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The Flint Area and its Problems and Hope for Economic Transformation

The Flint Area: The New Year Brings Hope for Economic Transformation

Flint, Michigan, has long been plagued by political and economic turmoil. Once a thriving hub of industry, Flint has struggled to rebuild itself in the face of deindustrialization, poverty, and systemic racism. Today, Flint is still grappling with various political and social issues that have shaped its history and continue to impact its future.

Flint's most significant political issue is the ongoing water crisis. In 2014, the city switched its water source from the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department to the Flint River to save money. However, the city failed to properly treat the water, releasing lead and other contaminants into the water supply. As a result, Flint residents have been forced to rely on bottled water for drinking and cooking, and many have suffered from lead poisoning and other health issues.

The water crisis has had a profound impact on Flint's political landscape. Many residents have lost trust in their government and feel that their elected officials have abandoned them. Numerous protests and demonstrations have called for accountability and action, and the crisis has become a rallying cry for social justice advocates. The water crisis has also highlighted Flint's deep racial and economic divides, as many affected neighborhoods are predominantly Black and low-income.

Another major political issue in the Flint area is corruption and mismanagement. In 2015, an emergency manager appointed by the state government was indicted on criminal charges for his role in the water crisis. The case was dismissed on procedural grounds and not on the merits of the evidence against local and state government officials.

The City of Flint has also faced accusations of financial mismanagement, including using taxpayer funds in violation of the Flint City Charter. These issues have contributed to a sense of distrust and frustration among Flint residents, who feel that their voices are not being heard or respected by their leaders.

Overall, the current state of politics in Flint is complex and multifaceted. The city is grappling with various social and economic issues, and many competing interests and agendas are at play.

The city's economic struggles have also played a significant role in its political landscape. Flint has one of the highest poverty rates in the country, and many residents struggle to find stable employment and afford necessities. The city has lost thousands of jobs due to the auto industry's decline, and many businesses have shuttered or moved away. This has led to despair and hopelessness among many Flint residents, who feel their city has been left behind.

The challenges facing the City of Flint give the region a black eye, making the government looks incompetent and ineffective.  The net result is a poor image from which to build an economical marketing program.

However, despite these challenges, Flint has a rich history of activism and resistance. The city has a long tradition of organizing and fighting for social justice, and many grassroots organizations are working to address the issues facing Flint. These groups focus on issues such as environmental justice, racial equity, and economic development, and they often work in partnership with local, state, and national organizations.


Economic Possibilities for Flint

In recent years, Flint has also seen an influx of new residents and organizations working to revitalize the city. These groups often bring new ideas and resources to the table and are working to build stronger, more vibrant communities in Flint. However, some residents have expressed concerns about gentrification and displacement, and there is a need for these groups to be mindful of the city's history and to work in collaboration with existing community organizations.

However, despite these challenges, Flint has a rich history of activism and resilience, and many groups are working to create positive change and build a brighter future for the city.

Several industries could potentially thrive not just in Flint but in other midwestern rust belt cities.:

  1. Manufacturing: Flint has a long history of manufacturing, and there is still potential for the industry to thrive in the city. Companies could focus on producing high-tech products or advanced materials, using the skilled labor pool in the area.

  2. Healthcare: Many rust belt cities have seen an increase in demand for healthcare services due to an aging population. Flint could potentially attract healthcare companies and hospitals looking to expand.

  3. Education and Training: Many workers in Flint and other rust belt cities must be retrained for new industries. Flint could attract educational institutions and training programs to help these workers develop new skills and transition into new careers.

  4. Energy: As the demand for clean energy grows, rust belt cities like Flint could become hubs for renewable energy production. Companies could invest in the area's wind or solar energy projects, creating new jobs and economic opportunities.

  5. Agriculture: Rustbelt cities like Flint have large amounts of land that could be used for agriculture. The city could attract agriculture companies and farmers looking to grow crops or raise livestock, providing a new source of economic activity.

So far, there has been an expansion of the healthcare sector in the greater Flint area, particularly with the growth of McLaren Hospital.  It is important to remember that much of the insured population of the region are General Motors retirees. 

Retirees have a high mortality rate. Thus, with GM retirees go their pensions and generous health care benefits. These benefits fuel the local economy and particularly the healthcare sector. In essence, the passing of the GM retirees in the Flint area leaves the community a little bit poorer each day.

Bishop International Airport Can Help Transform the Flint Area Economy

Bishop International Airport in Flint, Michigan, serves as an important transportation hub for the region. It is the second busiest airport in the state and plays a significant role in the local economy. For example, the airport does the following for the Flint economy:

  • The airport generates jobs and economic activity through the employment of airport workers and the business activity of the various airlines, rental car companies, and other businesses that operate at the airport.
  • The airport also plays a role in attracting tourists and business travelers to the Flint area.
  • In addition, the airport helps to connect the region to the rest of the world, facilitating trade and commerce. Overall, Bishop International Airport is an essential contributor to the economic vitality of Flint and the surrounding region.

