Wednesday, May 25, 2011

From Ruins to Grand Boulevards and Striking Vistas

GaryG gets visionary about Flint's possible future:
On a visit to Flint a few years back, I was struck by the vistas that had materialized as an unintended consequence of the vast areas of land that had been cleared over the years. The hilltop prominence of the Hurley Medical Center was never more visually apparent than it has become since so many of the surrounding blocks have evolved into an expansive podium of lawn and trees. Even more surprising, was the view of the stately columns and pediment of the MSD Faye Hall, as clearly seen from the distant Kettering campus. They appear in the distance as apparition-like symbols of the community’s cultural and institutional strength, stubbornly surviving through turmoil and neglect.

Out of the wasteland resulting from a hundred thousand missing persons, there may be some unique, extremely visionary urban design opportunities that even the most attractive cities out there could never attain owing to the density and value of their built environment. The first might be the construction of grand boulevards visually connecting these places of prominence noted above, vis-a-vis the manner in which L’Enfant used the monuments, Capitol building, and White House in his plan for Washington DC. New development would be encouraged to locate along these new public esplanades in the hope of creating a series of vibrant and leafy urban links that would start, stop, and transition at the best areas the city has to offer, using abandoned lands that today sit idle.

The second idea consists of the construction of several millpond sized dams that would transform some of the worst portions of the urban wasteland into waterfront property. The creation of in-town lakes, supplemented by strategically planned parkways and the creation of inspired vistas, could be what it takes to attract the kind of urban dweller that can contribute to the vibrancy of the reinvented city.

Impractical pipedreams? You bet. But alas, with the right vision, inspiration, coordination, cooperation, (and star alignment), pipedreams sometimes can come to fruition. I once dreamed that the Durant Hotel would one day be restored and live on as an enduring monument to the great and colorful history of this ultra-challenged town. A funny thing happened on the way to oblivion, an impossible dream came true.


  1. It's interesting to contemplate this vision taken to a logical endpoint: a city with no housing. Nothing but institutions and business districts separated by parkland, industrial property and perhaps urban farms.

    I think it's noncontroversial to note that most area petty criminals and crime victims are Flint residents. The crime rate would go way down if there *were* no Flint residents.

    Or, as a variation on this theme, a steep flat rate tax could be levied per dwelling unit in the City, with no exemptions...the eventual effect being to drive away those without the money to pay. Thus there'd be a few residential neighborhoods left, but the poor would be kicked out.

    Of course, that wouldn't work in practice, not just because the left would be incensed at the social policy involved and because existing laws probably wouldn't allow it, but because the City would end up with no tax opposed to now, when it has a considerable *potentional* tax base, if property values would ever shoot up.

  2. Well, now that JWilly has peed all over your cornflakes GaryG I'll go ahead and give you some support. I've also noticed some of the things that you've brought up in your comment. I frequently walk from my house on the east-side to the College Cultural Area. When you walk west along the sidewalk on Second Street next to the Regional Tech Center at MCC you can see Hurley with its flag waving on top which is surprising because it is halfway across town. Also, when the leaves are off the trees you can see Whaley Historical House from the Rally's on Saginaw and 5th Ave. even though it's across the river and over the expressway. I've also thought that since many of the homes were torn down across from the Cultural Center on Longway that they should close down Kearsley Park Blvd. to traffic between Longway and the parking lot at Donnelly Pavilion and just make that all part of Kearsley Park all the way to the Cultural Center. The only people that really would need that road are the people now at the MCC building that used to be the Army Reserve Center and they could just use Minnesota Ave. There are a thousand little changes like this that you could make to improve the city and they wouldn't cost anything more than an average size grant from the Mott Foundation.

    The reason most people don't see these things or want to get involved changing anything are due to the same reasons that were left as comments on the post about tearing out the expressways:

    1. People refuse to get out of their cars.
    2. Even if they thought about getting out of their cars they wouldn't because they're too afraid that someone called the boogeyman lives in a horrible place called Flint, Michigan.
    3. A lot of people live in the suburbs now and don't feel like anyone in the city deserves to live in a nice place so why bother fixing anything there even though the city is where all the suburbanites go to get their drugs, prostitutes, and anything in general that they don't want in their own communities.
    4. Finally, I've said it before in another post, there just seems to be some screwed-up self-defeatist psychological mindset in Genesee County where people don't ever want anything to get better...ever.

  3. Someone's a regular Debbie Downer. He's just trying to say how cool it would be if this could happen. Be proud of Flint and its resiliency!

  4. Yikes...I *like* GaryG's analysis. Nice symbolism.

    I'd be interested, in particular, in working out the topographic implications for the millponds idea. I noted even as a kid growing up in Mott Park the disappeared streams. The whole west side north of the river and south of Welch, and maybe farther north, drained only via storm sewers...even though it was obvious, for instance, that a stream had once drained the broad area west of Longfellow, running through the valley where Knob Hill Market was, then across Bagley and southeastward through the park to the river.

    I don't think it'd be productive to further dam the Flint River. There would be too many spring drainage management implications...the Corps of Engineers would be involved, and it'd be a hassle. But if the west side water were captured instead of freeflowing into the storm sewers...where would the topography allow it to be put? And where else would it be interesting to put a pond?

    I'm working on it. If anyone else is interested, here's a good Google Earth plug-in for the USGS Topo Map series:

  5. After three days in the desert fun,
    I was looking at a river bed.
    And a story is told,
    Of a river that flowed,
    Made me sad to think it was dead.

    A Horse With No Name-America, 1972

    You can see those river beds and ponds/small lakes on the satellite photos, JWilly. They are the areas of lush vegetation in addtion to the low elevation.

    One, like you said, is just west of Golfside Lane near Mott Park. You could easily look into and see the gully from the west end of Orchard Lane, the west end of the parking lot of the old Medical Arts Building, and the east end of Hatherly Ave., which was once a part of Bagley St. I suspect that there is water in these gullies a good percentage of the time. These types of areas are also present in other cities.

    Still, I'm not sure if it would be wise to return these areas to wetlands, as they are part of a better area of the city, and it doesn't make sense to ruin healthy areas. I think it would be wiser to be more conservative and have only small areas returned to their more natural state.

  6. > I think it would be wiser to be more conservative and have only small areas returned to their more natural state.

    OTOH, to create let's-move-back-to-the-city property attractiveness as I think GaryG envisioned, maybe the lake-space would need to be not just fishing-pond-sized, but watersports-sized. I'd think Flint Park Lake (31 acres) would be about the lower size boundary, or maybe somewhat too small.

  7. Hurley Medical Center always stood out to me as a kid in the 50s, mainly because I went to school at the then-adjacent Stevenson Elementary School.

    Sadly, Stevenson became additional parking for the medical center at some point. In fact, all three public schools that I attended, also including Longfellow Junior High and Central High School are closed.


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