Flint, MI is my hometown. I moved there when I was 6 years old and stayed through high school. My mom and step-dad still live there, my brother and his family just outside the city. It is a community that taught me about the issue of class (an almost taboo word in this country); our schools were integrated, and race was far less of a concern among my classmates than our disdain for the rich kids in the suburbs and at the private schools (well, some of them anyway…*ha*). My experience there has had a huge influence on my politics and my values, on how I see the world; I am proud of the person I have become and my experiences growing up in Flint have a ton to do with that. But it is, as those of us who left the city say, a great place to be “from”, not so much a great place to be anymore. It is a town built on a troubled, dying buisiness (domestic automobile manufacturing) and it is a difficult thing to watch the city in such a tragic state of decline and disrepair. Today, the NY Times published an article about Dan Kildee’s plan to demolish blocks and neighborhoods in Flint.
Instead of waiting for houses to become abandoned and then pulling them down, local leaders are talking about demolishing entire blocks and even whole neighborhoods. The population would be condensed into a few viable areas. So would stores and services. A city built to manufacture cars would be returned in large measure to the forest primeval. “Decline in Flint is like gravity, a fact of life,” said Dan Kildee, the Genesee County treasurer and chief spokesman for the movement to shrink Flint. “We need to control it instead of letting it control us.”
Dan has been advocating this plan for years; I have known Dan personally for a long time (his sister is a good friend of mine) and I don’t disagree with this plan for a lot of reasons. But it feels counterintuitive in so many ways. I remember when they were pulling down one of the GM factories in town a few years back, and there was a huge sign on the fence surround the site that said “Demolition Means Progress.” They have actually adopted that motto for the retraction campaign, which troubled me, because it was a great irony to see GM pretending that demolishing a factory was somehow helping the community. But with these homes and neighborhoods, who am I to judge? In the case of so many abandoned homes, hitting the re-set button may prove the right move. The city is even considering tearing down my High School, which is a very sad moment for me. One of my old teachers wrote an Op-Ed in the local paper, which speaks directly to my own experience at the school;
“Before the Flint Board of Education abandons the site (which will still mean significant on-going financial responsibility), or before it sells it to any other group, the people of Flint need to look carefully at what they will be losing. I challenge anyone reading this to find another high school with a public library, art center, planetarium, theater, music center and museums directly across its driveway. Add to that a vibrant community college and a rapidly developing and expanding university within four city blocks of the high school and you have an educational setting most communities can only dream about.”
My Alma Mater Is On The Ropes
Dayne Walling, one of my old schoolmates, is running for Mayor and he is a really positive, smart person who I think could do a lot to change the city. He was a Rhodes Scholar (and so modest, he didn’t even include it in his bio!) and has always been a passionate advocate for Flint. The election is May 5, and I truly hope he wins and brings some serious innovation to city government. I’m not sure why I am writing about this here, but I am feeling down tonight. It was weird to see my hometown on the front page of the NYTimes website, especially in a story advocating a massive retraction and demolition. I’m worried about the place that shaped me. Here’s hoping Flint pulls through.