Monday, December 29, 2014

Flint Photos: 420 W. Fifth Avenue in 1917 and 2014

Flint, Meet Dublin

In describing Dublin in the fifties, an unlikely source captures Catholic life in Flint in the seventies:
"Dublin Catholics are spiritual but not saintly, faithful but not strict, godly but not exact. Devout and good, they are also loosely at large with a blunt and sincere grasp of what the human frame requires."   
Autobiography by Morrissey

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Another Flint Mystery Photo

Anyone recognize this spot?

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Flint Photos: Mystery Cadillac

This slide indicates it's from Flint, but there's no other information. Any detectives out there with ideas about the location?

Flint Artifacts: Dean's Bar Matchbook

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Watch Chevy in the Hole Transform into Chevy Commons

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Flint Photos: New Buicks

Monday, December 1, 2014

Downtown Tunnels

Does anyone have any information about a series of tunnels that may or may not exist under downtown Flint?

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Up A Creek Without a Name (Worst Headline Ever)

Does anyone know if the little tributary off Thread Lake that runs southerly through Flint Golf Club, then must run through an underground culvert starting at E. Atherton, and reemerges just south of E. Hemphill Road, has a name? Because if it doesn't, I'm going to name it Gordie Creek.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Ice Racing on Thread Lake

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Field Research with Connor Coyne

Flint author Connor Coyne is conducting research for his latest writing project — a Flint-based mystery. This morning he explored "the confusing maze of estuaries at the upstream mouth of Thread Lake" with his friend, the graphic designer Sam Perkins-Harbin, and came back with this report:

I've been curious about this area for years. On Google Maps, it looks completely overgrown and wild, like the woods surrounding the Pierce Golf Course or the Happy Hollow Nature Area, but there are also some curious signs of a human touch; particularly what looks like the grid of residential neighborhood streets of a bygone era. I was also curious because local historians have not been able to enlighten me as to what this area was all about. The amusement park was situated further west of the area, and it is not connected to McKinley Park or the Thread Lake Dam. Much of it is also inaccessible and choked with undergrowth, which is part of the reason it took me so much time to actually go and check out. 

Sam and I explored two areas. First, we followed a service drive south from Lippincott Blvd. and came upon a creepy-looking area of small mounds. It was just after dawn, and since I've got an overly-fertile imagination, I was imagining something like this:

A scene from The Killing, season 3, episode 3.

More likely, this was dirt moved and dumped from sites as they were developed along Dort Highway a quarter mile to the east. And this would have happened decades ago because trees were covering everything. While there were signs of dumping, it wasn't anything extensive or recent. For anyone curious about whether or not we saw squatters, there weren't any signs of anyone living in this part of the woods anytime recently.

Further back, past the mounds, the undergrowth became almost impenetrable, with raspberry bushes and cattails choking everything out. We had originally planned on crossing Thread Creek, but when we finally found it, it was more than twenty feet across, deep, and fast-moving, and it would have been very dangerous (and wet, cold, and muddy) to attempt. The grid would have been right on the other side. We returned to the car and were able to enter the woods again, this time from the south, and underbrush here was much less obtrusive (although the ever present raspberry bushes were a real pain). 

We managed to break through to the gridded area, which I've been curious about for many years. It seems that the simplest explanation — which is still intriguing — is most likely the correct one: this had been intended as an extension of the residential neighborhood to the south, and was abandoned. The neighborhood in question is far more recent than most in the city, and follows a suburban layout. This is consistent with the size and density of the trees in the gridded area. It does not appear to have ever been paved; perhaps graveled though. At the easternmost extent, a wide, narrow, deep pit has been dug (clearly by machines), which could have been the beginnings of a foundation or an attempt to link up with the city sewers, but this is the only other sign of serious development. I had wondered if the project was suspended due to high water tables (the whole area is very swampy) or if Flint's declining housing values simply made it a poor investment. At any rate, it has thoroughly gone to seed.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Flint Artifacts: Bamboo Bar and Cocktail Lounge Matchbook

If anyone has any knowledge of this fine establishment, let's hear it.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Longing for Nostalgia

"...but the weird thing about nostalgia is that it can make you nostalgic for experiences you never had. Objects in the rearview are more precious than they appeared...."
          - Christine Smallwood, Harper'sDec. 2014

Friday, November 14, 2014

Flint Artifacts: Highly Inaccurate Souvenir Plate

Souvenir plates from a shrinking city like Flint do not age well. Six out of nine landmarks on this platter are demolished or closed.

