The Quiet Revival

My hometown is one that has become synonymous with urban decay and high crime.

farmersmarket

Yours truly in front of the Flint Farmer’s Market.

My hometown is Flint, Michigan.  Yes. that Flint, Michigan; the one immortalized by Michael Moore, the city that has been dubbed the “most violent city” in America, the one that has been under emergency state control twice in a decade.

Flint is the city that others look at and give thanks that they are not Flint.   It’s the kind of city that you drive through and see abandoned houses and giant slabs where there giant auto factories making cars and other components for General Motors. In the 1970s, Flint was a city of nearly 200,000 and 80,000 people worked for General Motors including my parents.  Now, Flint hovers around 100,000 and about 7,000 work for GM.

Flint is the kind of city that can break your heart.

Despite all the sadness, something is happening in my hometown, something wonderful.

I’m currently in town visiting my parents.  My husband Daniel and I walked through downtown and saw a vibrant area.  New restaurants with patios dotted Saginaw Street, the main drag.  A busker played music at the edge of the University of Michigan Flint campus.  Several buildings were are being remodeled for new uses.  The Durant Hotel, that’s sat vacant for nearly 40 years has become apartments.  Lofts are showing up in various buildings downtown.  The Flint Farmer’s Market moved to downtown from a nearby location and a local business person says restaurants are seeing increases in traffic after it’s grand opening.

Something is happening in Flint’s downtown after a decades of nothing happening.  What’s interesting here is that this wasn’t some master plan. It seems to be happening in a piecemeal fashion, a project like the Farmer’s Market here, and art gallery there.  Downtown Flint is becoming a place where people gather and live- and it may hold the key to helping Flint transform from an industrial town to….well, I don’t know what.

Flint’s economy has been troubled since the 1980s.  None of what has happened in Flint took place overnight- it happened over decades- and the city and its residents were slow to act, probably because we couldn’t see a future for the city beyond making cars for GM.  The Flint of the 80s was one that thought that big projects would help downtown and the city as a whole.  So, we had a Hyatt Regency hotel built  around 1981.  Then there was the white elephant that was Autoworld, an amusement park based on the car, in 1984.  Water Street Pavillion, a glass structure filled with shops was opened in 1986.  All of these things were big and flashy and a way to help downtown become a destination.

And all three flopped.

These projects were big and shinny, but they were not of the community.  No one was asking for a Hyatt downtown, let alone an amusement park with no thrill rides.  These things were funded with public and foundation dollars and all of that money went to waste.

The things that are taking place in downtown Flint today are not flashy, but they are what the people who live and work in this town want; a place to have a nice meal or drink with friends, a place to view art or by some organic cabbage.  It’s these simple things that I believe will revitalize downtown and the city as a whole.

None of this means everything is fine in Flint.  There are still neighborhoods of blight, African Americans who make up the majority of the population don’t have access to a good  education let alone jobs.  The city is still losing population.

But the seeds of Flint’s revival are taking root.   As I walked through the Farmer’s Market, I encountered a meeting of young people interested in investing in Flint and Genesee County.  Seeing that gave me hope that my hometown will make it.  It won’t be saved by a big employer like GM or by  blingy projects, but it will happen organically with people who live here stepping up and making a difference one by one.

Flint is a city that can break your heart at times.  But this trip reminded me it can also uplift your heart as well.

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16 thoughts on “The Quiet Revival

  1. I love beautiful downtown Flint. But that’s only because I’ve seen the rest of the city.

    I live near Kettering, and last week I had to rent a power washer because two gentlemen in my driveway decided to settle an argument with pistols. ABC 12 showed up before the cops did.

    However the new Farmer’s Market is amazing.

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  2. That sort of sounds like what happened to my hometown, Redding, CA, the third worst city in the country. In the early and mid aughts, It got a thriving farmer’s market, a fancy new science museum with an arboretum, a bridge by a world-famous architect, wine and beer tasting, and some pretty decent local nightspots.

    It was basically arbitrage-driven gentrification. People who were used to paying California prices and earning California salaries found a place where they could be a big fish in a small pond, from a socio-economic standpoint. From what I understand, it stalled pretty hard with the 2008 crash, though.

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  3. ” The Flint of the 80s was one that thought that big projects would help downtown and the city as a whole. So, we had a Hyatt Regency hotel built around 1981. Then there was the white elephant that was Autoworld, an amusement park based on the car, in 1984. Water Street Pavillion, a glass structure filled with shops was opened in 1986. All of these things were big and flashy and a way to help downtown become a destination.

