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Thread: Flint, Michigan

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Hceux's avatar
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    Flint, Michigan

    Hey, I just finished watching "Roger and Me" as an assignment for one of my courses. It was an interesting viewing.

    I was wondering what has happened to Flint since the 1980s. Can anyone share their knowledge and thoughts?

    Thanks.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    Re: Flint, Michigan

    Originally posted by Hceux
    I was wondering what has happened to Flint since the 1980s. Can anyone share their knowledge and thoughts?
    Flint is less than an hour away from me. I can tell you, it has become worse.

    In 1990, it had about 140,000 people. Then, in 2000, the population was at 125,000. That's a 10% loss.

    But things might not be as bad as they seem. I don't know, I guess I'm trying to be hopeful. It's hard, especially if you've driven through any of the suburbs that surround the City of Flint. These are some of the most affluent suburbs in the state of Michigan, outside of Oakland and Macomb counties (metro Detroit). The juxtaposition is startling.

    Any other Michigan planners got the skinny on Flint?

  3. #3
    Cyburbian SW MI Planner's avatar
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    I'm about 2 hours away, so I don't know any specifics, but I can say that the perception of Flint has gotten worse.

  4. #4
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    My parents live near Lapeer, MI (15 miles east), and my dad's office is in downtown Flint.

    From my experience, it has nowhere to go, but down. The downtown is dead, all the time. Crime is a major issue, and the city is taxing itself to death (in the city you are taxed three-five times as much as outside the city, but you get half the services.)

    The whole Flint metro area is really nothing more than subdivisions and commercial strip sprawl.

    My advice: don't ever comtemplate moving/living there. That part of Michigan is going down the tubes, because of deindustrialization.

    On the upside - it's a great place to stop for gas/food on your way to enjoy the woods and lakes of northern Michigan.

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    I had a job a couple of years back where I ended up catalogging every 12th utility pole owned by Consumers Energy in southern MI. Its a long story...

    Anyway, that had me and a coworker driving up and down just about every street in Flint (and pretty much everywhere else in southern MI). It was a wild experience, and a little scary at times. I feel like things have gotten worse since the movie. More demolition, more fires, less people. Certain commercial corridors that were probably bustling in the 50's are completely abandoned and are now like mini ghost towns. There are entire blocks that used to have 20-30 houses now with just 2-3, and of those, all but one are boarded up.

    We stopped at a goodwill on our lunch break one day. It had a 12' tall chain link fence around it, topped with barbed wire. There were warning signs that they locked up the gate at 6, and if you didn't ahve you're car out of the lot by then, it was locked in. I can't imagine who's robbing Goodwill, but appartently somebody is.

    The thing about people selling rabbits and other animals out of their houses for food is real, and its not just the one lady they show in the film.

    The thing about it is, in the movie you see some images of Flint in its heyday, and it looks like a great place to live. I've seen a lot on Detroit in the 50's and it looks like it would've been an awesome place to be - I mean, Motown came out of Detroit - Michigan must have been an awesome place to have been living during that time. And there were plenty of large cities all around that one can tell must've been wonderful in their heyday!

    Sadly, there are only a couple of cities left in Michigan that are even worth visiting. I got the hell out when I could, (two years back) and all around me I could see how bad it was really getting... the cities weren't getting much better, and the sprawl was out of control. Now I go back and see all these once cute farm towns turned into strip-mall city and it just breaks my heart. Luckily, my hometown is too far from a freeway to be growing too much...

    And the good news is that the new governor seems to be really on top of the sprawl topic. But I have a feeling she's going to start running into some pretty fierce opposition from the SE MI development community... We shal see...

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    Cyburbian Hceux's avatar
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    Sadly, there are only a couple of cities left in Michigan that are even worth visiting. I got the hell out when I could, (two years back) and all around me I could see how bad it was really getting... the cities weren't getting much better, and the sprawl was out of control. Now I go back and see all these once cute farm towns turned into strip-mall city and it just breaks my heart. Luckily, my hometown is too far from a freeway to be growing too much... [/B]
    Is it much of Michigan suffering from deindustrialization? What are the other cities that are majorily suffering from deindustrialization other thanDetroit and Flint? Is it just the Michigan cities that continue to suffer from deindustrialization?