Flint Artifacts: Schmitzer's Super Service Matchbook

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Henry "Big Bank Hank" Jackson, R.I. P.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Flint's Mark Ingram and the Saints Roll

Big night for Flint's Mark Ingram in the Saints win over the Packers on Sunday Night Football — 172 yards on 24 carries with a touchdown.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Buick Electra 225 and Bob Seger's Creative License

It appears Bob Seger don't know much about Buick Electra 225 history.

Ron Fonger of The Flint Journal reports:
In the lyrics of "Detroit Made," Seger sings about the Electra's big-block engine, leather bucket seats, and "chrome that takes the moonlight on." 
The song credits the Buick with winning the attention of "girls (that) walked right by me, didn't even say good luck," while the singer drove "an old farm truck," but who "all wanna be my friend ... now I ride my 225." 
The chorus of the song, lines repeated a dozen times, are, "She's a Detroit made; deuce and a quarter, babe."
The problem, as Fonger points out, is that 225s were made in Flint and a few other places, but never Detroit. Just the kind of songwriting mistake you'd expect from an Ann Arbor guy like Seger.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Hidden Economies of San Francisco

Deep in Suburbia

Can't get much farther away from Civic Park in Flint than Foster City, California. 

No Relation

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Flint Artifacts: Doughboy and Lady Doughgirl QSL Postcard

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Shrinking City Stats

K-12 enrollment in Flint Community Schools 

1968: 46,557
2014: 6,720

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Tigers Clinch!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Tiger Stadium: Who could forget these urinal troughs?

The last game at Tiger Stadium was played 15 years ago today.

Dispatches from the Rust Belt: The Best of Belt Year One

I'm clearly the target audience for Belt Magazine, the online ode to all things Rust Belt run out of Cleveland. It's only been around one year, but it has managed to corner the market on intensely reported, heartfelt, and sometimes funny coverage of post-industrial America. It's personal and raises larger issues about the forces shaping the entire country, not just the Midwest. And I'd say that even if I didn't write for it.Here's how founder and Editor Anne Trubek describes it:

When Belt Magazine launched one year ago, we did so for one basic reason: We felt that Cleveland and other cities in the Rust Belt were being defined by outside media that didn’t know us. We wanted to tell our own story ourselves. 
So we assembled writers, engaged citizens, academic experts, history buffs, and all sorts of people who live and work here to write about who we are. Some of our stories are long-form investigative journalism, some are essays about the arts and historic preservation, and many are thoughtful commentaries about economic issues. Quite frankly, we are proud of how we have progressed in the past year, engaging people who are interested in issues that matter. Visitors to our site continue to increase, and the number of people who support us by becoming members keeps growing. People join Belt to be part of a community and to acknowledge our commitment to pay writers, to edit carefully, and to have an independent voice.
Dispatches from the Rust Belt: The Best of Belt Year One is an anthology of Belt's first year. It features the work of Jacqueline Marino, Laura Putre, Jake Austen, Edward McClelland and many more writers. Including me. (Okay, that was awkward.)
Pre-order Dispatches from the Rust Belt here.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Flint Artifacts: Jeanette Robinson Playing Card

Calling All Bill Laimbeer Fans

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Flint Artifacts: Flint Voice Press Card

Doug Sanders, who just might have shorter hair now, provided this gem.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Thanks for Giving Back to Flint

The fundraising campaign to demolish 6608 Parkbelt Drive in Flint in now complete. More than 150 donors gave everything from $1 to $1,000 to help us reach our goal. In the end, we raised $11,113. It's a reminder that even people who haven't lived in Flint for years still want to do their part to help all the current residents who are doing such inspiring work in the city. Flint has a storied past, but I think this shows that it also has a future.

“The land bank is very grateful to all the generous donors who have contributed and made this campaign a success,” said Douglas Weiland, executive director of the Genesee County Land Bank. “You can rest assured that the results in this one neighborhood will not only be significant in eliminating this blighted house and the detrimental effect it has had, but it is also a great reflection on our society that people still come to the aid of others that they don’t even know. The neighborhood residents will benefit from your generosity for years to come.”

