Tuesday, July 19, 2011

It's Time to Think Small

An anonymous reader responds to the post on nature returning to Buick City:
While we debate the future of this once bustling city, time marches on and deterioration sets in. It will be difficult to create much of anything positive in the midst of so many abandoned and dangerous inner-city properties. Word is out that anything goes in Flint; the police are obviously out numbered and out gunned. I would sure hate to be the last law abiding citizen to leave town.

I would never, ever, ever, allow any of my children/grandchildren to live anywhere close to this kind of chaos, nor would most of this blog's readers. I have no doubt there will be small success stories, but by and large, businesses aren't looking for an abandoned factory in an abandoned crime riddled city, to relocate their workforce to. My thought is; what isn't being regularly used today will rather quickly fall down or burn, speeding the complete absorption of these properties into a somewhat natural condition. The result will be less costly to clean up and maintain by those few who remain and have Flint based livelihoods that are worth the effort. At some point down the road, there will be a reason to build up the city again, with new ideas, new structures and fewer thugs.

For now, Flint citizens should think small. The name of Flint swells my heart with longing for a city that once was, but we should avoid this sentimentality, it doesn't help us do the right thing today.


  1. Reads like another baby boomer comment on MLive.

    Plenty of positive things are going on. Check out the Buckham Alley Festival (http://www.mlive.com/entertainment/flint/index.ssf/2011/07/buckham_alley_fest_preview_how.html) next year. Although you might not like the kids with their hippity hoppity, though.

  2. Muggins12, thanks for the comment. I'm not so sure you and the anonymous commenter are at odds. I think the Buckham Alley Fest are just the sort of small things Flint needs. I view those as the sort of encouraging signs, albeit small signs, that can start to snowball over the next 10 to 20 years...as opposed to the people who criticize anything that doesn't bring 80,000 jobs back to the city.

    At the same time, it's important to recognize the massive problems hanging over the city...the budget shortfalls, the very real crime problem that can't be solved without more cops, and large population living in extreme proverty, the kind of poverty that isn't easily eliminated.

  3. Unless something is done to restore the private sector value added jobs, government, tourism, universities, and such cannot be supported. Other cities need not gloat over Flint's troubles. Flint is coming to a city near you!

  4. My family still lives amongst the CHAOS.

  5. It is a painful subject thinking about what once was, and wondering what will become. I think people have their heads in the right place though about how to move forward. I dream of a future when I can return to my Flint.

  6. Yep, I hate to disagree with you Gordie but I think there is a huge difference between Muggins12 and the anonymous poster. One "small thing" that can be worked on is the attitude that people have about Flint. When the writer says that he would "never, ever, ever, allow any of my children/grandchilren to live anywhere close..." to Flint he is making an absolute moral judgement about a place and its people and as he doesn't live here is probably misinformed and only going by what he sees on television. There is nothing that anyone could do that would make this person change what they think about the city...I know because I've had this argument several times with my own family and friends who live in the 'burbs. I really like your blog and am not saying that Flint doesn't have some serious problems but we're not Berlin when the Nazi's reigned and I'm afraid that's the impression you'll get from watching the first ten minutes of the local news or asking anyone in the surrounding communities what Flint is like. It's like anywhere else. If you seek out good things you will find them. And, if you seek out bad things you will find them.

  7. Anonymous, thanks for the comment. You're right that Muggins and the anonymous poster are miles apart on some things, including what you pointed out. I guess I was seeing some room for agreement on the need to stop living in the past with Flint. I have noticed a tendency of many people to shoot down any idea that won't catapult Flint back to its mid sixties prosperity. I don't think that's possible, at least in our lifetimes. But Flint can be a better place than it is now. Maybe I was putting too much of my own sentiment into their comments.

    And I agree with you on changing attitudes. I've spent probably six full weeks in Flint in the past three years, which isn't a lot, but enough to get a sense of things again. And it really isn't the war zone it appears to be. Or, more precisely, parts of the city really are a war zone, but other part seem completely normal. This notion that you can't cross the city limits without something terrible happening to you are way off base.

  8. It would be interesting to do a poll to see where the readers of this blog now live. Many are still in the suburbs I'm sure, and some still in Flint. A big number are probably still just outside the immediate area, having found jobs and lives in Detroit's northern suburbs, Ann Arbor, East Lansing, etc. Brighton also seems to be attracting a lot of people from all over due to its central location to Detroit, Flint, Ann Arbor and Lansing. People can move from job to job in many areas there. Others moved to Texas and Florida for jobs and retirement. But it would be interesting to see the results of that poll.