    Please don't mind me if I am asking the obvious. From my geogrpahy classes, the assumption seems to be that most of the American cities have come out of the deep deindustrialization pains in the last decade or so and did so by reinventing itself. I can remember a case study on Syracuse, NY, how it changed its image from an old dirty industrial city to a more environmental friendly centre with a new mall on top of an environmentally dangerous garbage dump or that kind of sort. Perhaps these efforts to reinvent the American manufacturing cities are just an image that is hiding the real deindustrialization pain. Is this true?

    I'm just curious - this stuff is so much more interesting than reading and hearing lectures on historical geography and regional development theories (the two geography courses that I'm currently taking as well as an intro to biz and an environmental history course on the Making of the North American environment).

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    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    Originally posted by Hceux
    From my geogrpahy classes, the assumption seems to be that most of the American cities have come out of the deep deindustrialization pains in the last decade or so and did so by reinventing itself.
    From an economic development perspective, yes many former industrial cities have re-invented themselves. But economic development is only a part of the equation. For the people that live in these cities, including the gainfully employed, those on unemployment, and the homeless, to what degree does "re-invention" matter? Isn't that part of generating an image of the city so that it can be sold to companies willing to re-locate or expand? Obviously job creation matters to the city residents - I'm just criticizing the whole "imaging" and "branding" thing that goes on to sell cities to investors.

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    To amplify Wanigas' statements: I remain skeptical about this "reinvention." A cluster of trendy boutiques selling imported knick-knacks manufactured in Asian sweatshops (that trade deficit again) is not going to "save" very many cities. Does Flint really even have a future? But, that is what ULI and Main Street and all of the others advocate (Note: I am exagerate and simplifying for the sake of argument. I know that ULI and Main Street are more complex than that )

    One "solution" I see is stronger Federal and State policies aimed at another problem: overconcentration at the coasts and a few selected interior cities. You can see this a little bit already, as families find themselves unable to afford the middle class dream in California and other high price areas. Can federal policy be crafted to support reinvestment in places like Nebraska, or even old industrial cities like Reading? Are such policies even enough-given how concentrated the control of the American economy is (no more local banks).

    With the internet and more dispersed economies, life for a family would be better in a place like Salinas, Kansas than in a overcrowded, metropolitan suburb? I am interested in the perspective of El Guapo and other small towners living in "unhip" parts of the country.

    That doesn't mean I myself am looking to relocate (I love California too much), but I see many people making illogical sacrifices (2-hour drives) to live like midwesterners in an overcrowded, multiculti state like California. Maybe market forces will simply correct this overconcentration anyway.

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    Originally posted by Hceux
    Is it much of Michigan suffering from deindustrialization? What are the other cities that are majorily suffering from deindustrialization other thanDetroit and Flint? Is it just the Michigan cities that continue to suffer from deindustrialization?
    I grew up in Detroit and visit frequently, and my parents live in Saginaw, about 30 minutes north of Flint.

    Cities from Camden, NJ to Omaha, NE are still experiencing the fallout from deindustrialization -- particularly the mid-size cities like Flint. It may be worse in Michigan, IMHO, than other places because 1) industrialization was so closely linked to the auto industry, and diversification came late to Michigan, 2) Michigan's home rule laws prevented the annexation of suburban areas that other cities have used to their advantage around the country.

    Plus, few cities have a more negative image nationwide than Detroit and Flint. That may be the biggest hurdle to climb.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian DecaturHawk's avatar
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    Originally posted by pete-rock
    I grew up in Detroit and visit frequently, and my parents live in Saginaw, about 30 minutes north of Flint.

    Cities from Camden, NJ to Omaha, NE are still experiencing the fallout from deindustrialization -- particularly the mid-size cities like Flint. It may be worse in Michigan, IMHO, than other places because 1) industrialization was so closely linked to the auto industry, and diversification came late to Michigan, 2) Michigan's home rule laws prevented the annexation of suburban areas that other cities have used to their advantage around the country.

