Michigan is currently in a bit of a rough spot. Actually, it’s caught in a gigantic economic maelstrom of apocalyptic proportions. The once slow-and-steady, now rapid, decline of the American automobile industry since the oil crisis of the 1970s has bled the state dry. It has the highest unemployment of any state in the Union. In Detroit, one of the most violent cities in America with a recently indicted mayor, the average home price has fallen from $66,000 to $5,000, causing even elected officials to walk away from their mortgages. The state has threatened to take over some cities with leaders who have shown an inability to govern them.
Flint, MI has become a sort of poster child for Michigan’s decline thanks to Michael Moore’s 1989 film Roger & Me. Even hipster/NPR-listener idol Sufjan Stevens dedicated a song to the city and its “unemployed and underpaid” as part of his Michigan-themed album. So it is no surprise that the city is considering taking extreme measures to save itself. Yesterday the New York Times reported that Flint’s mayor may be open to an idea that has been kicking around for awhile: shrinking the city. Flint is a city of only 110,000 yet it is spread out over 34 square miles. Vacant homes are a common sight in many of its 75 neighborhoods, and maintaining areas with low population density is a great financial burden for the city.
I am not sure how I feel about the forced relocation of residents to a select group of “chosen” neighborhoods. It is shocking that it has come to this, though. I believe Flint serves as a fairly good example of why sprawl is detrimental to cities in general, and it begs the question of at what point is a city simply no longer viable. Michigan may simply never be able to sustain the population it had before, which was spread out in small cities. What is to be done, then, with those decaying towns like Flint and Pontiac?
-Michael E. van Landingham