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Thread: The proposed wholesale demolition of areas of Flint, Michigan

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    The proposed wholesale demolition of areas of Flint, Michigan

    I searched and didn't find any reference to this story here, which sort of surprises me. I'd have thought Cyburbians would be all over a topic like this.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/22/business/22flint.html

    First few paragraphs:

    FLINT, Mich. — Dozens of proposals have been floated over the years to slow this city’s endless decline. Now another idea is gaining support: speed it up.

    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.

  2. #2
    Chairman of the bored Maister's avatar
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    FWIW it may be about the only realistic recourse remaining at this point. The town I was born in has had a sad tale to tell the last three decades. The city's fate in many ways parallels that of the entire state. They put all their eggs in one basket and when the basket first showed signs of disintegrating failed to take steps to diversify and find a few other 'baskets'.

    This quote from the article pretty much sums up the role leadership has played:
    but Flint has begun updating its master plan, a complicated task last done in 1965. Then it was a prosperous city of 200,000 looking to grow to 350,000. It now has 110,000 people, about a third of whom live in poverty
    Draw your own conclusions.
    People will miss that it once meant something to be Southern or Midwestern. It doesn't mean much now, except for the climate. The question, “Where are you from?” doesn't lead to anything odd or interesting. They live somewhere near a Gap store, and what else do you need to know? - Garrison Keillor

  3. #3
    Cyburbian mgk920's avatar
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    There are threads here in Cyburbialand from a few years ago about a similar tactic being employed by the City of Youngstown, OH.

    Also, IMHO, the State of Michigan also needs a top-to-bottom reorganization of its governing structure - especially at the municipal level.

    Mike

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    Something similar has been done in Youngstown, Ohio. Whole neighborhoods have been cleared and "land banked".

    Something similar has been repeatedly proposed for Buffalo, NY's urban wasteland, otherwise known as "the East Side", but there's been little progress. That's not surprising given the priorities of Buffalo politicians (ie, an expose recently showed that $30,000 in anti poverty funds were used for officials' Blackberrys). I wish Flint better luck.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian
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    From what I've read about land-banking already underway in Flint, the population might be ready to consider more aggressive land-swapping.

    However, all I could think of when I read the piece was how hard it would be to manage the actual program. It will be so hard to maintain political support for this when the selection of areas to keep and destroy actually begins. . . and then they'll have to find a way to fairly replace the property that is identified for demolition.

    It also reminds me a little bit of post-Katrina planning in that extreme situations allow for consideration of planning interventions that wouldn't ordinarily be on the table.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    I'm not familiar with Flint, but if it has areas like Buffalo has, then the decisions of which blocks to raze won't be that hard, especially in the beginning. In Buffalo, there are blocks and blocks in some East Side neighborhoods where 1 or 2 houses out of 20 are occupied, 5 lots are empty (generally from houses that burned years before), and the remaining 13-14 houses are vacant and abandoned. Some of these abandoned houses become drug houses or sites for dog-fighting or meeting places for street gangs, etc. They are major arson targets, and when one goes, its neighbors usually go, too, because almost all are frame structures and many are only 3-5 feet apart.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian JimPlans's avatar
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    I have a hard time disliking the general idea of de-densifying decaying older cities, I woner about these cities ability to do it properly. I think Linda_D's example may be the rule rather than the exception:

    Quote Originally posted by Linda_D View post
    That's not surprising given the priorities of Buffalo politicians (ie, an expose recently showed that $30,000 in anti poverty funds were used for officials' Blackberrys).
    While there are real economic and social forces causing depopulation and poverty concentration in many older cities, I feel that a large part of the blame accrues to City leaders and their unwillingness to change, their inabilility to work effectively, and the high level of corruption in many City governments.

    Giving the same leaders who helped run these cities down millions of dollars to buy up what they helped destroy does not seem like a recipie for success.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    It would be fascinating to conduct a study of this. One could apply a triage approach to the various neighborhoods. Which ones to save, which to let die, which are marginal. Historic preservation should play a role along with structural conditions.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Flint is truely the City that time forgot. Even folks in Detroit have the impression that 'well it could be worse, we could be Flint!' The sad part about Flint is they do have a great deal of cultural prizes due to the Durant family and General Motors, but nothing seems to ever get better there. There are some nice museums as well as a couple of universities in town that would not bethere if it was not for the Durant family or General Motors.