Flint Can Successfully Redevelop its Urban Landscape

Some of the factors that have contributed to successful redevelopment in other rustbelt cities include:

  • Strong leadership: Effective leadership can help to coordinate efforts and build support for redevelopment projects. This has been lacking in Flint.  One visit to its City Council or Board of Education meetings demonstrates immature political behavior and competence. 

  • A focus on economic development: Successful rustbelt city redevelopment efforts often prioritize economic development, such as attracting new businesses and supporting existing ones. Flint has not worked well with its suburban neighbors to make good things happen.  Perhaps economic necessity will change that equation.

  • Investment in infrastructure: Investing in infrastructures, such as roads, public transportation, and utilities, can make rustbelt cities more attractive to businesses and residents. Up to now, not even the Flint Water Crisis has caused a complete planning effort to address the strategic need to downsize Flint's public utility systems and roads. This does not portend the type of urgency and understanding of the consequences of living crisis to crisis.  The current water system is suspect because it is so underutilized. 

  • Revitalization of historic areas: Many rustbelt cities have rich histories and distinctive architecture. Revitalization efforts focusing on preserving and showcasing these assets can attract tourists and new residents. Flint recently updated its zoning plan.  Efforts are underway to build affordable housing in the downtown area.  However, there is no urgency or community understanding about the value of its historic old buildings outside the downtown area.  A dynamic leader awaits a comprehensive plan to save and reuse interesting old houses and neighborhoods.

What Keeps the Flint City Council from Effectively Addressing the Social and Economic Problems Facing Flint?

There are several problems with the Flint City Council in solving problems:

  1. Lack of resources: Flint, Michigan, has been facing economic challenges for years, and the city council does not have the necessary resources or funding to address certain issues. Flint's economic situation is perilous. 

  2. Political divides: The city council is divided along racial and political lines, making it difficult to reach a consensus on how to solve problems.

  3. Limited power: The city council, divided as it is today, cannot claim the authority or public confidence to address certain issues. Further, many of the community's problems fall under the jurisdiction of other government agencies.

  4. Difficulty in implementing solutions: Even if the city council can come up with a solution to a problem, they struggle to implement it due to the structure of Flint's government that divides power between the Council and its Mayor.  This goes without saying that most of the problems Flint's faces pose financial constraints.

  5. Lack of transparency: The city council is not transparent in its decision-making processes, making it difficult for residents to understand why certain problems are not being addressed.

Downsizing Flint Might Help Stabilize the City's Finances

It's possible that downsizing certain aspects of a city's infrastructure could be a viable strategy for a city like Flint, Michigan. However, carefully considering the potential consequences of such a move would be necessary.

On the one hand, downsizing certain infrastructure elements such as roads and utilities (water, sewer, and electric) could save the city money and allow it to allocate resources elsewhere. However, it could also have negative impacts, such as reducing the city's ability to attract new businesses and residents or potentially causing hardship for those relying on downsized infrastructure.

Right now, the City of Flint has some of the most extensive vacant industrial lands in the world.  All that land sits idle with rail, industrial-size water lines, freeways, and roads capable of serving the big industry. Some experts say that the underutilized water lines contributed to the Flint Water Crisis and its poisonous water.

Some former leaders of Flint's Public Works and Transportation Departments say that the cost of fixing all the roads and decrepit water lines is approximately $750 million dollars.

Flint does not have hundreds of millions of dollars to fix its infrastructure today. 

Unless people believe that suddenly there will be a rush of heavy industry to the Flint area, then it might be worth considering the alternatives to continuing to fund the maintenance of miles and miles of underutilized roads and public utility lines.

It's essential to consider the community's needs carefully and to have a thorough understanding of the potential impacts of any proposed changes to the city's infrastructure before making a decision. Leaders must urgently consider public health risks by not de-commissioning the excessive water line capacity.

Racial Segregation in the Flint area Harms its Ability to Economically Transform Itself

Flint, Michigan, has a long history of racial segregation. The city has a history of racial segregation and discrimination that dates back to the early 20th century, and these issues have persisted over time. Flint is a majority-black city, and many neighborhoods are highly segregated.

The people and leaders in the Flint area do not see the issue of racial segregation in education, housing, and employment in the region as a collective problem.

Research has shown that racial segregation can have a negative impact on the local economy. Flint's segregation has resulted in a concentration of poverty in certain areas, limiting access to education, job opportunities, and other resources. This results in lower income levels, unemployment, and other economic challenges for people in these areas.

