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.

11 comments:

  1. Congratulations Gordon........go on and tell our story. It needs to be told.

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  2. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that I don't think it's a good thing to promote tearing down Flint, while other cities remain committed to rebuilding. I think it can only hasten the total demise. Michael Moore gave Flint a worse reputation than it deserved, and its been downhill ever since. I used to think people in towns like Rochester and Midland and Ann Arbor were "centric" about their city being the center of the universe, but at least it is in a positive way.

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    1. Tearing down frequently (always?) precedes rebuilding,don't you think? Moore may be hard to love, but responsible for Flint's decline? Please. I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that you haven't toured the place in a long time. Tearing down these junk houses is not only a catharsis, it is absolutely necessary.

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  3. I'm not the guy who called you a San Francisco dilettante, but I understand some of his feelings. I'm not sure I want to read the book as it might depress me more. After all, the Detroit Free Press, in the face of defaulting on loans and bankruptcy, today has the following cheery headlines for Detroit: "Recovery Road Leads To More Nimble City". "Detroiters' best assets: Resilience, hope", and "A better future for Detroiters". Why do Flint authors and politicians just reminisce abut the past and prepare for failure and demolition? I don't understand. We no longer need a city where I-75 and I-69 cross and Bishop International Airport provides a viable alternative for the nightmares of Detroit Metro, and where a large part of the city and suburbs are essentially intact? Detroit and other cities are in just as much trouble or more than Flint, and yet we careen toward self destruction while others continue trying.

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    1. Thanks for the comment. Let me preface this by saying that Teardown is available at most libraries so you don't think I'm just trying to sell books here. But I have to point out that one of the goals of the book was to let Flint residents who have definitely not given up on Flint tell their stories. And I found a lot of hope in their stories. One a personal note, the book also describes the transformation of my approach to try and help the city. It changed, but in the end I felt like I was helping the city — along with many others described in the book. This is definitely not a book that describes people giving up on Flint and walking away. It doesn't sugarcoat the situation, but I don't find it depressing. I was inspired to find so many people who haven't given up.

      I also came to the conclusion that tearing down abandoned houses that no one will ever want to live in, and that are nothing but crime incubators, is a good idea. It was tough to accept at first, but the book describes how the shrinking city model is the most obvious way get Flint on the path to recovery. Now that recovery will not look like the glory years of Flint, but it will be a city that still has dignity and opportunity.

      So that was kind of a long way of saying I hear you, but I think you might have the wrong impression of the book. Check it out at the library and give it a try. Let me know what you think. Thanks

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  4. it is unfortunate that no thought or effort goes into "filling in" with some houses that are in good shape. and no effort to save architectural features, built ins....if no salvage yard there could at least be days when people could go in and take what they could use(doors etc) or sell .the city itself could run a salvage yard, many cities do. aren't there empty spaces in places not slated for clearance, which could be filled with abondoned houses, extending the life of existing neighbhorhoods? at least, let there be speciific days when people can forage.

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  5. Grand old homes have "architectural features". Middle class housing from the thirties through the fifties has rather plain and undecorated construction. That's not to say that those homes were/are uncomfortable or unlovable by any means...but there's not nearly enough value in salvaged elements from them, given six or more decades of wear and tear and coats of paint, to justify the time to remove them.

    As to "foraging"...the metal thieves don't need "specific days". Copper piping always is gone, and as much wiring as can be ripped and cut out of the walls. Aluminum siding disappears. Even iron piping and cast iron radiators go.

    Many of these houses, well ahead of their teardown, have burned, or had major water damage and concomitant mildew and rot from roof failure or broken windows or cut pipes.

    I'm sure your "no thought or effort" comment seems applicable from your vantage point. I doubt if very many people around here would agree with you.

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  6. Now that the myth that Flint is worse than other declining cities has been exposed by the EFM situation in Detroit, and remembering that countless business and political decisions were based on that myth, often at Flint's expense, it is time that we firmly plant our feet in the ground and demand something better. Yes, we've had our share with Woodrow Stanley and Donald Williamson, but they are nothing next the tyrannical and corrupt mayors of many major cities in recent years, the serial crooks and mayors for life. I just looked at the Wikipedia list of Flint mayors, and I'd take nearly all of them in place of the ones running our largest cities today. Someone commented that you have to tear down first in order to rebuild, and I agree with that sentiment often when given all the facts, not just the exterior, like we looked at that house with the destroyed interior. But we can't put too many restrictions on rebuilding if we want to rebuild and not just give up. Let's rebuild, not give up.

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  7. Funny thing, when I just typed in the security words, one of them was "Stedron", who as I recall was once a 9th Ward Commissioner of the City of Flint. As they said in "Under The Tuscan Sun", "it's a sign" (but in Italian) to rebuild a dilapidated house!

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  8. The *average* selling price for a house in Flint last year was $15,000. At the last real estate auction held by Genesee County, houses in Flint and Mount Morris sold for as little as $100, so the cost of buying such a home in order to rebuild it is hardly a barrier. The labor and materials cost to rebuild an old house like this into something that you'd want to live in yourself, though, very likely would exceed the market value of the resulting fixed-up house...probably by quite a lot. And, your resulting investment would be affected by events in your neighborhood and the overall City that you'd have no control over, no matter how politically and philosophically committed to City restoration you may be.

    Certainly a number of purchasers in Carriage Town have been willing to take the gamble. I don't know of any other neighborhood, though, where the general feeling--even among the wildest optimists--is that values might be rising any time soon.

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  9. Ed Phelps... lurking in the shadowsJune 22, 2013 at 9:38 AM

    Most people buying houses in Flint aren't seeking a financial return on their investment, at least not anymore. I'm pretty sure the ebay era of Flint real estate (houses sold in bulk- 60 properties for $70,000 BUY IT NOW!) is winding down, although the few listed include some deals: A home in Mott Park for $600 might be worth it.

    The Fentonian downtown developers and speculators are all about profit. Carriage Town home buyers are investing in a lifestyle. Big difference.

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Thanks for commenting.
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