Friday, January 4, 2013

Joel Rash Brings Music to Downtown Flint

There's a great story on Joel Rash and Flint Local 432, the music venue that's breathing some life into downtown, in The Atlantic Cities.

Michael Seman reports:
"It was a ghost town down here when we started out," Rash recalls. He opened his first Flint music venue back in 1987, in the basement of the historic but waning 2,000-seat Capitol Theater. Chris Everson, general manager of the Flint Downtown Development Authority, recalls the time after a show when the singer of his former band rode naked on a moped for half an hour through the streets of downtown. "No police, nothing," Everson muses. "Nobody was here."
Rash's efforts show that Flint's revival will be spurred by a series of smaller, grass-roots efforts that build into real change for the city:
"Coinciding with Flint Local 432’s success, in the 2000s the city and nonprofits alike coalesced around a renewed interest in the potential of Flint’s downtown, resulting in streetscape improvements, building renovations, art walk events, and successful summer festivals. "It was organic, not top-down," Rash says. "It was laying the groundwork for a more sustainable, active, diverse, functional downtown."


  1. We'll know that music is saving Flint when there's a show at the open air theater in Riverside Park. It has so much potential as a venue. If I was more involved in the southeast MI music scene, I'd be trying to make that happen.

  2. Wipe the phrase "save Flint" from your lexicon. No magic pill is going to make it all better. Third-stage acts (seemingly sent through a time warp from 2008) like the ones featured are essentially meaningless in the grand scheme of things. Flint won't be saved, but it may slowly improve. Riverbank Park concerts could be a (very) small part of this. Ultimately, downtown is a small part as well. As long as the neighborhoods are neglected and allowed to decay, decline will continue with or without killer pop-punk gigs.

    1. Specifically, how do you help the neighborhoods? And how do you pay for it?

    2. I'm sure that Dan Kildee will deliver services to the Congressional District he's taking over, and "bring home the bacon" to the extent that a freshman can. It'll be interesting, though, to see if he continues his prior focus on urban re-planning, that he has a national stage on which to make his points...whether he remains significantly focused on Flint in regard to that urban re-planning.

      Maybe the Feds need a laboratory-community for a test of whether radical surgery helps or hurts...?

  3. The needs of neighborhoods are super basic: police presence and timely response. Quick and consistent code enforcement. A handful of top-notch magnet/selective enrollment schools.

    Musing about a lack of police is cute in downtown circa 1997, but for too long it has been a reality for people in violent parts of town. Neighborhoods like East Village, Mott Park, Evergreen Valley, New Northern are increasingly dicey. These neighborhoods which currently produce tax revenue for the city will be as vacant as Ave. A if residents don't feel safe. In addition, Civic Park and Old Eastside deserve the same level of protection and response as downtown. There will be NO money, zero, nada, nil, if tax-paying residents continue to leave.

    Enforcement of city codes and dealing with blight needs to be done in a timely manner as well. The neighborhoods surrounding downtown (East Village, Cultural Center, Elm Park, West Village(?), Carriage Town, University Park) are stable compared to Merrill Hood and the State Streets which are off the charts crazy. If you don't stop people from leaving the neighborhoods, if the entire city outside of downtown becomes a void, the crepes and emo bands will soon leave.

    As far as public education goes it is currently impossible to have every school operating at a high level, however there should be options for high achieving students and their families. Saginaw Arts and Sciences is the #2 public high school in the state, Handley Elementary is #9. These allow for families to live in Saginaw and maintain access to a high quality education environment. Flint used to do this, I don't know why they still don't attempt to maintain a few high level public schools.

    Police protection, code enforcement, and a few great schools aren't unreasonable or pie in the sky dreams.

    How do you pay for it? If funding for police in the city with the highest homicide rate in the U.S. can't be found at the local level then it should come from the state or federal level. Dan Kildee will hopefully pursue this along with support for shrinking portions of the city that are near vacant. Some blocks on the north and east sides are nearly or completely vacant. You can't (and shouldn't) eliminate entire sides of town, but you can begin by shutting down blocks. This should begin to show savings.

    Partner with universities on this. UM-F should pour resources into developing it's urban planning offerings. Places like Detroit, Flint, and Youngstown are at the forefront of current urban land use debate. Time for the university to get more involved.

    The developers who are benefiting from city support need to pony up to support the rest of the city. Institutions like UM-F, Kettering, MCC, Hurley, McLaren, Diplomat, and GM (yes, they still are a major local employer) still could be persuaded to chip in substantially more.

  4. keep it up joel!


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