“You can go from boom to bust, from dreams to a bowl of dust, you can fall from rockets red glare down to brother can you spare another war, another wasteland, another lost generation”
Neil Peart – Between the Wheels
When I go back to Flint, this line in a Rush song always comes to mind. See, Flint, MI is a case study in boomtowns gone to bust. At its peak, General Motors in Flint employed 82,000 people at plants around the city. This does not include all the industries that support General Motors. Today, General Motors only employs about 8,000 workers.
Back in the day when folks would travel north from Detroit or south from Saginaw, you would be greeted with a very proud sign that declared Flint, Buicktown. See, back in the day, Buicks used to roll off the lines in Flint. I remember the big Buick Park Avenue friends of ours had. One of my favorite cars we owned as a family was our Buick Riviera. It had a powerful V-8 that moved when you pressed the pedal. Flint was not a beautiful town, but parts were charming. It boasted a fantastic cultural center that included museums, a theater, and planetarium – all the things that patriarchal wealth from the Mott family bought. It always seemed that Flint started to die when Mr. Mott died.
Today, the big billboard that would boast you were entering Buicktown now advertises the greatest economic development solution for all struggling economies – a Casino. (I guess Mr. Potter won, we are transforming all our struggling economies into Potterville).
Go around town and you will find that its mighty past has been dismantled – literally. The factories that my Grandfathers, Grandmothers, Uncles all worked – no longer there. One of the largest manufacturing facilities that stretched 2 miles on the north side of town – gone.
Today there are a lot of weeds growing between the pavement throughout the town. Flint could become an episode of “Life after People” on the History Channel.
I have friends that are still making a life of it in Flint. A couple have their businesses downtown and are doing their part to make something happen. The bright spot being the investments being made by the University of Michigan into downtown Flint.
Where is the next Billy Durant and what industry will bring to the community? Or, is Flint just a footnote in the history of communities that have gone from boom to bust?
Maybe they should just shut portions of the city down, give it back to nature, and become a lumber town again. Sometimes, we have to go backwards to go forwards again. Maybe that is what a community like Flint should consider.
The one bright spot – they still have the best hot dogs/coney dogs in the world there.
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