Never in America should a city like Flint, Michigan, be left to the kind of ruin we have witnessed. Even if one were to view it only from the narrow perspective of the economy, the country cannot afford it. But our view has to be greater.
This city is rich with a broad history including being the birthplace of the UAW. A factory town like many others that fueled a generation of men and women to an unrivaled economic prosperity. From that wealth the whole country benefited.
Our parents were either born in Flint, Michigan, or made it home after the war eventually realizing a standard of living that propelled the next generation to college and beyond. That was the American Dream. At one point the median income of Flint was among the top five cities in the country. Today it is a shell of its former self.
We recently returned to this city marred by economic collapse, and the devastation shocks our eyes and sensibilities. We both were born and raised here, lived in vibrant neighborhoods, and attended historical Civic Park school then later Northern High School. We left in the early 80′s after the local economy had already suffered for nearly a decade.
Flint today is a political, economic, ethical and moral failure of unprecedented scale. I blame our national politicians for their lack of leadership but also all Americans since we elect those who have contributed mightily to this nightmare.
The human toll is catastrophic and can be found in any statistic you choose, and the economic despair shows most obviously in blighted buildings, bulldozed homes and devastated neighborhoods. Whole factories that hired tens of thousands have been wiped off the landscape. The city just received monies for environmental cleanup so someday these areas can be developed again, but will they?
The following photos were taken in the blocks surrounding Civic Park School. The neighborhood we grew up in is now all but unrecognizable. Do most Americans know that this kind of poverty and neglect exists? Like the 9th Ward in New Orleans, will this one day come as a shock?
There are bright spots, the University of Michigan campus is established downtown, there is a significant medical infrastructure and signs of new development that hold hope for the future of the city.
But it seems as though capitalism has been allowed to run wildly out of control here, seeking low-pay wages elsewhere in the country and the world. But just maybe, by blindly moving facilities overseas the CEOs have created a smaller pool of potential buyers. Let’s face it, if you are making $10-20 vs. $30-40, dollars an hour, you most likely are driving a used car certainly not spending $20-30,000 or more for a new one.
The entire economy seems to be run for a smaller and smaller elite with a large and growing influence in Congress to get the laws and tax breaks they need to operate with impunity while focusing laser like on short-term profits and the bonuses those generate, ignoring any social responsibilities or long-term goals.
We still have extended family and friends in the city. It is obvious what the last 30-40 years of lost leadership and failed responsibility has cost. Flint is not alone, our industrial base is teetering on extinction. This story is but one version while another is repeated in countless cities across the Midwest. But we are here now and anyone can see that this is unacceptable.