Here is the tentative schedule for the demolition of the house provided by the land bank:

September: Complete all demolition inspections, surveys, and request utility cuts.

November/December: Pending utility cuts, complete demolition, backfill lot, and complete winter grade inspection

May: Complete final grade, seed, and mulch lot. Conduct final inspection.

June: Make lot available for sale as a side lot to eligible adjacent homeowner.

Thanks again to everyone who contributed to the campaign. They are listed below using their Indiegogo username.

Beth and John Kirkpatrick
Carl Hamilla
Carlo & Cindy
Amy Salunga
Sam Perkins-Harbin
Earline Ahonima
Joseph Dennis
Ken Sayers
Peter Camilli
stephen rodrick
Allison Gertridge
Kimberly Plouffe
Jennifer Russell
Michael Barillas
Barry Yeoman
Accurate Accounting
Timothy Jahr
Paulette Mayfield
Eric Willson
Dan Bowden
Crystal Pepperdine
D.J. Becker
The Coyne Family

Eva Grace

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Flint Artifacts: Cross Congregational Church Plate

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

So Not Funny

I'm not above taking a certain perverse pride in growing up in a tough, unpredictable city. But MLive's Blake Thorne explains why the t-shirts, stickers, and hats that glorify the violence that plagues Flint are far from funny:
The real subject of this apparel was Flint's violent reputation. I'm sure you've seen it before. It's been around, there are several iterations. Some shirts say "Murderville" or "most violent city," some simply have the word "Flint" alongside a drawing of a handgun or a bullet hole. 
Bang bang. You're dead. People get killed here. Funny, huh?
Sure, they're meant to be jokes, a tongue-in-cheek riff on Flint's violent reputation. Maybe at first they seemed funny, or clever. That one where the "L" in Flint is a sideways gun. That's kind of cute, right? 
But somewhere along the line, these shirts -- or hats or stickers or whatever -- have lost their cultural cachet. There was a time, maybe, when making a joke about murder was the only comfort in an endless winter of senseless violence. Some people might still feel this way.
Read the rest here.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Flighting Blight in Flint, Michigan

Mission accomplished! Thanks to all the generous donors who made this possible. It’s a great example of people coming together to prove that American cities like Flint have a future and not just a storied past.

And a special thanks to the residents of Flint who have not given up on the Vehicle City, especially the homeowners on Parkbelt Drive. Crystal Ashburn-Brown just texted me: “Wow, I am sooooo happy! Parkbelt Drive says thank you to all the donors.”

A bit of housekeeping…the campaign will stay open for the full 30 days as originally planned. Any donations over the $10,000 goal will also be given to the Genesee County Land Bank Authority to cover any extra costs associated with demolishing 6608 Parkbelt Drive and/or the land bank’s other work in Flint and the rest of Genesee County. Donate here.

Thanks again for all the support. It’s great to know that so many care about Flint’s past, present, and future.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Flint Photos: Flint Judo Club on Davison Road near Iowa in 1969

Thanks to Uko Oshima for this 1969 photo of his father's judo club shortly after it moved from 2nd Avenue and Saginaw street to the corner of Davison and Iowa on the East Side. 

Is Money Laundering Driving Real Estate in Miami?

In many ways, shrinking cities like Flint don't have a functioning real estate market, because supply is so high and demand is so, so low.

Miami doesn't really have a housing market as we would traditionally define it, but for the opposite reason.

Henry Grabar at Salon reports:
"But the crop of downtown Miami condos from the last cycle, according to the Downtown Development Authority, are over 95-percent occupied, whether by part-time owners or, more likely, by tenants. Miami neighborhoods may lack the organic texture of 57th Street or Mayfair, but their buildings are not lacking for people. 
"Is it crazy to add 23,000 units – the crop of the current cycle – to a market with scant local demand, in a metro area with the highest foreclosure rate in the United States? Is downtown Miami a bubble? 
“'Greater Downtown Miami is always in a bubble,' the report finds, 'because 90 percent of the demand is external, and hence not tied to economic fundamentals.' 
"Whereas a traditional housing market draws its strength from job growth and new residents, 'safe haven' housing markets are fueled by global instability. And there’s certainly plenty of that to go around."

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Help Fight Blight and Spur Revival in Flint

Go here to donate

I’m Gordon Young and four generations of my family lived in Flint, Michigan. This is a crowdfunding campaign to help my hometown and a group of residents raise money to demolish a single abandoned, burned-out house on an otherwise healthy vibrant block.

