Saturday, June 15, 2013

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.  


  1. I don't know that it's relevant to anything, but because I spent a fair amount of time in it when I was young, I happen to recognize the altar photo of Rev. Sherman McCathern at Joy Tabernacle as being of the church building that previously was Community Presbyterian Church.

    Comm Pres didn't bail for the suburbs...they hung on where they had roots until the congregation no longer was large enough and employed enough to cover the costs of having a minister and keeping the building repaired and heated, then they disbanded.

    1. Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City devotes a lot of space to Community Presbyterian and Joy Tabernacle. I interviewed several people affiliated with the Comm Pres, including Rev. Timm High and Rick McClellan, who was the final caretaker of the church before it became Joy Tabernacle. Both churches have a fascinating history and a legacy of trying to help Civic Park. And there's no implication that the congregation fled for the suburbs, just that the neighborhood changed and the members dwindled to the point where it was too expensive to keep the church open. And the building was in amazing shape. Not a single stained glass window broken. It's a great story of one group carrying on the legacy of another.


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