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.
Monday, July 25, 2011
A Changing City
Reader GaryG comments on Flint's past, present and future: