Saturday, June 29, 2013

Salad Days

My Teardown book tour goal for today: eat a salad. That was also the goal yesterday, but in a moment of weakness I opted for something slightly less healthy...a Reuban with smoked corned beef at the Mackinaw Brewing Company in Traverse City. Man, was it good. But today's a new day. A healthier day. A salad day. No more coneys. No more Halo Burger. No more Luigi's pizza. I mean it this time.

Memories of My Grandfather in Traverse City


My grandfather, Verne McFarlane, died in 1979, but he is never far from my thoughts. So it meant a lot to me when one of his old friends, Gordon Snowden, came to the Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City reading in Traverse City tonight. It was a reminder of all the great friendships forged in the Vehicle City over the years. And a reminder of everything my grandpa did for me and my family. Here's a photo of the two Gordons.

Two Flint Expatriates — Michael Perry and Gordon Snowden — discuss the Vehicle City at Horizon Books. Great to finally get a chance to meet Michael and his wife, Linda, after getting to know them online over the past few years.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Monday, June 24, 2013

Their Prayers Have Been Answered

Given the "creative" scheduling of my book tour, I really shouldn't be giving anyone marketing advice. But I'm going to go out on a limb and declare that this is perhaps the worst slogan ever for a Flint church. The sale of fireworks also seems like a pretty bad idea.

Portrait of Civic Parkers, Past and Present

If you've had a chance to read Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City, you know how glad I was to catch up with P-Nut and get a tour of his Civic Park home this weekend. He's really making progress on the place. It gives you hope for the future of Flint.

Teardown Author Gordon Young at Schuler Books & Music in Okemos, Michigan on Tuesday, June 25 at 7pm

 
Calling all Flint Expats in the Lansing area, along with anyone who cares about the future of American cities and the tale of a town that has not given up hope. Open to the public. Hope to see you there. Thanks.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013
7:00-8:00pm

Reading and Book Signing
Schuler Books & Music
1982 Grand River Ave.
Okemos, Michigan

Flint Photos: G.M. Left

Forget the think tanks, policy discussions, and arguments...a license plate is all it takes to sum it all up. Thanks to Dennis Brownfield for the photo.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Flint Photos: Ben Hamper, Luigi's Pizza, and Gordon Young

Rivethead author Ben Hamper and Teardown author Gordon Young discuss their love of Luigi's Pizza.

Teardown Book Signing at Barnes & Noble

Thanks to everyone at the Teardown book signing at Barnes & Noble in Flint last night. A great crowd. I was happy to see so many old friends and meet some of the longtime readers of Flint Expatriates face to face. And there was no shortage of great Flint Artifacts, like this t-shirt.

The biggest surprise was my sister, Marty, who flew in from Seattle to attend. She managed to hide out until the last minute. And Darcy Bowden from Bassett Place was there. And Mike Munley. And Andrew Gauthier from Civic Park. And my old pal Joe Serna's mom. And Duane Butterworth. And David Matta. And Tom Bade! And, okay, I'll stop now.

Looking forward to the Teardown launch party at Luigi's on Davison Road from 5-7pm today. It's open to the public and books will be available for sale and signing.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Detroit, Debt, and Automotive History


An example of Detroit's plastic-wrapped automotive history that might be sold. (Photo by Stephen McGee for The New York Times.)

The Detroit Institute of Art's collection isn't the only asset in danger as the Motor City flirts with bankruptcy. A treasure trove of classic cars is also in peril. Jaclyn Trop and Bill Vlasic of The New York Times report:
But there is another Detroit family jewel in question that is largely unknown outside the automobile world and to some people even more treasured — a collection of 62 lovingly maintained classic cars donated to the city since the 1950s by civic-minded families seeking to preserve the Motor in Motor City.

Most of the cars are stored under protective plastic bubbles in a World War II-era riverfront warehouse on the grounds of Fort Wayne, while others are on display at the Detroit Historical Museum or on loan to exhibits around the country.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Listen to the Teardown Podcast

Now's your chance to determine if I still have my Michigan accent after 20 years in California and learn about Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City at the same time. Listen to the Teardown podcast here.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Dennis Winchester, R.I.P.

Dennis Winchester, a much-admired teacher at Powers and principal of St. Mary's Mt. Morris, died Saturday at his home. Mr. Winch introduced many students, including me, to the wonders of American history and sparked a lifelong interest in politics and international affairs. He will be missed.  

Here is information from Mr. Winchester's obituary:
The funeral mass will take place 11:00 am, Wednesday, June 19, 2013, at the St. Mary Catholic Church in Mt. Morris. Rev. Fr. Thomas Nenneau will officiate with cremation. Dennis' family will be present at the Martin Funeral, Cremation & Tribute Services in Mt. Morris to receive friends on Tuesday from 10:00 am to 8:00 pm. Tuesday Evening family, friends and parish will gather to pray the Rosary at 6:00 pm. On Wednesday Dennis will be taken to church to lie in state from 10:00 am until time of Mass at 11:00 am. Those desiring may consider memorial contributions to the Guardian Angel Fund for St. Mary Catholic School. Envelopes are available at the funeral home and church.

Left to cherish his memory, two children, Maranda and Aaron Winchester; six siblings, Sue Monnett, Donald (Joyce) Winchester, Bill (Jackie) Winchester, Rita Morgan, Lynn (Rick) Boyes and Nancy (Glen) McMillan; parents, Ray and June Winchester and many other family members and friends.

Erica Firment, Librarian Avengers, and Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City

Erica Firment, a Flint Expatriate who lives near me in San Francisco, has been publishing a popular website called Librarian Avengers since 1997. She's a smart, compelling writer with a lot of attitude, as befits someone from the Vehicle City. She just posted an essay that combines her thoughts on growing up in Flint with a review of Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City. Leave it to a Flintoid to capture the essence of a book about Flint, and to say out loud what a lot of readers might be wondering about me:
The book is called Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City. Gordon writes about life in Flint and San Francisco, often through a lens of real estate. He has gone through the process of trying to buy houses in both cities, a testament to his tenacity and possibly some kind of undiagnosed brain injury. Anyway, you should read it because it’s awesome and it says many of the things that should be said about Flint. The ending is really strong, and I found myself saying “hell yes” out loud a few times. Leaving Flint seems to have given him the perspective he needed to make some peace with the goddamned place.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Upcoming Events for Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City by Gordon Young

Friday, June 21, 2013
6:00-7:00pm

Meet the Author and Book Signing
Barnes & Noble Booksellers
Genesee Valley Mall
4370 Miller Rd.
Flint, Michigan

 
Saturday, June 22, 2013
5:00-7:00pm

Launch Party and Book Signing
Luigi’s
2132 Davison Road
Flint, Michigan

 
Sunday, June 23, 2013
3:00-4:00pm>

Panel Discussion and Book Signing
The Book Beat
26010 Greenfield
Oak Park, Michigan

Book Beat will host three distinguished authors to discuss the effects of cities in crisis and how best to approach rebuilding them for future sustainability. The authors appearing to sign and discuss their work are: Gordon Young, John Gallagher, and June Manning Thomas. This event is free and open to the public. Books will be available at the event. If you would like to reserve copies of any of the books prior to the event, please call Book Beat (248) 968-1190.
 
Tuesday, June 25, 2013
7:00-8:00pm

Reading and Book Signing
Schuler Books & Music
1982 Grand River Ave.
Okemos, Michigan

 
Wednesday, June 26, 2013
6:30-7:30pm

Reading and Book Signing
Barnes & Noble Booksellers
Woodland Mall>
3195 28th Street, SE>
Grand Rapids, Michigan

 
 Thursday, June 27, 2013
6:00-7:00pm

Yellow Chair Series Q & A and Book Signing
McLean & Eakin Booksellers
307 E. Lake St.
Petoskey, Michigan

 
Friday, June 28, 2013
6:00-8:00pm

Q & A and Book Signing
Horizon Books
243 E. Front St.>
Traverse City, Michigan

 
Saturday, July 27, 2013
3:00-5:00pm

West Coast Launch Party
Badger Books
401 Cortland Avenue.
San Francisco, California

Interview: Design Faith and Gordon Young Talk about Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City

Kenneth Caldwell at Design Faith, a great blog about art, architecture and culture, came up with some great questions for me after reading Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City.
What about Flint’s history contributed the most to its decline?

Depends on who you ask. General Motors is an obvious culprit for eliminating close to 80,000 jobs in Flint. Some say it’s the United Automobile Workers union’s fault because the union was too militant and too demanding. Of course, labor agreements are the result of negotiations. General Motors didn’t have to give in to union demands. And union workers didn’t have anything to do with the horrible management decisions General Motors made over the years. Then there are U.S. policies that effectively swapped our industrial economy for the so-called service economy. The middle class withered, but we get to buy a lot of cheap crap at big box stores. Others point out that Flint never diversified its economy, but who diversifies during the glory years? Is Silicon Valley trying to diversify and develop something other than technology right now? So it’s a complicated question, and it’s probably a combination of all those things.


This pattern of corporations using up and wasting towns seems to be a global trend, not just a U.S. one?


Corporations abandon cities to varying degrees all the time. And that is one of the factors creating shrinking cities all over the world. Some of the statistics are pretty surprising. More cities shrank than grew in the developed world over the past 30 years. Fifty-nine U.S. cities with more than a hundred thousand people lost at least a tenth of their residents over the last 50 years. Flint and Detroit are high-profile examples because they lost half their population, but the same thing happened in Buffalo, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis. But don’t assume this is just a Rust Belt phenomenon. The Great Recession ensured that cities in the South and the Sunbelt are part of the trend now.
Read the entire interview here.  

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Teardown Lands on The Atlantic Wire's Summer Reading List


Writer Alexander Nazaryan recommends Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City on The Atlantic Wire's summer reading list. Here's what he has to say:

What it’s about: A journalist living in San Francisco decides to move back to decrepit Flint, Mich., where he was born and raised. Moreover, he does this in what appears to be a fully sound state of mind.
How long it will take to read: It’s a densely packed 288 pages, but nobody is going to quiz you on the address of The Wooden Keg – we hope.
Useful factoid: Flint has been named one of “America’s Fastest-Dying Cities,” “America’s Most Miserable Cities” and “Worst Cities for Recession Recovery,” among a plethora of other negative superlatives Young lists right before decamping for this once-industrious place that gave rise to General Motors.
You should read it if: Your city planning experience doesn't go past SimCity and you can’t figure out why towns don’t just build tram lines, spruce up the public parks and renovate warehouses into lofts.
It matters because: As cities like Flint go, so goes much of the nation.
Perfect for: The amateur urbanist who wants to go to Flint without actually having to leave the backyard.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Crimes of Creative Passion in Flint, Michigan

Connor Coyne: Guilty of writing and living in Flint

Designer, photographer and man about town Shane Gramling has cooked up another intriguing and compelling project in Flint. It's called Facing Flint and it takes the Vehicle City's reputation for crime and lawlessness and uses it to reveal the creativity flourishing in the town that G.M. forgot:
"This is Flint, Michiganwhere serial entrepreneurs lurk around historic storefronts, and you can hear shots of dangerously good espresso being fired off in the streets, a city where students help pioneer next-generation vehicle energy sources and every artist carries a concealed brush. Watch your back world, we're coming for you."
The project's just getting started, but the rogue's gallery already includes mug shots of writer Connor Coyne; Jan Worth-Nelson, guilty of "committing wordslaughter and literary crimes of passion as a poet, novelist, and essayist for longer than you’ve been alive; and Ted Nelson, a "flinty-eyed miscreant from the hedonistic hellhole of Hollywood." 

Flint Artifacts: Buick Playing Cards

"You always win with Buick?" Not sure everyone from Flint would agree. Thanks to Cecelia Parks for the great artifact.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Inferno

Some comments deserve their own posts. Anonymous reflects on education and the assembly line:
Working my way through college (MSU), I would return to my Flint hometown after Spring Quarter. I'd immediately place job applications with all the GM productions in the hope of getting something paying union scale to fund the next year's tuition.

In the Summer of 62,I got a call from Fisher Body and was escorted to the fabled assembly line. The noise was incredible, sparks flew everywhere from welders attaching various metal parts into an auto frame. My reaction was "Dante's Inferno," and how could people possibly work here every day. I soon found out.

In a life chapter where I was devoted to education, working an automobile assembly line was one of the most profound educational experiences of my life. Co-workers were surprising cordial to the "college kid." They were very safety-conscious and had to be. It was quite dangerous. The monotony was indescribable. Coping techniques were seen with empty whiskey bottles in wheel wells and trunks of the auto bodies passing by.

After 3 months of that lifestyle, there was never any question in my mind that I'd finish my education and avoid ever having to return to Dante's Inferno.

Demolition Funding for Flint and Other Michigan Cities


Much needed funding is headed to Flint and four other Michigan cities to demolish abandoned property.
"Today's announcement that Michigan will receive $100 million in federal funds to clean up blight in communities across the state is welcomed news," said Congressman Dan Kildee (D-Flint). "Freeing up federal money to revitalize and invest in cities, including both Flint and Saginaw in my congressional district, will strengthen neighborhoods and unlock greater opportunity for all homeowners. Since being sworn into Congress, one of my top priorities has been to secure this money to ensure cities and towns have the resources necessary to remove and repurpose abandoned homes. I'm pleased that the partnership between my office, the State of Michigan and the Treasury Department has resulted in millions of dollars in much-needed funds."

Ben Hamper and an Octopus Being Crucified


It's time for a Friday dose of Ben Hamper and Rivethead: Tales from the Assembly Line:
"After a hundred wrong turns and dead ends, we found my old man down on the trim line. His job was to install windshields with this goofy apparatus with large suction cups that resembled an octopus being crucified. A car would nuzzle up to the old man's work area and he would be waiting for it, a cigarette dangling from his lip, his arms wrapped around the windshield contraption as if it might suddenly rebel and bolt off for the ocean. Car, windshield. Car, windshield. Car, windshield. No wonder my father preferred playin' hopscotch with barmaids. This kind of repetition didn't look like any fun at all."

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Flint Artifacts: UAW Ring

Flint Expatriate Joe Steve tells the story of a UAW ring:

"I had a great upbringing in our old neighborhood and looking back on it I really had it good. My father was a sports writer for the Flint Journal, John Steve, who died in 1962. My mother married John Misko in 1969 when I was 10 years old. We moved to John Misko's house on the south end because his house was smaller. It was also a really cool neighborhood as we lived 5 houses away from Lincoln Park. Mom couldn't get what she wanted for the house on Welch Blvd so after only 6 months we moved back to Welch and my stepfather had an offer on his house within four hours of listing it. I stayed there until I graduated from Powers in 1977 and my folks moved to Florida after I graduated from Aquinas College in 1981.

"My mother will be 95 years old this year. She gave me my stepfather's ring when she moved into a nursing home here in Grand Rapids 9 years ago. I have grown to understand what a great stepfather I had. He had no children of his own, as his first wife got sick and was not able to have children before she died. He worked 2nd shift at Fisher Body as a Tool and Die man for more than 30 years.

"And one more cool fact. My stepfather live next door to Angelo Braniff , one of the three Angelos who founded Angelo's Coney Island."

Monday, June 3, 2013

Flint Photos: Riverbank Park by James Harvey


A recent shot of Riverbank Park in downtown Flint. Budget cuts and layoffs make it tough to maintain public land in a shrinking city. Photo courtesy of East Sider James Harvey. Visit his Facebook page for more of his photos documenting Flint.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Addition By Subtraction: The Demolition of a Single Home in Flint, Michigan


As I illustrate in Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City, the sheer number of abandoned properties in Flint can be overwhelming. But even a single empty house can help destroy an entire block. It can act as magnet for scrappers, arsonists, and drug dealers. It can be the thing that convinces other residents working to save their neighborhood that it might be time to give up hope and move on.

The owner of this house in Civic Park walked away years ago, leaving almost all of his possessions inside. It doesn't look so bad from the outside, but looks can be deceiving.







In the counter intuitive way that success is often measured in a shrinking city, this story has a “happy” ending. Or, more accurately, an ending that is less bad than some of the other possible outcomes. The house was demolished in May. The lot was deeded to the neighbors in the yellow house, who will care for it like they’ve cared for their own home for decades.

It’s addition by subtraction in Flint, Michigan.