Sunday, October 31, 2010

Devil's Night: It's All Relative

Devil's night in Flint is considered "pleasantly quiet" by the fire department because there were only 8 fires.

At long last, the secret of why anyone would root for the Detroit Lions is revealed!

I feel I'd be remiss if I didn't post at least one of the hilarious Pure Michigan spoofs on Flint Expatriates. Warning: Very Strong Language. And if you're a Detroit Lions fan, I just wouldn't watch this.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Flint Artifacts: Flint Journal, August 14, 1945

Thanks again to Tom Pohrt for the artifact.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Flint High Schools Struggle on the Gridiron

Last August I lamented the decline of Flint's public high school football programs — see the stats below — and things actually seem to be getting worse. As the 2010 season wraps up, Flint schools were a combined 5-22, with the Northern Vikings accounting for all the wins:

Northwestern 0-9
Southwestern 0-9
Northern 5-4

Even Powers Catholic, which has a .677 winning percentage dating back to 1970, only managed to eke out a single win against Northwestern.

I've said this before, but it would be nice if Flint consolidated into a single public high school. The demographics will force it to happen sooner or later. (Flint is expected to have fewer than 2,500 high school students by 2013.) It would be cheaper and provide a better education to Flint high school students. And it would probably produce a competitive football team as an added bonus.

Here's the post from August 2009:

With the start of the high school football season yesterday, it's hard not to notice that one of the casualties of Flint's shrinking population and economic malaise has been the success of the city's public school teams.

Flint Northwestern: By going 5-4 last year, the Wildcats posted their first winning season since 1984. During that run, the team had five 0-9 seasons. Northwestern beat Southwestern in this year's season opener, 32-6.

Flint Southwestern: In the last twenty years, the Colts haven't had a single winning season and have a combined 39-150 record.

Flint Northern: The Vikings last winning season was in 2001. The school has an 8-55 record over the last eight seasons.

Flint Central: After an impressive 11-1 season in 1993, the Indians/Phoenix had 10 losing seasons out of 15 with a combined record of 53-75. In their final season last year, Central went 3-6.

I can't help thinking what a great team the city would have if Flint had a single Class A high school for its approximately 2,700 students. An enrollment, by the way, that's getting smaller every year. But this isn't just about sports. Studies show that students have more academic resources in bigger schools, which are cheaper to run. And there are plenty of good high schools around the country with much larger enrollments. As painful as it was to lose Central, the city should probably close two more schools.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Chevy and the Zen of Advertising Slogans

Is "Chevy Runs Deep" the worst ad slogan ever?, the car site that may have the worst name ever, thinks so.

UPDATE: It appears that Chevy has traveled a long and winding path to come up with this water-logged slogan. (With mixed metaphors like that, maybe I should go into advertising for Chevy.)

Chrissie Thompson of The Detroit Free Press reports:

The new work is GM’s first attempt at brand-wide advertising for Chevrolet since Ewanick’s arrival in May from his weeks-old job at Nissan. It uses the nostalgic “Chevy” label after the brand’s top U.S. sales and marketing executives in June asked employees to stop referring to the brand by its nickname, then reneged after widespread complaints.

The new Chevy strategy comes after a year of marketing turmoil, which started last summer, when the brand began publicly looking to replace its 5-year-old “American Revolution” tag line. After deciding to remain tagless, Chevrolet in April broke off a 91-year relationship with Warren-based ad agency Campbell-Ewald and said it would give its advertising contract to Publicis Worldwide.

The result of that relationship was the tag line “Excellence for All, ” which appeared only in print ads before Ewanick arrived in May and promptly canned the slogan. Days after arriving, he dismissed Publicis and chose San Francisco-based Goodby as Chevrolet’s agency.

In August, Ewanick replaced Chevrolet marketing head Jim Campbell with, Chris Perry, Ewanick’s former colleague from his three years at Hyundai. Perry is Chevrolet’s fourth top marketer since GM exited its bankruptcy in July 2009.

The Fire This Time

So who, in your opinion, is responsible for the Flint fires?

Monday, October 25, 2010

A G.M. Ghost in San Francisco

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Flint Photos: Downtown in the Sixties

Flint Expatriate Shawn Chittle has an amazing collection of Flint photos from the late sixties — a time when trains ran through downtown and buildings covered parts of the river — on his Facebook page.