    Plus, few cities have a more negative image nationwide than Detroit and Flint. That may be the biggest hurdle to climb.
    I agree with pete-rock. The other problem in Michigan is that most cities are surrounded by chartered townships that have basically the same powers as cities. A city cannot annex land from an adjacent chartered township. Many townships adopted charters many years ago to "protect" their rural character from the growth of the cities. Unfortunately, many of these townships are now the locus of sprawl; the cities have all of the negatives caused by sprawl without any of the benefits flowing from construction, tax base, etc. Without the opportunity to add to the tax base by annexation and development, property values in the inner city fall to the point that redevelopment is exceedingly difficult. Places where this is obvious include Flint, Jackson, Pontiac and Saginaw.

    The Michigan cities that seem to have thrived after deindustrialization, such as Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and Ann Arbor, were/are less dependent on the auto industry. Although these towns are also landlocked, they have been able to capitalize on other assets, such as universities and a more diversified, high tech economy. There are also signs of comeback in some other cities. For instance, Ypsilanti has begun an ambitious brownfield redevelopment that will be built along New Urbanist principles. But it will be a long time before places like Flint and Detroit can recover. Both were once great cities and still have the potential to be great again.

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    I've never been to Saginaw-how is it doing when compared to places like Flint, Grand rapids, or (if you've ever been there) my hometown, Fort Wayne, Indiana (which was doing very well but is now suffering from that fun consolidation of industry into fewer hands-the largest financial sevices firm, an insurance company, was conglomerated-and the executives who run such big firms don't live in small provincial cities, thank you-so the hq is now in Philadelphia)

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    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    Originally posted by BKM
    I've never been to Saginaw-how is it doing when compared to places like Flint, Grand rapids...
    Ummm, it has its issues. Continued population loss, a cap on property taxes limits municipal revenue... BUT the Rennaisance Zone seems to be attracting some investment, especially from the health services sector. Housing is another matter entirely.

    Originally posted by DecaturHawk
    The other problem in Michigan is that most cities are surrounded by chartered townships that have basically the same powers as cities.
    Perhaps. But I would say it has more to do with the values of the residents whole leave for the townships. Mid-Michigan has a population that believes a new house out in the country is the American Dream. In a way, they are correct, because if you want a new home that is surrounded by a corn field or a forest, you can pretty much get it. And the folks who like urban life are far and few between. But then again, schools are perhaps the biggest issue influencing the decisions to move to the suburbs. Urban schools in Michigan are perceived to be dangerous and full of under-achievers. What family would want to send their kids to a school district like that (even if it was more perception than reality)?

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Hceux's avatar
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    Originally posted by pete-rock
    Cities from Camden, NJ to Omaha, NE are still experiencing the fallout from deindustrialization -- particularly the mid-size cities like Flint. It may be worse in Michigan, IMHO, than other places because 1) industrialization was so closely linked to the auto industry, and diversification came late to Michigan, 2) Michigan's home rule laws prevented the annexation of suburban areas that other cities have used to their advantage around the country.

    Plus, few cities have a more negative image nationwide than Detroit and Flint. That may be the biggest hurdle to climb.
    So what are some of the other American cities that are still experiencing the fallout from deindustrialization? A list will be decent.

    I wish I could think of any Canadian cities that have suffered just as greatly as did Flint or Detroit, but I can only think of mining towns and railroad crossing communities, which are nothing in comparison to the great ol' American cities. I mean, I can only think of Montreal, but it doesn't even come close to it, although it was a bit shabby in the second half of the 1990s and the first couple of years in the 2000 decade.

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    Originally posted by Hceux
    So what are some of the other American cities that are still experiencing the fallout from deindustrialization? A list will be decent.
    Such a list would be pretty subjective, but IMHO you could include just about every city in the American Northeast and Midwest with a population between 50,000 and 300,000. Some that I've been to: Dayton, OH; Gary, IN; Toledo, OH; Rockford, IL; Peoria, IL; Benton Harbor/St. Joseph, MI; Saginaw, MI. Others that may fall in the same category: Ft. Wayne, IN; the Quad Cities (IL/IA); Akron, OH; Youngstown, OH. Again, the list is subjective.