The money you donate will enable the Genesee County treasurer and the Genesee County Land Bank Authority to tear down the burned out house at 6608 Parkbelt Drive in the North End of Flint and maintain the lot or deed it to a neighbor who will take care of it.

Obviously, this won’t solve all of Flint’s problems, but it will be a huge help to longtime, dedicated Parkbelt homeowners like Paulette Mayfield and Crystal Ashburn, who have watched the house decay, attract squatters and drug users, and ultimately catch on fire. And your donation will play a role in helping Flint transform itself into a smaller, greener, more viable city.

“One abandoned and blighted house on a well-maintained block can destabilize the whole neighborhood," said Doug Weiland, executive director of the land bank. "Demolishing this newly foreclosed house sooner rather than later will help to stem the cycle of decline and send a message to surrounding homeowners that their neighborhood is worth investing in."

Like a lot of Rust Belt cities, Flint has suffered through deindustrialization and all the problems that come with it. The birthplace of General Motors had one of the highest per capita income levels in the nation in the sixties. But after losing more than 70,000 automotive jobs, Flint has struggled with population loss, budget cuts, and unemployment. Thousands of abandoned houses attract crime, depress property values, and destabilize neighborhoods.

In order to reinvent itself, Flint has to get rid of these houses, but it doesn’t have the money to demolish the thousands of structures that are too far gone to save. What it does have are inspiring, dedicated people who call Flint home. They’ve never given up on the city and they are still working hard to make it a better place.

"When I was young, I loved the early mornings on this block," Parkbelt homeowner Paulette Mayfield said. "My mom was an early riser. She would always get up and sit in the front window and read her Bible. Then all of the kids on the block would get up, grab something to eat, and be out on the street on their bikes. It was a just a warm, friendly neighborhood. It still is and we want to keep it that way.”

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Flint Artifacts: J. Geils at the I.M.A.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Support Flint Expatriates

If you'd like to help offset the operating costs of Flint Expatriates, feel free to donate any amount. It would be much appreciated. The goal is extremely modest — more profits than AutoWorld. Thanks for your support.

Flint Artifacts: A Luxurious Palace "Ranchome" Advertisement

Flint Postcards: Bryant Hotel

Flint Photos: Clark School Students in 1922

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Flint Postcards: Buick Factory No. 11

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Making Ground-Level Retail Work for Cities

Over the past few years, ground floor retail businesses have slowly returned to downtown Flint. It may not be the bustling shopping district of the fifties, but it's a vast improvement over the ghostly Saginaw Street of the nineties.

