Measuring Town Quality not Through Growth?

Since when has manisfest destiny not mattered in our world? Or at least to those within this country? Well hopefully its starting to die thanks to a small Michigan town, Flint. From a New York Times article on a topic I learned about listening to BBC World News

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.

So rather than try to re-build they are giving up?

“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 recession in Flint, as in many old-line manufacturing cities, is quickly making a bad situation worse. Firefighters and police officers are being laid off as the city struggles with a $15 million budget deficit. Many public schools are likely to be closed.

So yes, giving up indeed. Sounds pretty un-American to me. They must be terrorists!

Nothing will happen immediately, but Flint has begun updating its master plan, a complicated task last done in 1965. Then it was a prosperous city of 200,000 looking to grow to 350,000. It now has 110,000 people, about a third of whom live in poverty.

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

Jokes aside, the basic idea is this. Flint has come to the realization that they will never be a thriving town of 200,000 again. The problem is Flint today is built as a town of at least 200,000, being spread across 34 square miles. Well it makes no sense to spread out that much when you only have a population around 100,000. So rather than try to re-build the decrepit outlying areas the town of Flint is going to turn them into green spaces and focus on spending all money to rebuild the core areas of town, and save money at the same time too (or at least not waste money).

A block adjacent to downtown has the potential for renewal; it would make sense to fill in the vacant lots there, since it is a few steps from a University of Michigan campus.

On many streets, the weekly garbage pickup finds only one bag of trash. If those stops could be eliminated, Mr. Kildee said, the city could save $100,000 a year — one of many savings that shrinkage could bring.

The green spaces can be anything from a forest, to a park, to just simple trees and grass.

“If it’s going to look abandoned, let it be clean and green,” he said. “Create the new Flint forest — something people will choose to live near, rather than something that symbolizes failure.”

I think it’s a wonderful idea and a great way to make use of land no one wants to buy. Another way Flint can make money, and hopefully someone is thinking of this, is the city can create a committee for the soul purpose of going around and consulting to other towns to help them with similar ventures. What a great way to help the world and do some good.

11 thoughts on “Measuring Town Quality not Through Growth?

  1. I think it’s a wonderful idea for managing negative growth. While costing money up front, it will save the city lots of expenses down the road and the quality of living will increase.

  2. I don’t know about opposition. The article alluded to the fact that some people might be against it, and the BBC radio article I listened to also alluded to the fact, but the treasury person kind of danced around the issue. If I have time later I might look for an article from a more local paper for an answer there.

  3. Flint, birthplace of General Motors, my current employer, hopefully for awhile longer. They have already torn down plants like Buick City and Chevy in the hole and it does not look pretty (more wasteland than green spaces). It will take years for things to change (and jobs and good schools in addition to this plan). I hope to live to see the day. In the meantime, the old Blackstone’s clothing store next to the Mott Foundation building in downtown Flint has just been reincarnated into a restaurant featuring my brother-in-law’s blues band this Saturday night. Come on out and join us!

  4. Similar things are being done in former Eastern Germany – lots of the huge communist-era apartment blocks get torn down* since there’s been lots of migration to the west and little local population regrowth in most of the smaller eastern cities. Only the local state capitals are still thriving reasonably.

    *Though of course we ARE talking about ugly apartment blocks here, with thousands of identical flats. Few people will fight to retain that. The issue will be quite different in cities where there’s more individual homes and houses in the areas that are to be “abandoned” – what do you do with the people who refuse to leave? If you still have to provide water, power and roads for them, it will be hard to save much money.

    Still, on the whole it makes sense. And I think it will happen worldwide at some point in the next centuries – this planet doesn’t need six billions. We could still have a lively – and more more sustainable – humanity if we found a way to balance it at, say, 1-2 Billion.

  5. keep in mind, anyone forced to leave, as painful as that may be, will still end up in a better place. As any money spent on their current living quarters is wasted since they would be in a place where noone wants t live. Thus land values are devalued to the point where the person has likely lost on their home investment.

  6. A few alternative options:
    1) How about they tear down every other house and double the lots, then teach people how to grow their own food and become self-sufficient? Included in this education would be teaching people how to compost their yard and kitchen waste to be used in their garden crops.

    2) Tear down the poorly designed houses and/or convert them into more energy efficient homes.

    3) 34 sq. miles equates into about .75 acres of land per family of 4.

