There's never enough space to use all the material you gather on a story, and my profile of Dan Kildee in Slate was no different. If you enjoyed reading about the pied piper of the shrinking city movement, here is some additional info about Kildee, Jane Avenue, H.U.D., and unofficial White House tours, along with some of the photos I took along the way.
Addendum: Jane Avenue Memories
"I have a lot of memories of Jane Avenue," Kildee writes in an email. "That street, to me, was my grandmother. She lived there for 60 years, from 1934 until she died in 1994. Even then, many of the families on the street had been there for decades. That neighborhood in my early years seemed like a collection of families more than a typical neighborhood. The family names were familiar across generations — the Kildees, the Wests, the Lotts, the Beauchamps, the Griffins. Jane Avenue and the whole 'old east side' was a neighborhood in the way we don't see anymore. It reached across generations.
"Going to my grandmother's house was like going to the family museum — it actually felt like we were going back in time. Of course, inside her house was this treasure of family pictures and other reminders of our family history — like her furniture which never changed throughout my whole life. But even the neighborhood was a reminder of past decades. The neighbors knew me even though I didn't know them — I guess the grandmothers kept one another informed. When I started running for office and would campaign in that area — even though I moved to the west side at age four — I had to plan for long conversations on the porches of east-siders, and they told me stories of my family. Of course many of those stories were the ones I never heard at home or at Grandma's house. I learned a lot about my grandfather, who died before I was born.
"For me the saddest part of being there now is not so much that the houses have deteriorated or are gone. I miss that connection to my own past."
Addendum: Federal Influence
Kildee has found a receptive audience at the federal level as well. After he helped draft a transition memo for Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, Kildee was offered a H.U.D. job shortly after he got Community Progress up and running. He turned it down. As a politician who won a school board seat when he was 18 and had been in public office ever since, he welcomed his new-found freedom.
“It was pretty clear to me that I’d quickly gotten used to being able to speak my own mind and follow my own policy instincts at Community Progress,” he says. “It would have been hard for me to do that in a relatively senior position at H.U.D.”
You don’t have to spend much time with Kildee for him to illustrate this point. He calls a local state senator who opposes his views a “moron” and describes Van Jones’ speech at the Michigan Summit as “sort of interesting but kind of like something you’d hear in eighth grade.” Despite the unenthusiastic review, Kildee still found time to snap a photo of Jones with his smartphone and post it on his Facebook page.
Not that Kildee’s outspokenness is hurting his access. He mentions that Derek Douglas, the special assistant to the president for urban affairs, summoned him to the White House in May to talk shop for a couple hours.
“That’s like going to Carnegie Hall for me,” Kildee says. “I lived my whole life basically doing recitals, and now I have a chance to be in a place where really important policy is being made.”
After the session, Kildee realized he wasn’t going to be escorted out of the building. He had a security badge, so he decided to go on a random 20-minute self-guided tour. “I’m just this kid from Flint but here I am at the White House,” he says. “I just walked around like I knew where I was going.”
Addendum: Working with Other States
Local and state governments are embracing Kildee’s approach. He assisted the Ohio legislature on a land bank bill that recently passed with bi-partisan support. Similar legislation is expected to be approved in New York with Kildee’s help. Pennsylvania State Rep. John Taylor, a Philadelphia Republican, is currently sheparding a land bank bill through the state legislature after working closely with Community Progress.
“You can’t understand land banks without talking to Kildee,” says Christine Goldbeck, executive director of the Pennsylvania House Urban Affairs Committee. “He paved the way for Pennsylvania and other states to implement these laws.”
Addendum: A Certain Irony
There’s a certain irony in the notion that a former high school hockey player from Flint — a factory town that practically invented the concept of planned obsolescence and grew prosperous on General Motors’ rapacious lust for an ever-expanding market share — might successfully export the notion that cities can save themselves by repurposing land and accepting negative growth.
Addendum: Feuding with Rush Limbaugh
Rush Limbaugh even took notice, lambasting the shrinking city concept for several minutes of air time last summer. “I'm seeing things happen in this country that I thought I would never, ever see,” Limbaugh declared. “These are the kind of things that happen in totalitarian regimes.” Kildee was delighted.
“Rush went crazy for a few days, but it was the best thing to every happen to me because a couple million people heard it,” says Kildee, who admits he soon grew weary of the mocking calls to his home and office from Limbaugh’s “dittoheads.”