Writing in the June issue of The Urbanist, Benjamin Grant tackles the nuances, history, and challenges of street-level retail.
Ground floor retail has its origins in the homes of urban artisans in medieval and Roman cities. Where fortifications put space at a premium, the family home was often above the family workshop, and business was conducted through an opening onto the street. 
By the late 18th century, workshops were giving way to factories, and, in Paris and London, plate glass and gaslight helped create the urban storefront as we know it — a space for shopping, not making. In the 19th century, the era of the flaneur, the street itself was reinvented as a genteel public space, and grand treelined boulevards played host to a fashionable parade of shopping, self-presentation and spectacle. 
Modernist architects like Le Corbusier were suspicious of commerce, and found the tight, clamorous spaces of the 19th-century city oppressively filthy and congested. They sought to “free the ground plane” by raising their towers on stilt-like pilotis, so that citizens might wander through a new species of park-like city at their ease, never channeled into something as vulgar as a street. These architects peeled apart the city’s mixture, and in doing so they created separate sectors for offices, factories and homes, and built pedestrian sky bridges over sweeping expressways. The intended spaces of discovery became spaces of desolation. 
In the mid-to-late 20th century, the car was king. In subdivisions, shopping malls, housing projects and office complexes, inward looking, single-use environments were the norm. For nearly half a century, urban development in the U.S. got an almost total pass from pedestrian considerations. leaving a legacy of blank walls, narrow or non-existent sidewalks and dead spaces. 
In the 1960s, critics like Jane Jacobs and architects like Oscar Newman and Jan Gehl began investigating exactly what it was that made traditional urbanism (then under attack) work so well. They zeroed in on the interaction of building edges, public streets, and social interaction, creating some of the classic analyses in urban design. Their efforts revolutionized urban design, and their emphasis on the human scale — once dismissed as quaint and unscientific — has become planning orthodoxy. 
Today, walkable streets enlivened by active uses are a widely shared priority, critical to supporting transit, reducing carbon emissions and tackling chronic diseases. But bringing streets to life – especially outside city centers – can be quite a challenge.
Flint's economic situation poses daunting obstacles to retail development, but the city is not alone in facing numerous struggles to help street-level stores, restaurants, and other businesses gain a foothold. Grant presents a good overview of the challenges and successes of street-level retail in the San Francisco Bay Area. Obviously, a very different scenario than Flint, but there are many similarities. Ground-level retail isn't the easiest enterprise to pull off, even in a booming economy:
Just because planners allow, or even require, ground floor retail spaces, does not mean there will be ground-floor retail. Retailers, who live and die according to foot traffic, visibility and neighboring stores, are very sensitive to both location and quality of their spaces and they are well aware that if you build it, customers won’t automatically come.
Planners don’t create cafes (or restaurants or grocery stores) and for the most part, neither do developers. Entrepreneurs do. It is true that a building without a storefront will never contain a store. On the other hand, the world is full of empty storefronts. The weakness of ground-floor retail in mixed-use construction is so notorious that developers routinely write it off, assuming no revenue at all.
But it's clear that making downtown Flint a welcoming gathering place is a key part of improving the city, along with helping the city's neighborhoods rebound from abandonment and decay.
Public life is the essence of urbanism. The city’s ability to facilitate movement, commerce, democracy, innovation and creativity resides in the currents and eddies of human beings at the boundary of public and private space, where homes, jobs, shops and civic buildings touch streets, parks and plazas. 
In a good urban neighborhood, the ground floors of the buildings work symbiotically with the surrounding sidewalks and public spaces. Together they provide a continuous network of pathways and experiences that are active, safe, comfortable and engaging. The ground-floor café (and retail more generally) is but one of many good ways for buildings to meet the street. After all, even a coffee-crazed town like San Francisco can’t have a café — or even retail — in every building. A good city requires solutions as varied as its fabric and its people and must constantly invent new ones.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Al Moten, R.I.P.

A friend once proposed that Flint's official motto should be "Flint: Too Much Reality." Well, you can't get more real than this obituary. To Al Moten, who went out in style, at the age of 74 on Wednesday, June 18, 2014 at Hurley Medical Center:
George Alvin Moten a.k.a. "AL," was born in Flint, MI on November 25, 1939 and deceased on June 18, 2014. The Moten estate has suffered significant losses and devastating embarrassments. To reserve what little dignity our family was allowed to have, we decided not to have a funeral or a memorial service. For all who wish to send condolences, please address them to Estate of George Moten, P.O. Box 815, Mt. Morris, MI 48458. For many years our dad has suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD); we don't know whether it was the result of witnessing his foster mom decease from a diabetic stroke at age 4 and laying with her for 8 hours until his foster dad returned home from work and told him that she had passed and would never wake up again. Or from being in the Army when the military was extremely segregated or a combination of both. 
Dad was not perfect, and he knew that but he tried his best to be perfect as he could; when he fell short, he spent a great deal of his time pointing out the unfair imperfections of others at anytime and anywhere. This personality flaw rubbed a lot of people the wrong way and turned a lot of former friends and family alike into enemies and now his children have inherited his enemies. Dad usually meant well but did not know how to convey the difference between constructive criticism and destructive criticism. It takes a very resilient person to survive our dad's environment. Speaking from experience, as a son, I took his criticism as a challenge and did my best to prove it wrong. 
For those who know our dad, know that he was truthful in what he said but it was painful. Those of us who were resilient, appreciated dad's critiquing of our flaws and his truthfulness after we learned not to take it personal. It takes a great deal of time to recover from our dad's arsenal of insults and many never did recover. We as his children don't have a clue as to who or how many people our dad has offended; all that we know is that we have paid a steep price for it. 
As we ask God to forgive us for our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us; we personally want to apologize to the greater Flint community for our father's inconsiderate insults and any that we may have committed. "We send our greatest sympathy." The new generation of Motens "understands that the best offense is to never offend at all." Thanks to all of my dad's friends and family who showed support in our times of need. Please pray for us in our time of healing.