    Both sides of my Mother's family are from Flint. My grandmother's first teaching job was in a one room schoolhouse on Corunna Rd. They somehow migrated S into Oakland County, then down to the area around the infamous Detroit Riots (14th St). People have been leaving Flint since the 1920's when GM moved to centralize offices in Detroit, my grandmother as a young girl lived in Detroit because her father was a courier in the GM building. Her parents died young and back up to Flint with her to live with relatives.

    I can still recall my first roadtrip to Flint as a teen. I had a car and a mission: to visit Autoworld! Both the town and the attraction were a disappointment. When I was a young planner I was sent there for a week and stayed at the Hyatt Downtown. It was pretty much the onlything that was open in the area, though the University of Michigan was close-by.

    A good movie that depicts Flint is Roger and Me. I know that some folks hate Moore as a director, but this was one of his earlier works and pretty much true to life.

    In today's news the University of Michigan announced that it is closing the public television station in town.

    There are still some very nice parts of Flint, as well as Suburban Gand Blanc. Much of the City and its suburbs however have seen much better days. Its sad. Reminds me of Gary.
    Last edited by DetroitPlanner; 24 Apr 2009 at 1:28 PM.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Mud Princess's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mike gurnee View post
    It would be fascinating to conduct a study of this. One could apply a triage approach to the various neighborhoods. Which ones to save, which to let die, which are marginal. Historic preservation should play a role along with structural conditions.
    I remember reading about the concept known as "planned abandonment" back in grad school. The problem is that triage planning, according to some, had negative consequences for low and moderate income families and minority residents:

    [The] legacy of the neighborhood triage approach is very disturbing. Racial prejudice and discrimination affected urban policy decisions, so it is no surprise that the triage approach was used not only to legitimate decisions that had negative effects on low-income minority neighborhoods [e.g., urban renewal], but also to justify the inexcusable and pernicious practice of disinvesting in these neighborhoods.
    Source

  11. #11
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    "Sustainable Redevelopment" then?

  12. #12
    Cyburbian cellophane's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Mud Princess View post
    I remember reading about the concept known as "planned abandonment" back in grad school. The problem is that triage planning, according to some, had negative consequences for low and moderate income families and minority residents:

    Source
    does it make me a better person if i want to bulldoze the giant mcmansions and leave the low income folks alone? although, they will probably be gentrified right out of their neighborhoods with my approach...

  13. #13
    I seem to think this was all tried in the 1970s during the great urban crisis of that era. Deny government services to certain areas to conserve tax doallars for other communities. I don't think it worked.

  14. #14
    Cyburbian cellophane's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Gotta Speakup View post
    I seem to think this was all tried in the 1970s during the great urban crisis of that era. Deny government services to certain areas to conserve tax dollars for other communities. I don't think it worked.
    i think the Flint plan is more about relocation and completely reverting areas of the city back to natural environment and not denying services. the vasectomy zoning thing is all about denying services

    i am all for the Flint plan - i think its a great solution to a problem that doesnt have any easy solutions.

  15. #15
    I agree with Gotta.

    A lot of the problems in that part of Michigan were only exacerbated by denial of services and white flight-- kind of turned into a vicious cycle of people pricing each other out of areas to get to the funded areas.

    Then, the point is kind of moot because eventually everyone didn't really live in the city they claimed to live in. Its kind of the same thing with Detroit. When you move 25 miles outside of town and 10 miles from the city limit... you really don't technically live in Detroit anymore.

    An what really grinds my gears is when you read things like this on Wikipedia and elsewhere: "As the home of the "Big Three" American automakers (General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler), it is the world's traditional automotive center and a key pillar of the U.S. economy."

    The automotive industry maybe a leading pillar of the economy but the automotive manufacturing industry is not. Technically, if you take all the biggest restaurant chains in the US and lump them together... Chili's and Stake 'n Shake (this is a gross abstraction) contribute more to the economy than Ford or GM does.

