Re-Built, This City- blog

            I mentioned it a bit ago on one of my podcasts how the city I live in and love, Flint, has some money coming its way. Some of that money is from the water crisis – though most of that SHOULD go to the people, but we’ll see – and then there’s money that is trying to be figured out what to do with that is from the pandemic. In both situations you have people rubbing their hands together trying to figure out how best to get to the trough, and that’s just part of the game. These people are always out there, working harder to figure out the next con and the next scam than they work on anything else in their lives.

The problem is that those people don’t often have to work too hard.

Even the folks who seem to have their heart in the right place will also have their hand out for their part of some fortune they feel entitled to.

I don’t have to think too far back to a business that popped up in our downtown area that had big promises of hiring over one hundred people and how they were going to make this big impact and because of all of this they got over a million dollars to help make it happen.

Within months they had shuttered and the people behind it had disappeared.

There was a grocery store that had a similar coming and going, though this was a legacy brand that wanted funding to return to glory. The problem is that they didn’t research things really well and when they hit the scene, they were too expensive and weren’t ready for the theft and then in six months blamed theft for why they closed.

That’s on you, buddy.

All on you.

Thieves are awful, but once you notice you’re being ripped off then you change how you do things and adapt.

Or don’t.

Your call.

I dunno how many times I have seen dodgy people with sketchy businesses get grant money thinking it’s utterly FREE money and they have nothing to account for or prove out. Any time there is a grant they pop up, treating them as if it’s a normal source of income and then getting mad when they don’t automatically get it.

            All of this is to say that there are always bad ideas and crooks out there waiting for the next money train to pass. The hope is that the gatekeepers, our elected officials, will be smarter than most of them. That’s the hope. Just like we hope that they’ll put in safeguards and ways to track who gets what money.

The tracking part, the backend, takes time.

Once you say MONEY though, people don’t want to hear about safeguards and checks and balances, they want to hear what they are getting.

In a city like Flint, so desperate for hope, and for opportunity, I do get it.

Mostly.

I also get though that if you don’t keep an eye on the money then the crooks start multiplying with shadow companies and big ideas and nonprofits that aren’t necessarily that good or that true.

That’s all beside the fact that a lot of this money is like a grant and DOES have to be accounted for eventually. You can’t just say – well, we used it for infrastructure.

OK, which means, what exactly?

Yeah, what exactly?

Everyone wants to play at Joe Moneybags and be the one to hand out the money people so desperately need but in cases of extraordinary amounts of money you need someone strong enough to do it the right way, or at least the ‘rightest’ way.

            Now that that’s all out of the way, let’s get to the fun part, let’s spend that money. Let’s not even get into a number but say that there is a bag of money that magically appeared, and I get to dole it out, in a sort of general fashion. I will stick to a little of what they are talking about regarding the money we’re getting here but I still won’t dig too deeply into the numbers because it gets messier than I want to deal with – that’s again, why you have checks and balances and ACCOUNTANTS on hand to make sure everything adds up.

So, bag of money.

What do we do?

            Since this is ‘Covid’ money we’re talking about the talk is that they want to spend some of it on people who were front line workers for the city during the pandemic. This is fair THOUGH; I hate the idea that in some cases they’re talking several thousands of dollars for people. I get that these folks risked their health to work. I was lucky enough to get to work from home for most of this mess. So, some sort of ‘combat pay’, as it were, makes sense. But I just can’t sign on to giving millions away right off the bat because it gets really messy here.

So, what are the criteria?

Is there a sliding scale? Like – John worked every day during the pandemic, so he gets more than Paul, who worked six months during it.

And then there’s risk factors – a cop that may be in the public’s grill every day should get more than someone who is in an office and doesn’t see many people during the day.

So, you suddenly start nit-picking and have to go person by person to see who should get what.

Messy.

For me, cap it at $1500 and everyone who worked more than six months gets it.

That way it’s a boon, it’s some help, but it’s not eating too much money that can be used for other things. These folks were getting paid to work and while I applaud them for their willingness to put themselves at risk, I also don’t want to make someone tax season rich when the money could help the whole community.

