Monday, July 25, 2011

A Changing City

Reader GaryG comments on Flint's past, present and future:
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.


  1. GaryG. I appreciate your story and outlook. It are these same feelings that have driven me to invest in the city of Flint, as a resident, as a student, and now as a homeowner. My experiences here have also defined my educational path, and propelled me into my urban design degree program. I have, at times, doubted my vision and wondered if it would not just be easier to let city try to work things out on its own while I live easily in some other community where all of the work has been done for me. It is reinforcement like your thoughts above that keep me, and those like me, inspired.

  2. I have an unwavering (and most would say, unhealthy) love for the city of Flint. Though I grew up in the far off suburbs north of Davison and Lapeer, I was born in Flint and spent much of my childhood at my grandma's house at Nebraska and Meade. I don't work in an industry that will 'help' the city in any way, but I still want to do something, even if that means taking care of my house and making sure it doesn't look like a dump. I'll continue to pay my taxes and be as involved as my time permits, and hope that others also do whatever they can to make the city better. Flint's my home, and I'll be damned if I end up living somewhere else. I'm glad there are others that feel like I do, because at times I feel like I'm fighting the good fight alone.


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