Marketplace Scratch Pad

Flint’s solution: Tear it down

Scott Jagow Apr 22, 2009

Flint, Michigan has to be one of the saddest towns in America. But instead of wallowing in misery, the New York Times says some leaders in Flint are proposing a radical solution: Start over. Demolish entire blocks and perhaps entire neighborhoods.

From the Times article:

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.”

The control mechanism Flint would use is a Michigan law that allows communities to seize foreclosed properties, which they can put into a county “land bank.” They can move people out of homes before they are abandoned. In the past year, Genesee County has acquired 900 homes in Flint, some of them in healthy neighborhoods:

While the shrinkage debate has been simmering in Flint for several years, it suddenly gained prominence last month with a blunt comment by the acting mayor, Michael K. Brown, who talked at a Rotary Club lunch about “shutting down quadrants of the city.”

Flint has about 75 neighborhoods spread out over 34 square miles. It will be a delicate process to decide which to favor, Mr. Kildee (head of the land bank) acknowledged from the driver’s seat of his Grand Cherokee…

“Not everyone’s going to win,” he said. “But now, everyone’s losing.”

Flint’s population, 110,000, is half what it was in 1965. A third of those people live in poverty. So, would this strategy amount to wholesale gentrification? Or is it possible to do this and get a majority of people into a better living situation? I don’t know where the money’s going to come from either.

But shrinking cities does make sense. On some streets in Flint, there’s only one bag of garbage to pick up per week. If those stops were eliminated, Kildee says the city could save $100,000 a year. Of course, fewer homes means less property tax revenue, but the taxes on the foreclosed homes aren’t being paid anyway.

The Times says Indianapolis and Little Rock have recently set up land banks and that other cities are considering the strategy of “shrinkage.”

What do you think of the idea?

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