Flint Artifacts: Property of General Motors T-Shirt

For a guy from Texas, my friend Carlo has a great sense of Flint fashion. Maybe it's the result of spending a lot of time at AstroWorld — the cousin of AutoWorld — as a kid.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tested by Fire

An anonymous reader struggles to keep the faith after the Jackson Hardy House fire:

"This is a turning point for me and looking at Flint's future.

"I didn't grow up in Flint, but moved here from a smaller berg about 10 years ago after finding a house that cost a third of what it would cost anywhere else in the county. Growing up I heard horror stories about the city of Flint. However, after moving here I found that much of what I had heard didn't really line up with what I was seeing in my neighborhood. I was amazed to have sixty or seventy kids come to my house the first year I gave out candy for Halloween and was happy to see kids as young as seven or eight walking past my house by themselves to go to school in the morning. I love the library, the College/Cultural area, the folk music festival at Kearsley Park, Carriage Town and going to the Mott estate whenever they open it up for garden tours.

"Lately things have changed though. About a year ago I awoke to find a man trying to break into my back door and have since noticed the screens on some of the windows have been moved after returning from work. I've really enjoyed learning more about the great history of Flint and am sickened to see that the Jackson Hardy house was burned down and anyone who cares about Flint and Genesee County should be sick as well. Sadly, I've found that most people don't care. In almost any other city historic structures like this would be cherished and protected but not here.

"I think this area has some sort of screwed-up defeatist psychological mindset that makes it difficult for me to want to stay. I mean if someone can burn down a house like that then they don't have respect for anything."

UPDATE: A follow-up comment from a reader via Facebook:
"This breaks my heart and I understand. Thanks for sharing, Gordon. This writer is correct. Whoever lit this match and (most likely) watched that amazing structure burn, not only has a lack of respect, they has no soul. Whoever is burning Flint obviously, for whatever reason, does not want Flint's renaissance to continue. This structure was not an eye-sore, was not boarded, and was in the 11th hour of completion. This is pure strategic sabotage. And even though the devastation I witnessed on Sunday still has be sullen and continuously teary eyed- the anger has stirred something in me that makes me want to fight harder... The wind, that the senseless demolition of Manning Court took out of my sails, is back. I only hope others will shake off their overwhelming dismay and join me. We're so close... we can't give up now and let the inmates run this asylum."

Flint, Meet Inner Mongolia

When it comes to abandonment, Flint has plenty of kindred spirits, including Ordos in Inner Mongolia. David Barboza of The New York Times reports:
Ordos proper has 1.5 million residents. But the tomorrowland version of Ordos — built from scratch on a huge plot of empty land 15 miles south of the old city — is all but deserted.

Broad boulevards are unimpeded by traffic in the new district, called Kangbashi New Area. Office buildings stand vacant. Pedestrians are in short supply. And weeds are beginning to sprout up in luxury villa developments that are devoid of residents.

“It’s pretty lonely here,” says a woman named Li Li, the marketing manager of an elegant restaurant in Kangbashi’s mostly vacant Lido Hotel. “Most of the people who come to our restaurant are government officials and their guests. There aren’t any common residents around here.”

City leaders, cheered on by aggressive developers, had hoped to turn Ordos into a Chinese version of Dubai — transforming vast plots of the arid, Mongolian steppe into a thriving metropolis. They even invested over $1 billion in their visionary project.

But four years after the city government was transplanted to Kangbashi, and with tens of thousands of houses and dozens of office buildings now completed, the 12-square-mile area has been derided in the state-run newspaper China Daily as a “ghost town” monument to excess and misplaced optimism.

A Tale of Two Types of Truck Owners

Toyota has cleaned the Big Three's clock in just about every category except one...pickup trucks. Jeff Green and Alan Ohnsman of Bloomberg Business explain why:
"The Big Three successfully beat back the Toyota incursion into the pickup market," says Brian Johnson, a Barclays (BCS) auto analyst who in 2007 predicted the Japanese company's success. "We had expected Toyota would do what they did with cars and take over the market. Their share gains have been frustratingly slow."