    Pretty much, the biggest pillar to the economy now is the service industry (around 70&#37. Dining, Retail, basic services, IT and other soft goods pretty much out do the manufacturing industry 3-to-1. UNICEF and a few other organizations did some studies in 2007 and 2008 that say most of the economic advancements since 1980 have been done on the backs of children and young adults. Those under the age of 30 tend to receive the least amount of government assistance, have growing personal expenses and that income growth has relatively stalled.

    The point I am making here is that the love of Detroit or Flint... is a generational thing. I think older generations may appreciate Detroit more because the earlier days of Detroit were about getting places through hard work. I think the younger generations see Detroit as the ultimate insult to the modern American landscape-- a testament to white flight, racism, suburbanization and a cancer to the ideology behind city living.

    To younger people, we're in a situation where complaining makes us seem ungrateful and actually working hard pays little in terms of return on investment. If we work hard, someone finds a way of taking those gains away from us (mandatory insurance, conversion of rental properties, dependence on credit systems, loss of multi-modal transportation and other wonky laws).

    So, should Flint be destroyed? Sure, why not. It really isn't doing one thing or another unless everyone moves back.

  16. #16
    Cyburbian
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    Pretty much, the biggest pillar to the economy now is the service industry (around 70%). Dining, Retail, basic services, IT and other soft goods pretty much out do the manufacturing industry 3-to-1.
    I don't want to get off topic, but that's the root of the problem for the whole country right there. All the creation of tangible goods from natural resources takes place someplace else. Flint is just the tip of the iceberg...

  17. #17
    Cyburbian mgk920's avatar
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    In addition to the disincentive items that pierre-montee mentioned, I would also add 'high/confiscatory taxes' to that list. One loses a LOT of incentive to do anything positive when he/she goes in with the knowledge that a huge percentage of the fruits of his or her efforts will simply be seized by the government.

    Also, the automotive industry is a LOT more than just the 'Detroit Big Three™' - there are oodles of other car manufacturers with plants in the USA, but they are not of the 'Big Three™' (and many of them are not beholden to the UAW, too).

    The terribly anti-city municipal boundary laws in Michigan haven't helped the situation, either.

    Oh yea, ALL of the City of Flint, MI is covered by Google-Earth Street View. Clicking around there is an interesting ride, indeed.



    Mike

  18. #18
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    Off-topic:
    I experienced my first economic disensentive this year. I left a perfectly good camper to rot in Wisconsin because:

    1) It was worth maybe $1000
    b) My car didn't have the tow rating to pull it to Texas
    3) The annual rent for the camp site was rasied from $700 a year to $1550 a year (side note: BASTARD!)
    d) I lost the title anyway and never bothered to register it in my name. So some poor fool is gonna get tagged with the problem.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian
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    The general idea of focusing the most resources on stable nieghborhoods with growth potential and borderline neighborhoods nearby that are still salvagable, is a good one: the only way abandoned wastelands are likely to revive (a solid lasting revival, not a just a temporary boost) will be with help from the spillover from healthier neighborhoods/growth assets nearby that are filling up and getting expensive. But nurturing those healther hoods to that point of overflow will take time. Cutting the losses of those wastelands in the meantime is going to tricky.

    Mud Princess and Future Planning Diva hit pretty close to my own concerns: How will the devils-in-the-details of this program be managed, without some serious injustice to poorer/minority residents, and property owners? In Baltimore several years ago, the city bought out and relocated the few hundred(? or less?) remaining residents in Middle East, an almost completely abandoned neighborhood near Johns Hopkins Hospital, which is slowly starting to be replaced with new biotech labs/offices, new apartments and houses, and space for businesses. But the mostly elderly residents, many of whom were homeowners who had refused for decades to abandon their life's investment--and often couldn't afford to move anyway--often got less help than they were promised or needed(at least they all got something. And not only did the buyouts cost money, so did the title searches and legal proceedings needed to seize the many abandoned buildings, and to transfer to the development corporation the many buildings already publicly owned. Flint is much smaller then Baltimore, in a state less helpful towards its cities than Maryland is--it's going to have a hard time finding the money.
    Flint is going to have to think through and plan out the entire process very thoroughly before it takes any action. And it's going to have to take a lot of that action in public (hearings, advertisements, etc.), or this whole thing could collapse in ugly acrimony.

    Good luck to Flint, and if they do this I hope they get it right.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    It does sound tough to implement without forcing a lot of folks out of their house.