    What almost all the cities have in common is that they were once the home of a large industrial company (i.e., Akron=Goodyear, Flint=General Motors, Gary=US Steel) that no longer plays a major role solely in that city. The companies became global, and left their home cities behind.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian boiker's avatar
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    Originally posted by pete-rock
    Such a list would be pretty subjective, but IMHO you could include just about every city in the American Northeast and Midwest with a population between 50,000 and 300,000. Some that I've been to: Dayton, OH; Gary, IN; Toledo, OH; Rockford, IL; Peoria, IL; Benton Harbor/St. Joseph, MI; Saginaw, MI. Others that may fall in the same category: Ft. Wayne, IN; the Quad Cities (IL/IA); Akron, OH; Youngstown, OH. Again, the list is subjective.

    What almost all the cities have in common is that they were once the home of a large industrial company (i.e., Akron=Goodyear, Flint=General Motors, Gary=US Steel) that no longer plays a major role solely in that city. The companies became global, and left their home cities behind.
    i worked as an intern with rockford and a planner with peoria.

    Rockford is bucking the trend currently and becoming a remote suburb of the NW suburbs. they were up in population in the last census and have a significant sprawl problem evolving on the eastern side.

    Peoria has had the fortune of having their major employer, Caterpilar remain in town.. however strikes have encouraged Caterpilar to move their jobs overseas and out of the area. The movers and shakers in Peoria are attempting to transition Peoria's economy to a bio-tech industry capitalizing on the resources in town such as the fantastic medical campuses, medical school, bio-industrial industry, and Bradley University.
    Dude, I'm cheesing so hard right now.

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    Fort Wayne was actually doing pretty good during the late 90s boom. There is some deindustrialization, but there are also a lot of smaller manufacturing companies that have helped diversify the economy. More importantly, the city is THE regional hub for commerce and retail-a gigantic mall, all the power centers wyou want, and even a yuppie outdoor mall that looks lifted straight from Palo Alto, California. I was amazed at how much of a mini-Los Angeles my home town was becoming. Of course, there is no such thing as growth control or anything like that, so the new subdivisions keep popping up 20 miles from the old city center (although Fort Wayne has been aggressively annexing-especially the affluent late 70s/early 80s stuff around my old high school).

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    Boiker, you are right about Rockford becoming a suburb of Chicago, in the same way Joliet and Aurora have. And while I have no knowledge of Peoria's efforts, I do know it has positives upon which it can build. Ditto for Fort Wayne, BKM.

    I didn't mean to suggest that any of the places I listed were in the same dire straits as Flint . I only meant that these and other cities had similar beginnings, were of similar size and demographics, played similar economic roles in their states and the nation, and were faced with the same challenge (deindustrialization), at roughly the same time.

    What distinguishes all the cities is how they've dealt with the challenge.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian michaelskis's avatar
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    I agree with everything that has been said above. I have relatives that worked for GM truck and Bus for a while, and with layoff from guys who did not finish high school and just went to work at the “Plant” now they do not have jobs because the world is changing.

    This change is taking a lot of places by surprise, and they are still thinking that “industry built this city, and it will save this city” and if “you work hard all your life for one company, it will take care of you.” Well it is not that way anymore. IT, and services are the way of the future in the US and Canada. It is no longer how hard you work, it is how smart you work.

    Reading PA is that way. Several of the community leaders still think that industrial and manufacturing plants will save the city. To make things worse they are trying to almost push IT and other Tech jobs out. They have several former Outlet Store Buildings that would led them selves well for that, and loft housing, but they rather give the land and buildings with improvements and make it tax free to a company that makes conveyor belts. OK I am done venting. THANK GOD I AM OUT OF THAT PLACE.
    Not my monkey, not my circus. - Old Polish Proverb

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    But IT and Services, Michaelskis, are even easier to offshore in the internet era than manufacturing, which at least has a capital investment that is more costly to move. Cities that think "services" will save them will quickly find out that they are deluding themselves.

