The Disconnect

For a city like Flint, Michigan, a city with a modern history that stands closer to gloom than glory, we need people. Except, we don’t just need people because you can find people anywhere. We need people who want to fall in love with the city, its history, its amenities, its triumphs, and who more than anything is willing to stand and fight when things get hard.

Flint’s need is not a new one, to the state, or the country, or even the world. Every place needs people who will stand and fight with it when things are hard and who will help create the glories and magic that will inspire others to come to that place. Humans are fickle, as much as we prefer to find a place and settle down and live there we all have different ideas of what that ideal is and it shifts as we age. Some will never leave the general area they grew up and others will never settle anywhere. Neither lifestyle is wrong and both can be useful to cities that are fighting to renew and rebuild and identity and it’s a fool that turns their nose up to them.

The strength of cities, general cities, waxes and wanes. Even the great cities have their highs and lows but they just have more general interest from the world at large because those cities, London, Paris, New York, Chicago, LA, and on and on, have a cultural cache that connects people to them from just their legendary statuses. Call it love at first sight. The cities (and towns for that matter) that don’t have that cache, that pull, have to rely on the love people have for their hometowns, either natural or adopted. Some of us run from where we came from but most folks will think of their hometowns with some reverence and fondness. And after them there are the people that have not fallen in love yet and who you hope to woo, to seduce, and to inspire to love your town or city. These are the people who are still building their lives or are looking for a change and who want to find a home where they can invest themselves.

And we need them all.

Too often the suits will sit down and make their plans for what a city really NEEDS to rebuild and renew itself.



So they go to the state, they go to the federal, and they go to the grant makers and they plead their cases. And when those roads run out they turn their attentions to the private funders. People whose money they want but not necessarily whose vision they care to inherit as well. Capital. They want capital and that’s about it. Sure, if you have enough money you can buy power enough to become a tastemaker. To become one of the hands on the clay of the city. Or if the city is big enough then you can become one voice among many with the hope that all of you can come to a general consensus that matches your vision with the needs of a city that doesn’t always look like you.

And money is great.

Money is needed.

It’s not an evil unless it’s put to selfish and hurtful means.

No, it’s just part of the process.

Money doesn’t bring a city back though. Ask us in Flint. We tried that once. When things were flagging in the city and the factories were starting to go dark they erected a huge indoor amusement park that was a celebration of all things automotive. It even had an IMAX theater inside of it. It was called Autoworld and with that came a huge new hotel in the downtown, a Hyatt Regency, and also a brand new building with a food court and shops. Money was spent. A lot of money was spent. And Autoworld was fun. For a while. But the ‘car’ shtick got old and in a city of people losing their jobs in the auto industry it felt like so much salt in a brand new wound. The tastemakers tried to buy Flint into continued prosperity and it didn’t work. Sadly. Autoworld sat abandoned for years and was finally demolished and the land taken over by a local satellite university. The food court, once a busy venue, is long abandoned and empty. And the former Hyatt sat empty for many years before becoming a large Bible college and is now a banquet center and student housing.

You can’t really buy prosperity. All you can do is put the things in place to help it along and welcome people in that have vision AND money. Someone with the sense to run a business, money to run one, and the vision to do something needed or new and wanted.

You can’t buy success.

You can’t buy business sense.

And you can’t buy a great business.

All of that you have to earn and build.

And all of it comes in different forms.

Too often we want a business person to bail us out and to point us the way to glory never realizing that they can’t do it alone. Nor should they. A business person, when all is said and done, has to look at the bottom line. They can’t be overly sentimental. Not if they want to be and remain successful. They have to be pragmatic and hopefully have some compassion as they go about things.

You need business and business people but to make the city come back to life again and give it an identity you need PEOPLE. ALL people. You need artists to give your city culture. You need teachers to teach and inspire. You need commuters who may not work in your city but who will live and love and raise families there. You need the old and the young to remind one another to live their lives and what it looks like to live a good life. You need government and police and fire people to protect the city from itself. You need people who want to come here, want to live here, and want to make this place their home. And if they want to start a business, great, but if they want to support those businesses that are here and the ones not here yet then GREAT! And that is the thing.

Yeah, capital is great.

People with money are swell.

But if you want to turn a city around you need physical and emotional investment. You need people that will come here and stay here and fight it out to make it work. Not everyone will be able to make it work, just like all those businesses, but some will make it. Some will come and some will stay.

What is missed in all of these – let’s go get some investors to impact the city – is that the biggest impact is done with the people. With word of mouth. With the sparkle in their eyes as they talk to others about this place they call or did call home. Sure, not everyone can put cash on the barrel head but that’s OK. They will talk to people and spread the good news of what’s happening. And as others hear that they may want to know more, may want to see what the city has to offer, and may want to invest themselves. Or they’ll tell other people who will want to learn about the city. The biggest thing a city looking to change its image and fate can do is to spread the good word. Every city has ills and issues but we need the good things to echo further than the bad and to become the taste left in people’s mouths. You need everyone who has room in their heart for the city, or town, or wherever, to be a part of the change. A roomful of people alone cannot do it. You need a community working together. A community attending events, attending churches, working locally, living locally, patrolling together, playing together, and being a part of things together.

And yeah, it’s all best case scenario because people don’t always wanna work together. Everyone has their own plan, their own clique, and their own comfort level. But it CAN work. It can work because with every person who doesn’t want to reach their hand out to another person there will be someone who will and in time there will be more people like that. Give people something to believe in, to unite behind, and they will do just that. Give them a reason to divide, to fall apart, and that’s what you will get.

There is no magic spell to revive my city or any other. What there are are people who want to see them revived. They are people of every color, every creed, and every religion. They are people that are here and people who have yet to arrive. There is hope because no one wants to live a hopeless life. Not all of them will have money in hand or the ability to run a business but without those people the businesses you build won’t survive. You can build this wonderful attraction and surround it with great businesses but without the people you’ll only have more blight in the end.

We turn away people at our peril. We shun them at our cost. When we try to pick and choose the people who we want to forge a new life for a city we do so at great risk. A city, as ordered as it is in many instances, finds its life in the chaos of people, all people, and that’s where it finds its future and identity. That out of work musician may become a Grammy winner with clout. Or that kid into boxing will become an Olympic gold medalist. Or the local artist who leaves to inspire thousands. Or the ordinary person who just loves their city so much that others want to see why they love it so deeply.

A city is not just one area. It is not just one issue. It is not the front page of the paper, or the back page either. A city is not its worst or its best. A city is all things at once and you can try to reign it in and force it to behave but it’ll do what it wants because it will be molded by the hands that matter most, the people who are here and who care. And if you left people full of hate and nastiness mold the city then that’s what you get. And if you let people who want their own gains mold it you’ll get a story like Autoworld. But if you let people who love this city mold it, helping them when needed and adding your hands to theirs along the way, you can end up with a heck of a beautiful piece of work.

Money, while good and helpful, can never replace hope, and hope, real hope, lasting hope, can never be bought. Flint is a city that needs money, and needs investment but more than those tools it needs hope, and people, and it needs them both in abundance.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.