Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Flint and the Generation Gap

Aaron M. Renn has a fascinating post on The Urbanophile blog about the way different generations view cities. You can see these generational divides played out in the comment section of Flint Expatriates and on Facebook. Baby Boomers tend to have very different opinions about the past, present and future of Flint than Gen-X'ers. The Millennials, who have only experienced the Vehicle City during its socioeconomic death spiral often seem bemused by all the old timers' talk of Flint's glory days. These contrasting viewpoints can lead to real conflict as residents and local leaders try to map out the path to a better Flint in the future.

Renn writes:
Gen-X and the Millennials have a much more optimistic and positive views of urban areas than baby boomers and previous generations. I think this results from the rupture that those earlier generations experienced when our urban cores declined. If you read a newspaper interview of someone in that age bracket, you always here the stories about the wonderful things they did in the city when they were younger. It was the land of good factory jobs, the downtown department store where their mothers took them in white gloves for tea, of the tidy neighborhoods, the long standing institutions and rituals – now all lost, virtually all of it. Unsurprisingly, this has turned a lot of people bitter. Many people saw everything they held dear in their communities destroyed, and they were powerless to stop it. These people are never going to be able to enter the Promised Land.

For people about my age or younger, it’s a very different story. None of us knew any of those things. Our experience is totally different. We’ve basically never known a city that wasn’t lost. Gen-X, which Jim Russell views as the heartland of Rust Belt Chic, is a generation defined by alienation, so the alienated urban core suits our temperament perfectly. The Millennials of course have a very different attitude towards cities.

I don’t see any signs of the older generations getting through the grieving process and moving on. This makes me think that for us to fully embrace a true urban policy, even in city government itself, it is going to take generational turnover. The baby boomers are already starting to age, but they’ll be with us a lot longer. Alas, they have historically been the most suburban generation, and not shy about imposing their values, so I suspect we’ll be dealing with that legacy for a while. Still, as time goes on, we’ll have more and more people seeing the city with fresh eyes, and only knowing it when there’s reason for hope and optimism. That by itself will be a building force for change and new directions over time, until the true changing of the guard arrives.


  1. Is there a murder/crime map for Flint/Genesee county 2012? Post to Wolf Cashmore on Facebook, please

  2. Flint can't ever be what it used to be - 50's, 60's, 70's, 80's...it just can't. But I think most of us know that. To say that our wonderful memories and appreciation of such a great family town, a great place to grow up, a great place to earn a living...is actually making it harder for Flint to transition into something better...Well, that's a huge leap and I don't think anyone believes it. Also, I don't think it's fair. Can Flint change? I hope and believe it can. Can the people who are in Flint now make Flint a better place? I don't see why not - yes, they can. Would I return to Flint? Yes, but you'll have to give me a good reason. What would that be? Hmm..Jobs, Safety, Police, Fire, Garbage services. Vibrant and innovative culture, Theater, Sports, Music, Open Space, others who are investing in Flint (not money, but their spirit, love, and time). But I'm rambling...you see, even though I'm thousands of miles and decades removed from Flint...I still care. The bell still rings for me, Merry Christmas!


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 www.teardownbook.com.