    And all three flopped.”

    I’m guessing all three had heavy gov’t funding or involvement. :)
    Nice to see the little people are making some real changes!

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    • I’m guessing all three had heavy gov’t funding or involvement. :)

      You don’t have to guess; it was explicitly stated in the next a paragraph.

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  4. I was in Flint for the last International Hockey League game of the Flint Generals, in 2010 It was the last game of the Turner Cup playoffs, and my team, the Fort Wayne Komets won. I was happy, but at the same time saddened for the Flint fans. It wasn’t the original IHL or even the original Generals franchise, but the sense of loss was inescapable. Now they only have junior hockey.

    I’d love to see a revival in Flint. And while it’s not the most important thing by any means, I’d love to see minor league hockey return.

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    • In fact the Fort Wayne Komets were not the original Komets franchise, either. After an idiot owner moved the team (to Albany, NY, where he folded it within a year, while 25 years later Fort Wayne has among the highest attendance in the ECHL), a group of investors bought the Flint Spirits (who had replaced the Bulldogs (who moved to
      Utica), who replaced the original Generals (who moved to Saginaw), and moved them to Fort Wayne to become the new Komets. Flint got a new franchise, which at the time it folded, was owned by the same family that owned the Komets.

      Minor league hockey in America is a soap opera.

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      • If Wikipedia is to be believed, you have that timeline slightly mixed up. It is:

        Generals 69-85, moved to Saginaw
        Spirits 85-90, moved to Fort Wayne
        Bulldogs 91-93, moved to Utica
        Generals 93-10, folded

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      • Not a problem, it’s not like I knew any of that without looking it up.

        As to why I looked it up in the first place, it was your mention of Utica; the Utica Devils were an AHL team who moved to St John, NB, and I was wondering if the Flint Bulldogs from the Colonial HL replaced them. It turns out they did; when the Devils left the Bulldogs moved in.

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      • It looked like a problem of bad management,* and then the team and the arena couldn’t come to a renewed lease agreement, so the arena signed a lease with a junior hockey team. The IHL said it had new ownership lined up, but the arena said it came too late.

        *I’m now seeing other sources rejecting the claim that the Fort Wayne owners were owners of the Flint Team, and that it was the Perani Group that led them. I remember meeting Perani once as a kid when we ate at his pizza joint, and I like that they renamed the arena for him, although as a kid, my friend and I loved saying “I M A sports arena.”

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  5. Pittsburgh’s a few steps ahead of Flint, I suppose (mostly because we had professors and other private individuals like the Heinz family, willing to make sure we had Something folks wanted). But the betting’s on the Rust Belt making a comeback (at least the places that aren’t completely vapidly stupid. Like Cleveland — ’bout as bad as Atlanta, if for different reasons).

    “Urban Planning” in the 1960’s-1970’s was a nightmare though, and we lost good neighborhoods because of it.
    “How to make an Urban Ghetto”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/East_Liberty_(Pittsburgh) [you’re missing the part where the white residents of the lower Hill got FHA loans and resettlement in better neighborhoods]

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  6. The kind of urban-renewal you are talking about is good to see Dennis. There’s such a swell of momentum behind it all over the country, pairing it with the food movement and other interesting phenomenon. I hate to say it but the g-d hipsters are helping a lot in that department. Good luck to Flint.

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  7. My grampa lived in Flint after a career of working the books for Buick. We used to visit him and get coneys at the local Coney Island place.

    Sigh. Flint was lovely, once. I’m glad it’s finding its way back.

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    • Did you also get Saganaki? Evidently there are separate immigration lines for Greeks at the Tunnel and Ambassador/Blue Water Bridges. “Oh, you’re Greek? Here’s your Coney Island Starter Packet”.

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  8. Thanks for the thoughtful look at Flint. Four generations of my family lived in Flint, so it’s great to see the progress downtown. UM-Flint, Kettering University, Mott Community College, and Baker University give the city an educational base to build on that’s much more solid than the previous attempts to create a tourism industry in Flint.

    But as other commenters have stated, many Flint neighborhoods outside of the downtown core are really struggling, and they need help. Here’s one very small crowdfunding project that works with local residents, the Genesee County Land Bank, and Flintoids who have moved away to demolish a single, burned out house on an otherwise healthy block. It’s just one house, but a collection of focused efforts like this one can help augment the big changes happening downtown. Please consider a donation to help Flint.

    https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/fight-blight-and-spur-revival-in-flint-michigan

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