Flint is an industrial city located an hour northwest of Detroit in Michigan. Originally the home of numerous General Motors factories, including the Buick World Headquarters, Flint has fallen on hard times over the past 30 years due to the decline of the American automotive industry. Despite these misfortunes, the city has an outsized history, including decisive roles in the growth of the American labor movement and community schooling, and evident in a host of extensive and well-endowed cultural institutions, and a cityscape influenced by Vaux and Olmstead's designs in New York. Flint's crime numbers have dropped 46% in the last year and redevelopment projects to rebuild the city have topped $400 Million. Filmmaker Michael Moore was born and raised in the area, and has made Flint the subject of many of his films and books.
Sometimes considered a suburb of Detroit, Flint is more accurately described as a "satellite" city. Like Saginaw, Pontiac, and other factory towns in Michigan, Flint's identity is often influenced and predicted by the Motor City and the peaks and valleys of the American auto industry. Because these cities, and debatably Flint most of all, have become symbols of urban blight and economic ruin, it is tempting to write them off at the worst as ghost-towns, or at the best as smaller clones of Detroit itself. In fact, they are each regionally distinct, both in terms of the local institutions they have raised in times of prosperity and crisis, and in the emphasis of civic response.
In Flint's case, for example, the imprint of Charles Stewart Mott, General Motor's most famous philanthropist, often overshadows that of Billy Durant, who actually founded the corporation. Streets, parks, estates, neighborhoods, colleges, and lakes have been named after Mott and his family, and the Mott Foundation funds and supports many cultural events here. But this reverence toward a more glorious past is just as often tempered by frustration with its side-effects and outcome. The bulk of Sloan Museum (see below), for example, is a measured analysis of the opportunities and hazards of rapid industrialization. Much recent literature to come out of Flint, such as Rhonda Sanders Bronze Pillars focuses on the vitality of the African-American community, and its struggle against housing compacts and discrimination in the factories. It is true that many other communities have struggled with these very issues in recent decades, but the height from which Flint has fallen -- from Michigan's "second city" and acknowledged home to the world's largest corporation to an international symbol of crime and poverty -- has left deep scars on Flintites (or Flintstones; another heady debate in these parts).
Understanding Flint requires understanding that its situation is more complex than that presented by the media, whether this is the General Motors filmstrips of the 1950s, or last year's Michael Moore film. This means that there is more to the place than vacant lots and shuttered factories: The Flint Institute of Arts and annual jazz festival are comparable with cities many times this size, and a lively regional music scene is rooted in such venues as the Machine Shop and the Local 432. One should be aware, however, that any visit is likely to become a referendum of the successes and failures of the American Dream. There is a lot to see and do in Flint, but much this may be to a sobering and thoughtful effect; certainly a far cry from the dunes of Lake Michigan or Ann Arbor's boutiques. Flintstones (or Flintites) will be open and generous in pointing you to the best bars, restaurants, museums, and parks; they will also give you their own candid thoughts on the plight of their city.
Flint is a major transportation hub, and in fact this is one of the ways in which its automotive history continues to serve the city well. Flint can be accessed by plain, train, car, and bus.
Flint is most directly served by I-69, which runs from the Port Huron, MI crossing to Sarnia, Canada, through Flint and southwest through Lansing, MI, Fort Wayne, IN, and Indianapolis, IN, and I-75, which runs from the Sault Ste. Marie, MI crossing to Sault Ste. Marie, Canada, south through the Straits of Mackinac, Saginaw, MI, Flint, Detroit, MI, Toledo, OH, Dayton, OH, Cincinnati, OH, Lexington, KY, Knoxville, TN, Chattanooga, TN, Atlanta, GA, Tampa, FL, and Miami, FL. Just south of Flint, US-23 routes south through Ann Arbor, MI, Toledo, OH, and ultimately Columbus, OH.
By Public Transportation
As the last section might suggest, Flint is easy to get to, but can be difficult to get around without a car. MTA, the public transit agency, is a reasonably priced (if time-consuming) way to reach your destination, and if you expect to stay within the Downtown area, walking is certainly an option.
While it might be possible in theory to explore Flint without a car, very few people would want to do so. Even after one considers the time and effort saved here, there is something singularly appropriate about traveling the boulevards and parkways, the industrial zones and factory strips, in the vehicle this city helped popularize. Of course, it also helps that Flint is a delight to drive, with a coherent network of roads and expressways linking the city to the suburbs, and abundant parking and a lack of congestion (ironically due to Flint's recent depopulation). Among the city's much-touted $400 million redevelopment efforts are miles of infrastructural repaving and repair, and it is generally possible to get between any two points of the city in ten or fifteen minutes, or to access the remotest suburbs in well under an hour.
