For a city that was built by and for General Motors, Flint has the most terrible roads. In fact, its entire infrastructure has collapsed, and there is no money to fix it. One of the city’s most dramatic sights is the 235-acre “Buick City,” which was once the largest industrial complex in North America and is now a vast, deserted concrete desert. Flint belies our image of urban decay. With no high-rise projects, it is a city of tree-lined neighborhoods of single-family houses where 200,000 people once lived and half that number remains. But on those streets are hundreds of abandoned and burned-out houses, which remind you that Flint is the most violent city in America.
Flint’s automobile plants provided thousands of well-paying jobs through the 1970s, and the city attracted a diversity of peoples to work in them. With the need for only a high-school diploma, there was little interest in higher education. “My mother made $18 an hour on the line,” my friend Delma remembers, “which was good money, especially for a Black woman.” But it was exhausting, mind-numbing work, and “she came home miserable every day.”
People sought solace in liquor and religion, and while there is only one grocery store within the city limits today, there are churches and liquor stores wherever you look.
Ironically, the University of Michigan is buying much of the downtown for its fast-growing Flint campus, and the city’s symphony orchestra still plays monthly in the Cultural Center, a peaceful oasis of museums and the library cut off from downtown by I-475 – the bypass that destroyed the city’s most stable Black neighborhood 40 years ago. It’s a small oasis: less than a block away sit abandoned houses on tree-lined streets.