    I'll assume that the city owns the vacant land/buildings? Does having the city spread out over a somewhat greater distance (now that the infrastructure is in place) really cost that much more? Obviously more maintenance, yes, but most other city costs are dependent on # of people and their needs.

    What boggles my mind is how, in a town that, however poorly, still functions (power, water, etc.) better than say 90% of towns in really poor countries, they can't seem to even give the land away... It speaks of social decay and lack of control at really abysmal levels
    Life and death of great pattern languages

  21. #21
    Cyburbian Mud Princess's avatar
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    Another interesting piece on this topic, "Bulldozing America's Shrinking Cities," can be found on the New York Times Economix blog here.

  22. #22
    Cyburbian Plus pcjournal's avatar
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    visit to Cleveland and Flint

    For those of you following this thread, you might be interested in a report I posted on Cleveland's strategy for dealing with vacant land: "Audacious ... or Realistic?" at: http://www.circletheusa.com/2009/04/cleveland.html

    Last week I was in Detroit and Flint, and will be posting a report next week on a meeting I had with two planners who work for the Genesee County Land Bank, and a visit to two Flint neighborhoods.

    While not directly related, I also had an interesting stop last week in suburban Troy, Michigan, where they're also facing challenges as a result of the decline of the automotive industry (though, of course, they're in much better shape than Detroit or Flint). My blog report, "A Suburb Plans for Change" is posted at: http://www.circletheusa.com/2009/06/troy.html
    Wayne Senville, Editor
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  23. #23
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Luca View post
    It does sound tough to implement without forcing a lot of folks out of their house.

    I'll assume that the city owns the vacant land/buildings? Does having the city spread out over a somewhat greater distance (now that the infrastructure is in place) really cost that much more? Obviously more maintenance, yes, but most other city costs are dependent on # of people and their needs.

    What boggles my mind is how, in a town that, however poorly, still functions (power, water, etc.) better than say 90% of towns in really poor countries, they can't seem to even give the land away... It speaks of social decay and lack of control at really abysmal levels
    While places like Flint sound hopeless to outsiders you need to look at geography to see the whole picture. It is true that the population has shrunk incredibly. This has a lot to do with how hard it is to annex land in the State as well as a desire to live in single family homes. What is happening is that you have more homes where there may only be on resident and this helps to lessen the blight, but at the same time it is much harder for one person to afford to maintain a home than several. This means among other things that the individual tax burden goes up. While Flint is not entrirely a wasteland, it is in much worse shape than it was even 15 or 20 years ago, and the prospects for fixing a manufacturing based economy look grim; particularly when you realize it is in competition with lots of other cities looking for something to replace the loss of manufacturing jobs.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  24. #24
    Cyburbian stroskey's avatar
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    A growing city should not be one that just adds to itself through annexation. A growing city should be constructing more multi-family properties, more dense neighborhoods, and the like. It is unfair to compare or judge cities based on population alone as that puts landlocked cities at a disadvantage over places like Jacksonville or Phoenix who just keep grabbing land where they can. That being said, I don't think a decline of population should be blamed on lack of annexation because annexing land isn't really growing, it's just taking more.

  25. #25
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by stroskey View post
    A growing city should not be one that just adds to itself through annexation. A growing city should be constructing more multi-family properties, more dense neighborhoods, and the like. It is unfair to compare or judge cities based on population alone as that puts landlocked cities at a disadvantage over places like Jacksonville or Phoenix who just keep grabbing land where they can. That being said, I don't think a decline of population should be blamed on lack of annexation because annexing land isn't really growing, it's just taking more.
    Maybe I am not accurately portraying what it is I am saying. This is not an excuse, but an failed attempt to describe how it looks.

    In reality, there are some empty neighborhoods, but they are not as empty as you would expect.

    What really brings the town down is that there are no longer enough people living within the City proper to support much retail, and those that do live there have generally less to spend so what you find in terms of retail is pretty basic.

    Another trait are the giant tracks of abandoned industrial land. This is why I was amazed at other threads here that talk about protecting industrial land. The exact opposite is true in rust belt cities; we neeed to find other uses. For these areas it may be appropriate to return them to prarie. However, being that these areas are in close proximity to people, and public services are lacking a big problem would be how to keep the prarie from becoming a junkyard.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

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