    I’m sure it’s probably a little different in Flint, but in St. Paul, MN a typical city block has 12-13 homes on each side divided by an alley, property lots are typically 150’deep x 50’ wide, an acre is 300’x145.2’ so a block is about 2 acres. Could revamp each block into 2-3 lots Build new homes in the center of each lot utilizing the latest in green technology to make the homes super energy efficient. as each block is revamped, they could sell/gift the property to people to empty out the next block to revamp. Oh, and St. Paul residents contract their own trash collection, the city could save money by removing that expense from their budget with one vote. Also, the project would also create some temporary jobs and stimulate the economy. Teach these poor people how to build their homes and they will be able to maintain them as well.

    I think converting the land back into forests would cost just as much as revamping the city into an “green” community and would actually just create spaces for the criminal elements to conduct their business out of sight. Probably even end up finding dead bodies in these new urban forests. And it does nothing to address the economic issues of their poor people. The main reason poor people need money is to provide for their basic needs, food, shelter, health care. Turn the land back into productive food source and
    Teach them to farm and they have food, build them houses to be super efficient and they have virtually no shelter costs besides property taxes which they could pay for with the extra money they make selling their extra crops at a farmer’s market. Eating home grown food, being outside working with the land getting fresh air would probably end up making them healthier.

    Right now many cities actually have laws that keep people from fully using their land to grow crops, the laws practically push people into the useless practice of maintaining useless green lawns.

    Revitalizing the city into a healthy environmentally conscious community would probably be far healthier for the city’s economic future as well as it would probably attract some people and industries back. I think the problem with current city governing mindset is that they are focused on growth growth growth, it’s a cancerous mindset and we are now seeing how it is actually lead to cities consuming themselves and wasting away. Now if they would change their focus to maintaining a healthy quality of life instead and not be so focused on increasing their tax base, they might just have a future. Also, too many communities are dependent on just one industry for their economic well being, a city should be about diversifying their industries and avoid putting all their eggs in one basket. Too many cities are held hostage by companies who threaten to leave unless they get what they want, mainly because the cities are too focused on making money and growth, instead of maintaining and sustaining a certain quality of life.

  7. I like your idea Logan, but part of the point of this isn’t to save money. It’s to revitalize the city. Giving people land doesn’t help in revitalizing the city, but it would help the specific individuals. The purpose of re-purposing the land is to make it into something that everyone can use.

  8. Going green is a noble goal I suppose, but it’s a non-starter for a community that bleeds red ink. As described, it involves major expenses without any savings on the horizon.

  9. I guess the question is:

    What is the purpose of a city government? Or any level of government for that matter?

    Does the government exist as an end in and of itself? Is the government out to make a profit?

    Who does government serve? The people who live there now, or does it sacrifice the needs of its current residents for the benefit of future residents who may or may not move or be born into the community?

    I’m a firm believer that every household should be as self-sufficient as possible. And that governments should be solely focused on serving the needs of its current residents, and should be scalable to grow and shrink with the size of the community it serves. I think any mentality that loses sight of that basic goal and holds up transitory aspects of a community as sacred will be ultimately destructive in the long term.

    Too often I heard people talk about preserving the current makeup of society, the community, or the economy as is, which is just plain silly, especially when they no longer reflect the values or needs of the people.

    A government should never be spending more money than it’s community is willing or able to spend on it’s services. If the majority of people are not willing to even bother spend time to vote on issues/candidates, then maybe people should take that as a sign that the majority would rather the issue/office not be on the ballot, or that the government should not even exist.

    Local governments keep raising taxes to maintain the current level of government even as the city continues to lose people. When it should be shrinking and tightening it’s belt.

    What is the purpose of government? Why hold onto a economic paradigm that appears to be failing? Why hold onto a governmental paradigm that appears to be failing?

    The definition of insanity is repeating the same thing expecting different results.

    The systems as they exist today are failing, and no matter how often you change the bath water, the baby is still dead.

    It’s time to start trying new systems and avoid the habit of holding up these new systems as sacred to be preserved at all costs. When some new system starts to become obvious that it’s not going to work, then replace it with something else. This is called adapting. And it should just be a given that what might work today, will more than likely not be viable 100 years from now.

    Adapt, change, adapt to change, raise, repeat. The Status Quo is not sacred. Growth for the sake of growth is called cancer. Don’t grow, change. There is no one right way to do things, diversity is how the natural world works, being able to adapt to change is how species survive.

    And that is the end of my sermon (for now tongue wink)

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