The streetscape of Flint is based on two grids, one which conforms to the river for several square miles in proximity to Downtown, and another which is cardinally oriented. Flint by-and-large lacks the diagonal roads of Saginaw or Detroit (though exceptions are Flushing Rd., Miller Rd., and Welsh Blvd.), but there is enough topographical variation to enforce curves and splits. Also, within many neighborhoods, the broader streets become curving boulevards with grassy medians, and sometimes this is the only relic of a formerly affluent area.
The Downtown area is uniquely frustrating for driving. Most roads are one way, sometimes in an unordered sequence, which is maddening given the lack of heavy traffic. Saginaw Street bisects this area from north to south, and dividing east and west addresses, while the bridge at Saginaw street divides the city into north and south.
In the larger grid, neighborhoods are divided by major "mile" roads: to the north (running east-west) one passes Hamilton or Davison, Pasadena, Pearson, and Carpenter, to the south (running east-west) Court, Lippincott, Atherton, and Hemphill (on the half-mile), to the east (running north-south), Lewis, Dort, and Center, and to the west (running north-south) Fenton or Saginaw, Durand, and Ballenger or Clio. It will be important to have a map: while these roads are generally straight, they don't always connect up as one would expect, and it should be easy to navigate the citas long as you can maintain a basic orientation.
For getting around the city quickly, though, and for reaching most of the suburbs, nothing is faster than Flint's triumvirate of expressways: I-69, I-75, and I-475, and a trained Flintite can use this network of 70mph roads to go from a coney at Angelo's (see below) to a shake at the Atlas (see below) in about five minutes. I-75 runs to the west of Flint, with access (from south-to-north) to I-475, US-23 (only driving south) Bristol, I-69, Miller, Corunna, Pearson, Mt. Morris, and 475 again. I-475 runs through East Flint proper (meeting up with 75 outside the city) with access (from south to north) to Hill, Bristol, Hempill, Atherton, I-69, Court (only driving south), Robert T. Longway, Davison/Hamilton, Stewart, Pearson, Carpenter, Saginaw St. (in Mt. Morris), Clio Rd., and I-75. I-69 runs through South Flint proper with access (from east to west) to Center, Dort, I-475, Saginaw, Hammerberg, and I-75. With a map in your hand, this network is not only sane; it is comprehensible and convenient.
Flint currently has little in the way of bicycling trails, although development is planned to extend these further throughout the city and suburbs, particularly throughout the West Side. The most extensive bike route is currently the Flint River Trail which extends north from downtown Flint to the city of Genesee on the Halloway Reservoir. Other routes link the Riverfront trail to Downtown, the Cultural Center, and Kearsley Park.
Due to Flint's relatively compact size, many attractions are within a short distance of each other by bike. Cyclists are urged to use caution, however, especially on major thoroughfares such as Robert T. Longway or Chavez Drive, as traffic can be fast and heavy, and hills and curves tend to obstruct vision for both cyclists and motorists.
Downtown Flint covers approximately one square mile near the center of the city, bounded roughly by Fifth Avenue to the north, I-69 to the south, I-475 to the east, and Thread Creek to the west, with most activity focused along Saginaw Street and the University of Michigan-Flint Campus.
Flint Cultural Center
The Cultural Center is a campus constructed in the 1950s and 60s alongside Mott Community College (see below) with local support and funds from the General Motors. Arranged in a parklike setting along both sides of E. Kearsley Street just east of 475, this area gathers eight separate entities under the organizational umbrella of the Cultural Center, and may well be Flint's crown jewel. The Cultural Center includes the Mott Applewood Estates, Bower Theatre (home of the award winning Flint Youth Theatre), the Flint Institute of Art (Michigan's best endowed after the Detroit Institute), the Flint Public Library, the Flint Institute of Music (home to the Flint Symphony Orchestra), Sloan Museum and Automotive Gallery, The Sarvis Center, and The Whiting Auditorium (which often hosts touring Broadway productions).
Sites in the Suburbs
Festivals and Events
Sagano Japanese Bistro delivers wonderful authentic and a crowd-pleasing Bistro experience.