Tuesday, April 06, 2010

This Is Not The Flint That I Remember

It’s sad to see what is happening in my old hometown of Flint, Michigan – a city that has taken more than its fair share of hits during this brutal recession.  When you combine the economic downturn with the massive industrial realignment that’s going on around the world – things aren’t getting any easier for my old hometown. 

When I was growing up in the city of Flint in the 60s and 70s – you couldn’t go anywhere without bumping into a General Motors plant pumping out the product and employing three shifts working around the clock seven days a week to do so.  The demand for the automobiles and the products that these factories produced was incredible and for a long time – it seem like there was no end in sight – but that was not the case.  This wild roller coaster ride would soon come to an end and a city bruised and battered by it all would have to pay the price. 

Today, most of the plants in Flint that had people working ‘round-the-clock shifts are gone.  These huge factories that once employed thousands of people have literally been leveled and all that remains are wire fences protecting huge slabs of concrete with weeds growing in between the cracks.  This is what happens when a automobile industry sucks the life blood out of a town and its people and abandons it with no guilt and no remorse.  This is Flint, Michigan today.

When GM was king and Flint was operating on all of its cylinders – you couldn’t find a better place to live.  GM’s tax dollars helped to fund a school system that was recognized around the country, and with support of organizations like the Mott Foundation, the children in Flint benefited from some of the most innovative arts and education programs anywhere. Now – Flint schools – like many schools in Michigan – are struggling to find the basic funds to survive.  Schools all around the city are closing, too, and not just because of dwindling enrollment, but the Board of Education doesn’t have enough money in their budget to keep them operating.  This is not the Flint that I remember.

At the end of last month – the city of Flint announced some drastic budget cuts with twenty-three firefighters pink slipped and two of the city’s five fire stations closed and how has the city responded?  Over fifty fires have been started in a little less than two weeks.  Some of these homes were abandoned – some weren’t – some of the homes that have gone up in flames in these last two weeks were occupied and people lost everything that they owned in these fires.  The fire fighters left after the budget cuts are being overworked and are having a tough time trying to extinguish all of the fires being started in the city.  Fire fighters from other communities around Flint have been called in to try and help put out the fires – but that may soon be coming to an end with these fire departments telling Flint that they are going to have to find a way to fight their own fires.  Yup, it’s gotten to the point where one city’s fire department is telling another city’s fire department – “You’re on your own now, we can’t help you!”

You would think that the state and national media would be shining a spotlight on the city of Flint right now, but it hasn’t.  Fifty fires in less than two weeks – and as I read the street names of where some of these fires have taken place I shutter – because friends and family members that I know and love still live in some of these neighborhoods. It hurts for me to say this, because I love my home town, but it’s gotten to the point where the city should consider changing the greeting on the welcoming signs you see when you visit the city.  Instead of the signs saying “Welcome”, maybe it should read “Enter at your own risk.”  

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