Moving on!

            So, what do you do with the rest of the money? Around here they have been holding meetings to discuss ideas, which is great-ish, but limited because, well, I have ideas (BIG IDEAS, GREAT IDEAS!) but am not going to go to a public meeting to spell them out. I feel like a lot of folks are the same way. We have ideas but can’t make meetings/don’t want to make meetings.

So let us put our ideas in writing, for Pete’s Sake!

Yeesh.

I admit that I am worried about this money and how it will be spent. I hate that people that made these meetings may get the ears of the City Council, who are deciding in great part, where this money goes. I hate it because the problem with some of the ideas you hear too often come from people who want the money to go to THEIR pet cause or THEIR business or THEIR nonprofit.

Pigs at the trough.

Sure, they may be great folks with great ideas but once you say, I HAVE A BUSINESS THAT… you are sidling up to the trough.

Anyway…

Ideas.

            First, for me, I’d make two categories, there are the Higher Needs and Lower Needs. Higher Needs would be – we need to see if we can build up our technological infrastructure OR we need to see if we can get rid of blight OR let’s try to bolster our public safety.

Lower Needs are – we need swings for the park OR we need money for a festival OR we need to beautify things.

All of those are great, but they are lower priority.

So, you take the Higher Needs, and you shave off say, 60% of the funding you have to try to address those. Once you shave that off, you look at what needs it most. In our city public safety is a big concern so you start with that and from there you look at blight because we have a huge issue here of blight. Part of the blight though needs to be a plan. We are a city of parks. SO MANY PARKS.

We don’t need more parks.

We need to support the ones we have.

Maybe, MAYBE there’s a part of the city that doesn’t have a school or a park and you can try to put in something there but, seriously, so many parks.

Instead, you need to remove houses that are dilapidated but have a plan for that space. Tearing down and leaving bare doesn’t help much. Leaving another empty lot someone has to take care of doesn’t help. So, you clear those properties, and you look around and offer the land to neighbors at pennies on the dollar. If they don’t want it, then you start tagging areas for residential development, or industrial development, or other sorts of development. Our city is not in a place where people are desperate to come here but if we start offering quality, lower costing housing, and work on the other things that make a city vibrant – SCHOOLS! – then we can change that. First step though is to clear those dead houses. And if a house still has life in it, let’s try to save some and then offer those at very low-cost payments and get families and people into the city.

We need people.

NO, this isn’t a foolproof plan.

It’s a plan though.

An idea.

Blight causes the neighborhood to start to pull apart because why should I care about my property if it is next to a building that caught fire and is still partially there, the yard overgrown, and people using it as a dumping ground.

Blight kills a city’s self-esteem.

For public safety we put up more lights.

We clear areas of blight.

We try to get a few more cops on the force.

We try to make our police force better through tech.

From here I’d start a fund that will be invested and used as a grant program for non-profits/small businesses. Seed money. Small grants, but enough to give someone a hand, say $1000. Nothing big, but it helps. If you need more help than that, then ya gotta look elsewhere.

But you also want to encourage small business and want to help support legit non-profits that need a hand.

From there I chop the city into four quadrants. North, East, Downtown, and uh, we’ll say West – you only hear about the North, East, and Downtown, to be honest. So, you divide the city into those areas and then divide the rest of the money into equal amounts to be distributed into those areas. Each space needs different things so it’s not fair to decide THESE FOLKS NEED IT MOST.

We hear, a LOT about how the Northside doesn’t get anything.

It does.

There are nonprofits that folks completely on that part of town.

That doesn’t mean that their needs are met, but that there are people that are trying to help that area.

It, like the East Side, needs blight control.

AND LIGHTS!

The city needs more lights.

MAINTAINED lights.

Don’t give criminals safe spaces to work.

Make it harder for them.

It isn’t for me to tell the folks on the Northside what they need. I don’t live there, but blight and safety have to be on that list.