    Who works the phone banks for the telephone companies, now in their constant annoying cold calling? Even with training, I hear the accent of Bangalore, not the midwestern United States. Who does the back office processing of our credit card information? A $10/day housewife in China. Explain to me how value-added services are going to save the economy of second tier cities, especially when the American credit cards are maxed out, the re-fis are finished and the retail juggernaut slows down. What's going to fill up all those empty big box stores when Wal Mart consolidates everything?

    The economy is consolidating so rapdily that headquarters operations are concentrating in fewer and fewer cities. For example, one of the largest employers in my home town, Fort Wayne, was an insurance company (Lincoln Life). It has been conglomerated by another company, who has moved its major headqurters operations to Philadelphia.

    Sure, there will always be specialized functions. But you know what, an architect or engineer, often trained in the United States, but working back in his home country of India, China, or other developing countries, can do those exact same functions just as quickly, easily, and skillfully as an American. And, far more cheaply. All's it takes is an internet connection. Not everyone can be an "artist" or a "video producer." We can't support a country of 300 million on this!

    I'm sounding like a broken record of doom, I know. A great book I recommend, written by a former Thatcherite, is called False Dawn. It explains what is happening in a world dominated by Anglo-American Neoliberal Economics.

  20. #20
    "Others that may fall in the same category: Ft. Wayne, IN; the Quad Cities (IL/IA); Akron, OH; Youngstown, OH. Again, the list is subjective.

    What almost all the cities have in common is that they were once the home of a large industrial company (i.e., Akron=Goodyear, Flint=General Motors, Gary=US Steel) that no longer plays a major role solely in that city. The companies became global, and left their home cities behind."


    Although Akron took a hit when the rubber industry declined, the city wisely diversified their economic base before (and during) the fallout. They've made quite a bit of progress with their health care sector and the polymer industry has taken off thanks to cooperation with the local university. On the civic level, Akron has done a good job of reinvesting in the CBD, including the requisite minor-league stadium. Trite as that might be, it's helped to create a well trafficked nightlife/dining strip just south of the CBD. The city's main library is seeing a major expansion designed by Gwathmey-Siegel and the well-regarded art museum is about to embark on an addition designed by Coop Himmelblau (cutting edge architects). The city also has benefitted from a Daley-style mayor who despite his critics - has kept the city from declining on the scale of other post-industrial areas. Trust me, Akron's doing just fine making the transition to a post-industrial economy.

    Youngstown on the other hand, regrettably failed to diversify - and it shows. The only recent investment of note in the city has come from the federal government in the form of a 3-story office building and a handsome (but small) courthouse. Other than that, homeless people and cops outnumber all others in the CBD at any given time. The steel factory jobs were never replaced with anything of comparable pay. They've tossed around the idea of an arena/conference center for several years. The university is decent but not large or prestigious enough to truly impact the area. Only just recently has the city sought any sort of planning help - Hunter Morrison (former Cleveland city planner) is working to revitalize the Wick Park area.

  21. #21
    Cyburbian plankton's avatar
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    meet the flintstones

    I enjoy Flint for its continued contribution to the Michigan State basketball team.

    Imagine what 1/10,000 of 87 billion dollars could do for reinvestment opportunities in sad places like Flint.....

  22. #22
    Cyburbian Hceux's avatar
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    What to do with Flint and its cousins?

    So, what are some of the things that should be done in Flint and its cousins (ie Youngstown, Gary, Quad Cities, etc) as well as "late failures" (ie Rochester) and struggling communities (ie Detroit)?

    I mean, if you were given a great pay that you attracted you to live in Flint as an local economic developer, then what would you try to do?

    I mean, from Roger and Me, Flint tried to revive the town with tourism by buildling the Hyatt Regency Hotel, AutoWorld, Water Street Pavillion (its festival marketplace version), a convention centre. They all simply died because they were not attractive enough to bring people into Flint.