In addition, segregation has meant a lack of diversity in the local business community, limiting the potential for economic growth. It also makes it more difficult for businesses to attract and retain top talent, as people may be less likely to move to a segregated area. Segregation has negative consequences for individuals and the local Flint area economy.

The Flint Area Leadership Needs to Lower Expectations for What Mott Foundation Can Produce in Terms of Economic Transformation.

The Flint community and its government rely too heavily on a single charitable foundation to transform its economy. Charitable foundations can play a valuable role in supporting economic development and addressing social and economic challenges, but they should not be expected to drive economic transformation single-handedly.

Unfortunately, the paternalistic C.S. Mott Foundation has driven public policy decisions in the past several decades. The many grants bestowed upon Flint have ginned up expectations of the public and governmental leaders.

In some very important ways, local leadership has never developed the ability or need to work together to promote the projects they envision.  In essence, the local community's dependence on the largess of the Mott Foundation has created an unhealthy dependence on the paternalism of an eager charitable foundation. 

The Mott Foundation even provided monies to fund the day-to-day operations of the Flint Fire and Police Departments. This is not a normal functioning of the local government.  If Flint was so strapped for financial resources, a municipal bankruptcy should be considered just as the City of Detroit pursued.  Its civic leaders and donors aided Detroit after Detroit filed for municipal bankruptcy.  

While a giving hand is wonderful, it is no substitute for self-reliance and charting a course for the community born of its chosen elected officials. In some cases taking charity as the Flint area community has done came with a big cost to its image and finances. 

In the past, the boatloads of money showered on the community by the C.S. Mott Foundation drove Flint to invest in a now-defunct auto-themed amusement park called Auto World. That disaster resulted in the demolition of one of the most revered venues in the community, the IMA Auditorium. Millions of dollars and other development opportunities were lost by this crazy idea that Flint, Michigan, could become a tourist destination.

After its closing, the structures surrounding Auto World were demolished, and the land was given to the University of Michigan-Flint.  The land was some of the most valuable in the Flint area. It was taken off the tax rolls forever by giving the property to a tax-exempt organization. 

Complicating matters even more, the University, over the past 30 years, has failed to draw a substantial student body to the downtown area.  It is feared that the college campus will not survive the current demise of its student headcounts.  Thus two significant developments in the center of Flint failed to live up to their promises. None of this would have happened but for the studies, money, and urging of the leadership of the C.S. Mott Foundation.

Governments should have a comprehensive economic development strategy that includes a range of policies and programs, and charitable foundations can be one part of that strategy.  It is also important for governments to ensure that they have the necessary capacity and infrastructure in place to implement and sustain economic development initiatives effectively.

Does the Flint Area's Large Number of Local Units of Government Keep it from Economic Transformation?

It is not necessarily the amount of government in Flint, Michigan, that is the issue, but rather the government's effectiveness and efficiency in addressing the community's needs and concerns. If the government can effectively address the community's needs and concerns, it can be successful regardless of the government's size.

However, if the government cannot effectively address the community's needs and concerns, it may not be successful regardless of the amount of government. Ultimately, the key to success for Flint, Michigan, is the ability of the government to serve and support the community effectively.


Flint Has Positives and Has Assets to Build a Transformed City

Flint, Michigan, has many positive aspects, including:

  • Strong sense of community: Flint has a long history and a strong sense of community, with many residents who are deeply committed to the city and its future.

  • Affordable living: Flint has a lower cost of living than many other cities, which can attract families and individuals looking to stretch their budgets.

  • Cultural attractions: Flint has many cultural attractions, including the Flint Institute of Arts, the Flint Institute of Music, and the Flint Farmers' Market.

  • Outdoor recreation: The Flint area has several parks and outdoor recreation areas, including the Flint River Trail and the Mott Lake Nature Sanctuary.

  • Educational opportunities: Flint is home to several colleges and universities, including the University of Michigan-Flint and Kettering University, which offer a range of educational and research opportunities.

  • Economic development efforts: Flint has been working to revitalize its economy and attract new businesses, and there have been some successful redevelopment projects in recent years.

What will matter to the future success of Flint is whether it can build on these assets.  Whether it can develop organic leadership talent. That is leadership that rises as the result of the Flint residents endowing power in those with the political skills and education who take reasonable risks. 

Flint, in my opinion, cannot afford to continue to hope outsiders will save the city and fund its dreams.  As much as the problems in Flint can be improved by money from outside the community, developing self-confidence happens from a process driven by the community rather than large outside entities driving the discussion and planning.

All successful urban communities find an inspiring collective vision of who and what they want to be in the next generation. Let's hope Flint can become anything it wants to be.