  9. I don't know, the last member of my family just moved from the house I grew up in. He had not really lived there for a couple of years because the house was always getting broken into, the neighbors had their car stolen twice, and there was a drive by shooting on the street behind him that left a bullet hole in the back of his house. And this is considered one of the better neighborhoods. He practically gave the house away, and I had another friend that actually did literally give away his old childhood home. Can anyone think of anywhere else in the US where things are so bad that people just give away their property? When I went back last fall for a quick trip, five people including a four year old boy were murdered. Flint is just scary anymore. There are a couple of pockets of safety still but if they encroached as far as my old neighborhood, then they are creeping closer to those pockets. Sticking heads in the sand and claiming that some things are improving, or as some were claiming after the weekend murder spree that it is the poverty and despair driving the crime is not helping. As long as people make excuses for the arson, murder, theft, and other things, no company is coming in. I cannot see how Flint can regenerate without a massive change in its outlook. Why would any company relocate to a town that keeps excusing the crime? Its the remaining citizens that need to say enough is enough, not continue to point fingers at those smart enough to exit before the last building burned.

  10. This is anonymous #1 again, probably better known as anonyboomer. I don't write to this blog much because I often have a different viewpoint in the light of another day. However, every once in a while I slip up. It didn't take long for a couple readers to zero in on my generation and how ill informed I am about the real world. I didn't realize I was so transparent, still, no offense taken. Yes, I am a boomer; yes, today I would say the comment about not wanting my kids/grandkids living there was unecessary (but accurate); no, I am not making observations from afar after reading horror stories about my home town. I make a point of traveling the streets of Flint several times every year. I have watched questionable financial transactions take place on the very same corner where I used to fold my newspapers as a kid (in front of Civic Park School) and have the opinion that it is probably more the norm than the exception. I am all for a party in Buckham Alley, glad to see it is still alive and well (yes Gen-X'r, there was informed life before you). If I was living near by, I would probably be there on occasion, drinking a nice cold beer. No, having a few energetic souls wave the Flint flag downtown isn't going to do a thing about Flint's systemic unemployment, abandoned structures and crime. I still say, Flint residents need to think smaller. I wish the best for Flint and the decent people who still live there. I have no likeing, sympathy, or compassion for the thugs. Too bad the good guys can't simply set all the trash to the curb on the same day and be done with it.

  11. There's a reason the FBI rated it the most dangerous city in America. You can try and pick apart the stats and the methodology, but the fact remains it's a very dangerous place. And the crime rate in the safer parts of the city are still fairly high compared to the safest places in the rest of the country. I don't understand why you can't acknowledge this fact and still want Flint to get better without being attacked for having a negative attitude. Facing reality doesn't mean you've given up. It just means you have a realistic understanding of what you're up against and a better chance of solving the problem. Positive thinking is great. Delusional thinking is not. (See Iraq War for non-Flint example.)

  12. I know of a Flint kid who, with a friend, had a Flint Journal paper route for about four years. During the course of his duties, within the three blocks that encompassed his route, and before he was old enough to have a driver’s license, he encountered numerous prostitution and illicit drug solicitations, he survived an attack by a man sky high on whatever, who tried to strangle him, he witnessed a robbery for which he was subpoenaed as a witness, (and for which he had to defend himself on the stand from the defense attorneys when they attempted to pin the crime on him), and he had to deal with four murders, (including the killing of the driver of the truck that had just dropped off his paper bundles). Moreover, not long after he moved on from this after-school job, a group of young kids on their way to school were gunned down in front of a church located on his route, by drug dealers wanting to rid themselves of any potential witnesses to their early morning dealing.

    That kid was me, and the time was the mid 1970s. To some readers here, these things may sound like minor distractions compared to what they endure on a daily basis in this town today, but the point is that bad things occur in every city’s ‘bad’ neighborhoods, and have been occurring for a long, long time.

    Despite my less than rosy experiences, like Ta-Nehisi Coates, I am one of those that really enjoyed what my hometown had to offer. I came back after college to start my career in Flint, in an attempt to improve things, and to help guide the place into the future, in whatever small way my entry level position could muster. I remain, and have always been, optimistic about how this place could positively evolve, in small steps, with smart strategies, and with careful planning by talented groups of professionals who understand what makes a city work. In essence, Flint is getting close to a ‘blank canvas’ on which it could now start the planning process anew, taking as a viable point of departure, its colleges, its institutions, its infrastructure, and the relatively manageable scale that it has.

    The promise I see is in the opportunities that would inevitably arise if cutting-edge urban planners were asked to approach the challenge by designing a carefully thought out master plan, identifying the best resources that remain, and conceiving of ideas to connect them in creative ways. The goal being to raise the odds that over time – perhaps a very long time – the sum of any future redevelopment, investment, and further demolition decisions that are required to fit into that plan, eventually come together to create a uniquely integrated collection of quality urban spaces, that reinforces – and in the case of this town, resurrects - a positive quality of life.

    Those without vision need not apply.


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