One reason: Toyota's full-size Tundra, which starts at $23,455, attracts a different type of buyer, data from Nielsen Claritas show. Toyota truck owners are 38 percent more likely to fly on business than typical drivers, and they lean toward hobbies like backpacking and mountain biking. Buyers of big pickups from GM, Ford, and Chrysler, however, are more likely to own a rifle to hunt than a bike to ride. Because that group of traditional truck buyers is so much larger, the Big Three has retained more than 90 percent of large pickup sales. It's a particularly lucrative win: Pickup profits range from $9,000 to $13,000 per vehicle, vs. $5,000 per car, Johnson said.

The cool response that Toyota—the world's largest auto company and America's largest producer of cars—has received to its big pickups has sent market researchers sifting through sales data for demographic and psychographic clues to the causes of its disappointing performance. They found that GM and Ford truck owners, for instance, are more likely to dine at Cracker Barrel (CBRL) restaurants, have dial-up Internet, and use the paper Yellow Pages, according to purchase data from Nielsen Claritas.

A much higher share of buyers of Toyota's big pickup dine at steakhouses, shop online, own golf clubs, and subscribe to magazines like Runner's World, the Nielsen data show. "Toyota planned for a [truck] market that really didn't exist," says Alan L. Baum, an auto analyst at Baum & Associates. "They just didn't hit a chord with buyers. It was almost comical."

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Jackson Hardy House and Urban Alternatives House Burn in Flint

Another burning building in Carriage Town. Photo courtesy of John Ehlke/The Flint Journal.

This morning the fully restored Jackson Hardy House at 525 Garland Street in Carriage Town burned to the ground. The fire also spread to what has come to be known as the Urban Alternatives House next door at 519 Garland, which was slated for restoration funded by the Genesee County Land Bank and UM-Flint.

Here's an earlier post featuring photos of both houses:

519 Garland Street as it looked around 1900.

Flint resident Bill Gainey writes:

I found this circa 1900 photo of 519 Garland Street in a private collection in Fenton last week. This house is also known as the University of Michigan Flint's "Urban Alternatives House", or UAH. After finding this photo, I walked around the front of the house and noticed some of the aluminum soffit was missing on the southeast corner of the house. When I took a flashlight and peeked in where the aluminum soffit was missing, I discovered that the original porch fascia, soffit and gutters are still there -- they've just been enclosed by the remodeling job! I suspect the original porch balusters and railing are also hiding within the walls of that ugly enclosed porch.

The future home of the Urban Alternatives House (left) and the Jackson Hardy House (right).

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Smoke Signals

Unlike San Francisco, people still smoke in Cleveland. Some Clevelanders smoke and put on lipstick while walking at a brisk pace. (Technically, she's also giving me the finger, but I think it was inadvertent.) That's not easy to pull off. I really like this city. (Click photo to enlarge.)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Urban Planning Poetry

Flint Mayor Dayne Walling just completed a Q & A with Memphis Mayor A C Wharton, Jr.

The best line of the evening came when Wharton resorted to rhyming to point out that idealistic redevelopment plans don't amount to much without the money to pull them off: "Romance without finance is just nuisance."

Sign of the Times

Can you symbolically capture the decline of Rust Belt cities with these two signs, located just a few feet apart in downtown Cleveland? Is there a simpler way to illustrate the transformation from industrial might to service industry servitude?

Greetings From Cleveland

A street cafe in Cleveland's latest hope for the future — the Warehouse District — on a beautiful fall day. This is my attempt to avoid being one of those out of towners who walks around taking photos of vacant buildings.

I'm in sunny Cleveland covering the Reclaiming Vacant Properties Conference. It's a gathering of urban planners, advocacy groups, government officials and academics to discuss solutions to shrinking cities and economic decline. As you can imagine, it's a non-stop PAR-TAY! (That was a joke.)

Although I'm happy to see Flint's old Hyatt/convention center converted into student housing, I can't help thinking this is one conference that Flint could have landed, in addition to the Michigan Scrabble convention Michael Moore covered in Roger & Me.

I'll be here for three days, so urban planning wonks get ready for some of the posts you've been dreaming of. (Also a joke...sort of.)

The lobby of the Renaissance Hotel in downtown Cleveland, where I'm forced to blog because it has free WiFi and my hotel charges $3.95/15 minutes. I don't mind.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Howard Bragman: It Gets Better

After a rash of recent suicides, columnist Dan Savage has launched a youtube campaign inviting "gay adults to tell stories about having transcended the tortures of youth," according to The New York Times. "In countless videos, lesbians and gay men — including Project Runway’s Tim Gunn — bare their souls, share their triumphs and make that simple promise: It gets better."

