In Flint, Trying to Reinvent a Shrinking City

Yesterday on the Streetsblog Network, we looked at the concept of "resilient cities" — an idea that some of our commenters on Streetsblog NY and Streetsblog LA sites frankly weren’t buying.

Today, we have a post from Streetsblog Network member Smart Growth Around America
about a city that is desperately searching for some definition of
resiliency — Flint, Michigan. The plight of Flint, which now has only
half as many residents as it did at its peak of 200,000, was first
brought to national attention in Michael Moore’s 1989 film Roger & Me (although there was plenty of controversy over the way the movie blamed General Motors for the situation).

flint_200.jpgAn abandoned home in Flint, Michigan. Photo courtesy of NPR.

Things haven’t gotten better — and as NPR reported earlier this week,
the city’s government is trying to figure out how to reshape a
landscape of empty lots and abandoned homes by using landbanking to
create clean green space as well as by encouraging concentrations of
denser population.

Smart Growth Around America writes:

we really need is a new map, literally a design of the city that looks
at every block in every neighborhood, and then makes decisions about
where it makes sense to either let nature take the land back or to
create some intentional open green space,” Flint resident and Genesee
County treasurer Dan Kildee said in the [NPR] story. “So that 100,000
people can live in a city that does not look half-empty.”

Using a process known as landbanking,
the city is working with residents to reshape vacant properties into
spaces that improve life for the citizens that choose and want to
remain in Flint.…

Flint is also looking for ways to
restore the population concentration found in the old neighborhoods —
not only because infrastructure and public services are more expensive
to provide in
sparsely-populated neighborhoods — but because density helps support
the restaurants, grocery stores, shops, and schools that neighborhood
residents need for their daily lives.

has an excellent article by John Kromer about the controversy over
landbanking and the backlash against efforts like Flint’s, led by the
likes of Rush Limbaugh. He writes:

can assure Mr. Limbaugh…and others that they need not fear either
reforestation or large-scale convention center development on viable
urban tracts.…

As head of the
Genesee County Land Bank Authority, Daniel Kildee has found a way to
generate revenue for the City of Flint while increasing the value of
Flint’s real estate assets. At the start of each fiscal year, the
Authority takes control of all tax-delinquent properties that would
otherwise be sold at auction. The Land Bank Authority does not have to
compete in bidding wars against speculators, and the City is paid all
the taxes due on the properties taken by the Authority.

in coordination with local government agencies and civic groups, the
Land Bank Authority makes sensible, systematic decisions about the
future of the properties it now controls. An empty house in move-in
condition is assigned to a real estate broker, with net sales proceeds
paid to the Land Bank Authority. A small vacant lot is sold to a
neighboring homeowner for use as a side yard. In a typical year, 25 to
50 houses are rehabilitated for sale or rent. And some fire-damaged,
structurally unsound, and severely dilapidated buildings are demolished
in order to remove hazardous conditions and create cleared sites for
new investment.

A growing number of local and regional
leaders are exploring opportunities to replicate this model of
successful reinvestment, and the Obama Administration is offering
funding to governments that want to organize land banks of their own.
The goal is neither reforestation nor wholesale razing of communities.
Community preservation and the creation of new value are paramount.

Any of you out there have more examples of this type of initiative? Do you live in a city where it might be useful?

Elsewhere around the network: Kaid Benfield at NRDC Switchboard has a story of revitalization in Washington, DC. How We Drive looks at the evergreen question of roadside memorials and their potential to cause more crashes. And Worldchanging offers five smart new things to read about climate change.


The Challenges in Getting Transit Funded

One of the most unusual members of the Streetsblog Network is the Santa Rosa CityBus blog, written by staffers from the municipal bus system in that Northern California city and "intended to highlight for the public some of the activities, efforts and challenges of operating a bus system in a mid-size California city." It’s a […]

City Council Gives Unanimous Nod to New Bike Plan

It’s all over but the signing.  And that’s scheduled for tomorrow. By a 12-0 vote, the Los Angeles City Council approved the Bike Plan sending it to the Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s desk for a signature.  The Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition and Villaraigosa have already announced the signing will take place tomorrow on the steps […]

Who Is Lining Up to Fight Measure M

So far, most of Streetsblog L.A.’s coverage of Measure M, Metro’s sales tax proposal that will be on the fall ballot, has been positive. With our eyes fixed on graphics showing the growth of our rail and rapid bus network, a robust active transportation funding program, and some flexibility in the language allocating highway funding; […]

Looking for the Future of Small Cities

There’s more to Cleveland than you might think. (Photo: BIG Slow via Flickr) One of our favorite blogs in the Streetsblog Network is, a great source of news and opinion from the Rust Belt of the Midwest. Today they’re featuring a guest editorial that asks some tough questions about smaller cities in the region […]

Streetsblog Interview: Steve Hymon

Hymon, Second from the Left, Joins Sue Doyle in Talking to Richard Katz and Asm. Feuer Does anyone really need me to write an introduction for an interview with Steve Hymon? If so, I’ll be brief. He’s the transportation writer for the Los Angeles Times, making him one of the five most read transportation writers […]