And if you did ask me, I’d safe opportunity.

They need the opportunities to start businesses, grow businesses, and support businesses.

The whole city needs more businesses so if we can support that, then great.

This is a proud part of the city, and there are some great facilities there and maybe here’s where you put a little money into community events and beautification.

A lot of the same things can be said for the Eastside, to be honest.

They need blight control, safety, and opportunity.

I think, as with the Northside, you spend a little extra money here on the East to clean things up and make it safer.

The North and East are where a lot of the blight is, and those folks that are there deserve to not be surrounded by it. I think here though you also work on a little beautification. This is a neighborhood area with a lot of transient business – bars, gas stations, liquor stores – but they also deserve some sort of an identity beyond that if it’s possible.

There’s a lot of land that can be developed there so some of it has to wait, unfortunately, but, and call me crazy, maybe some of the money the city gets is kicked into a fund that can offset a larger industrial business locating there. This is totally spitballing and may be a bag of manure, but it’s a thought. We have a lot of big areas in the city that need to be rehabbed and redeveloped and maybe this sort of thing, if it’s even legal, could lure someone.

Remember, we need jobs in the are too.

We had a really skilled labor force for a long time and then a lot of the automotive jobs disappeared and went south and left a lot of people out of work.

I’d wager most of those folks moved or moved on, but we have the rail system and the highways to support a manufacturer.

We just need one to come here.

(Easier said than done).

For the Westside they definitely need blight control and safety. This is an area that has gone down hill over the last ten years and it’s at a tipping point where it could just topple off that hill or be saved.

A lot of this area is a business district so put money into clearing properties and creating business opportunities.

Put people with burned out/dead businesses in a position where it’s – fix it up or sacrifice it. You can even be kind and offer to buy it for, say, a grand.

If they balk, then tell them that they will be fined for owning a public nuisance. When they don’t pay, as most won’t, then you seize that property.

There are ways to beat these people, but the work has to be done.

Even if it means creating a new job out of that money to support someone doing the legwork to do this stuff.

Downtown Flint has been the bugaboo around here for years. It gets the most funding because, well, it’s the city center. It’s where the entertainment is. It’s where our cultural district is. It’s where the big events take place.

People can gnash their teeth all they want but the fact remains that without a thriving city center, the rest doesn’t do that well. We want people to move to the city, and so we rebuild/build up the other parts of the city to encourage that – WORK ON THE SCHOOLS! – but use the downtown to get people who have no interest in moving here but want to go to a show, or an event, or a bar, or a restaurant.

We are a college city, with two universities, a community college, a satellite site for another university, and countless other higher learning jobs.

Lean into that.

Let’s give these kids something to do.

Let’s give them a reason to fall in love with Flint and want to move here.

LIKE I DID!
I moved here because the people I was friends with lived here and it was where I was hanging out.

I am not unique in that.

We need to support indie events and indie arts and the grassroots stuff that may bring smaller crowds, but which grow the impact of the city.

Make this a place where people want to come.

We have a renowned rock venue in The Machine Shop, but it’s surrounded by fast food and a dead mall. Give people more stuff to do around there. People come from all over the state for some of those shows. Reward them with something to come early to do, even if it’s to come get a burger and beer before you hit the show.

The thing about Flint is that it is a vibrant, breathing community that is desperate to dance and sing. The problem is that we keep getting handed flaming bags of poo so it’s hard to want to sing or dance.

We have some beautiful spaces, some gorgeous parks, that are underused.

We have people whose passions don’t have outlets.

THIS is how you build the city back.

From the ground.

From the roots.

Money, no matter how much money, won’t do that alone but it can HELP do that.

Handing it over to people with brand new businesses or nonprofits doesn’t do it.

WE do it.

Together.

But that’s work, hard work, and like everything else, it’s easier to pay someone else to do it for us.

That works for some things.

Rebuilding a city, naw, you need to get your hands dirty.

But like a garden, if you tend it well, you’ll create something beautiful.

…c…

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