Here's one of the videos by Flint Expatriate Howard Bragman, a public relations specialist who has advised Cameron Diaz and Paula Abdul:

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Another Grim Milestone

Flint has recorded its 50th homicide of 2010.

David Harris of
The Flint Journal reports:
The city’s streets have seen the equivalent of about one homicide every five days.

Keith Speer, president of the Flint police officers union, called Flint “a killing field.”

Mayor Dayne Walling and Police Chief Alvern Lock asked Flint residents to become
more involved in helping police fight crime in their neighborhoods during a news conference at police headquarters Wednesday.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Remembering Flint, Michigan: Stories from the Vehicle City by Gary Flinn

Gary Flinn, Flint's historian extraordinaire, has just published a must read for all Flintoids:
"Hop in for a ride with local history columnist Gary Flinn to the halcyon days of Flint. Revisit the contributions of oft-overlooked David Buick, the inventive and invaluable Flint auto pioneer who lacked the business savvy to become an auto legend. Travel back to the original Kewpee Burger and wash it down with an old Vernor's Ginger Ale before catching a show at the Capitol Theatre. Fast-forward a few years and flip open a copy of the Flint Voice, the alternative newspaper published by controversial filmmaker and Flint native Michael Moore. Come along for the journey and time travel through Flint — the Vehicle City."

Click on the Amazon link above or order directly from The History Press.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Bernie Compton, R.I.P.

Bernard L. "Bernie" Compton, age 86, of Fenton, passed away Saturday, October 2, 2010 at home.

Bernie was born April 6, 1924 in Flint, the son of the late Arlie and Julia (Kehoe) Compton. He graduated from
Flint St. Mary High School and Western Michigan University. He served in WWII as a Naval Officer in the Pacific. Bernie married Gloria Walsh on May 28, 1949 in Flint. He was employed by General Motors in data processing and retired from Chevrolet Manufacturing Plant in 1980 with 33 years of service. Bernie was a member of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, Fenton and the of Knights of Columbus, Fenton, 3rd Degree. He was a 4-time inductee in the Greater Flint Sports Hall of Fame for his baseball and basketball achievements.

Funeral Mass will be celebrated 11:00 a.m. Friday, October 8, 2010 at St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church
, 600 N. Adelaide St., Fenton. Rev. Fr. David Harvey celebrant. The family will receive friends 10:00 a.m. Friday until time of Mass at church Interment will follow at St. John Cemetery, Fenton. Visitation will be 6-8 p.m. Wednesday and 4-8 p.m. Thursday at Sharp Funeral Homes, Fenton Chapel, 1000 Silver Lake Rd., Fenton. A vigil service will be 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the funeral home. Contributions may be made to St. John Church GIFT Fund or a charity of one's choice.

Surviving are his wife of 61 years, Gloria; 7 children, Gary Compton (Connie) of Fenton, Teresa Hanak (Al) of Fenton, Jim Compton
(Sheri) of Grand Rapids, Robert Compton (Karlie) of Ft. Lauderdale, FL, Diane Compton of Chicago, IL, Janice Lisowski (Robert) of Woodstock, IL, John Compton of Atlanta, GA; brother, James Compton (Yvonne) of Burton; 14 grandchildren, Steven, Dr. Michael, Jonathan, Elizabeth, Daniel, Sam, Sally, Kayte, Cash, Georgia, Jake, Creighton, Max, Hunter; sister-in-law, Rita Compton of Boca Raton, FL. He was also preceded in death by his brother, Joe Compton.

Online condolences may be posted on the obituaries page of

Flint Photos: Mary Jane Belfie and Bill Boles

Flint Expatriate Bill Boles describes his romance with Mary Jane Belfie, which began in Flint before being "briefly" interrupted:
The attached photo shows me and my high school sweetheart, Mary Jane Belfie, in June, 1948 in front of the old Vogue store. Part of the brass sign can be seen on the right. This was graduation week. Mary Jane graduated from Northern and I from Central. We enjoyed two proms together and after a few years apart I was able to locate her in 2005. We married in 2006. She is still the same sweet girl she was in 1947 when we met.