Raise your hand if you had to sit through a presentation of the film Roger and Me in high school…Yeah, me too. Michael Moore‘s scathing expose of how General Motors and its then chief executive Roger Smith destroyed an auto assembly-dependent town in the heartland became a staple of civics and social studies classes pretty much from the moment it hit VHS (for those of you reading this in your dorm rooms, I’ll explain what VHS is another time).
Flint, Michigan became a symbol of the vanishing of American manufacturing and the epitome of suburban decline, like a modern-day Wild West ghost town, only with way more Pistons fans.
In today’s New York Times, David Streitfeld wrote about Flint’s latest proposal to put an end to the slow-motion trainwreck that is their daily existence once and for all. Once you get over the laughable aspects of this, you will realise, with horror, the fact that there are any number of cities and towns in this country that may end up having to do the same thing:
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.
OMG, rip the town down in order to save it. Its like a plot right out of The Simpsons.
They built Flint into a city that could accommodate 350,000 residents back when the town held 200,000, back in the mid-1960’s. Something funny happened on the way to population growth…the auto industry was turned on its head thanks to the oil shortage and the invasion of cheaper, more economical imports from Japan.
Then the nationwide recession of the 70’s delivered the death blow. Rather than grow, the population in Flint gradually shrank down to the 100,000 or so full-time residents they now report in 2009 (a third of which live below the poverty line).
“A lot of people remember the past, when we were a successful city that others looked to as a model, and they hope. But you can’t base government policy on hope,” said Jim Ananich, president of the Flint City Council. “We have to do something drastic.”
So rather than wait for homes to become abandoned before they are demolished, Flint is taking entire quadrants, moving the residents elsewhere, and then sending in the wrecking crew. This will help them provide essential services like police and firefighters in a more cost-efficient manner with less sprawl.
How many other former boomtowns do we have in Florida, Arizona or Nevada that may end up having to resort to the same measures when it becomes apparent that a ton of the new development won’t ever find tenants?