventure, hope for the future and how they might be a part of it. Just because they picked this topic doesn't make them blind to other viewpoints. Assuming so much about them from a few paragraphs of writing is just silly. One of our goals when raising our children was for them to do better and I think they are!

  30. Gordo - your blog and my band are in the EXACT same boat

  31. I'm a Flint Expatriate who, after leaving Michigan, lived for 7 years in Endicott, New York (we now are in Austin, TX.) Unfortunately, Endicott serves as a prime example of the dangers of inappropriate development covering over sites previously devoted to manufacturing.

    For decades, Endicott was the home of multiple manufacturing companies. Chief among them was the Endicott-Johnson company, which manufactured shoes there, and the IBM Corporation. IBM's first manufacturing plant was in Endicott, and over time they greatly expanded their manufacturing presence to eventually cover hundreds of acres. Both of those companies have very good reputations for supporting local communities; IBM in particular has been aggressive in trying to protect the environment. Nonetheless, the manufacturing processes those companies used years ago are now causing serious health problems for residents, and has destroyed the value of real estate properties developed anywhere near those previous manufacturing sites. There are LOTS of other examples of serious environmental damage left after manufacturing companies close shop (Love Canal is just one example.)

    These UM students are certainly correct that "...the clean-up costs for any one of these sites would be considerably high...."

    That doesn't preclude re-development of those sites, but we can't ignore the cost. The final question is valid: "What should/could be done with these ....sites throughout the Rust Belt?"


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