    Because the high presence of unions and their dislike by corporations that seem to strive for lowest labour fees in other area (that have been made easier by NAFTA), are communities that were once very pro-union just doomed nowadays?

    Just imagine the frustrations of trying to revive these "dead" cities. What can be done? Is it that its only solution rests in the committing a Nagasaki so that it can start over?

    Let's have some lively discussions!

  23. #23
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    I may show an anti-union bias here which isn't entirely true. Unions served a useful purpose in changing some very inappropriate corporate practices, mostly in the first half of the 20th century. Unfortunately, they also achieved the kind of concessions from businesses that contributed significantly to the bankruptcies of the 1970's to 2000's. I saw a program on Bethlehem Steel on PBS the other night. Imagine a company with 130,000 workers agreeing to give everyone a full pension after thirty years with the company. What happens when these people retire at age fifty and the company has to ) pay a pension for thirty years, 2) hire a replacement worker at the highest steelworker wages in the world, 3) invest in new technology to remain competitive, and 2) compete globally against companies with newer facilities, closer proximity to international markets, lower wages, and lower overhead?

    Strong union towns are held back by nostalgia for the heyday of the 1950' and 60's. They want all new businesses (and public sector ventures) to become union shops, which the businesses resisit because of the experiences of the last fifty years. They place demands on businesses to raise wages, which makes it difficult for the business to compete. They create an antagonistic relationship between management and workers. Given all of this, where do you think a business will locate?

    Until unions get a realistic idea of modern business, strong union towns like Flint will never recover. Some past union cities, like Pittsburgh, have managed due to a combination of reasons, but mainly the original diversity of the economy. Others, like Gary, will probably turn around only because the economic devastation has been so complete, that it has lost all ties to the old economic structure.

  24. #24

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    Originally posted by Cardinal
    Others, like Gary, will probably turn around only because the economic devastation has been so complete, that it has lost all ties to the old economic structure.
    I believe Flint's economic devastation has been at least as complete at Gary's. There are very, very few auto-industry jobs left in the area (compared to what was there in the 50's and 60's), despite being so close to Detroit.

    My opinion is that Flint has very little going for it without the auto industry - the two factors that brought it into prosperity was its proximity to Detroit (and its being smack in the middle of the I-75 auto corridor (Bay City-Saginaw-Flint-Pontiac-Detroit), and its being a major hub for agriculture from SW Mich. and "The Thumb". Well, theres not much ag going on near Flint anymore, because of suburbanization from detroit, and what farms remain are factory operations, which don't require a "market town" to sell their goods, just a granary off an exit to the freeway.

    There may be hope yet, as some of the most affluent areas of suburban detroit are within about 20 mins drive from Flint, and the trend seems to be continuing northward along I-75. But my suggestions for Flint would be:

    1- attract some blue collar jobs so that its current residents could find a decent-paying job (besides, nobody working a white collar job will want to live in Flint), and

    2- fix up your housing stock so there are places for people to live if/when you create jobs! Economic development can only do so much for your city if you don't provide good housing. Otherwise, you get people living outside of town and commuting in, and eventually the jobs just go back out to the suburbs, where the workers are...


    Here's a crazy idea - What about, in the case where a city's population and economic base have shrunk so dramatically, there is some sort of "Urban Growth Boundary-type-thing" drawn within the city limits to direct all new growth into central areas - then the 'hinterlands' of the city can be rebuilt and revitalized as growth dictates...? Any thoughts?

  25. #25

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    The article about abandoned parts of Detroit being turned into "urban farms" worked by volunteers was interesting.

    Which brings up another point: maybe "the jobs" aren't coming back in much of America. What blue collar jobs could come back to Flint? Low skilled jobs are now being sucked OUT OF MEXICO because East Asia is so cheap.

    Maybe this suggests the Jeremy Rifkin approach: much of our society will have to move "backwards" into social service volunteerism, and the kind of "economic" activity described in the article on Detroit urban farming. Paying for these kinds of activities-that's another issue.

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