What is it like to visit Flint and have a job?
What is it to visit Flint in an American-made vehicle?
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 on the successes and failures of the American Dream. There is a lot to see and do in Flint, but much of 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 Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, 316 Water Street, ☎ 810.232.8900, . Official source of tourism info from the City of Flint.
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.
- Bishop International Airport (FNT), G-3425 West Bristol Road, ☎ 810.235.6560, . Located within city limits, Bishop is the second busiest airport in the state. Carriers include Air Tran (service from Atlanta, Orlando, Tampa, and Fort Myers (seasonal)), American Airlines (service from Chicago - O'Hare), Continental (service from Cleveland), Delta (service from Atlanta), Midwest (service from Milwaukee), and Northwest (service from Detroit, Minneapolis/St. Paul, New York - LaGuardia, and Orlando (seasonal). Upon arrival, access to Flint and surrounding areas is best obtained by renting or using a car. Rental car providers include Avis, Budget, Enterprise, Hertz, National, and Alamo. See renting a car for more suggestions. If using a car is not an option, however, Flint's Mass Transportation Authority (MTA) (see below) provides access to their Downtown depot along Route 11 for $1.25. As a primary route, service is consistent once-per-hour throughout the day.
- Detroit Metro Airport (DET), Romulus, MI, ☎ 734.AIR.PORT, . Travelers basing their trip out of Detroit may also opt to fly into Detroit Metro, Michigan's busiest airport, approximately one hour from Flint via I-96 West and US-23 North.
- Amtrak, 1407 S Dort Hwy, ☎ 1.800.USA.RAIL, . Although schedules change from year to year (you should confirm the listing before booking travel) Flint is directly served by Amtrak's Blue Water route, with service to Chicago, Niles, Dowagiac, Kalamazoo, Battle Creek, East Lansing, Durand, Lapeer, and Port Huron. Visitors are deposited at the main train depot on Flint's East Side. The depot itself is well-maintained and comfortable, but since Flint is best navigated by car, transportation can be inconvenient from this point. One can take Flint MTA Route #9 to the Downtown depot, and transfer to the #11 to Bishop Airport where numerous car rental options are available. MTA buses run approximately once-per-hour throughout the day, and fare is $1.25 (a transfer is a dime). Alternately, one could hire a cab for around $10 for transport to the airport. Hey Taxi is located nearby at 1942 S Dort Hwy, Flint, MI, 48503 and can be reached at 810.629.7080.
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.
- Greyhound, 1407 S Dort Hwy, ☎ 1.800.231.2222, . Flint is accessible by Greyhound from numerous locations. Visitors are deposited at the main train depot on Flint's East Side. The depot itself is well-maintained and comfortable, but since Flint is best navigated by car, transportation can be inconvenient from this point. One can take Flint MTA Route #9 to the Downtown depot, and transfer to the #11 to Bishop Airport where numerous car rental options are available. MTA, buses run approximately once-per-hour throughout the day, and fare is $1.25 (a transfer is a dime). Alternately, one could hire a cab for transport to the airport. Hey Taxi is located nearby at 1942 S Dort Hwy, Flint, MI 48503, and can be reached at 810.629.7080.
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.
- Mass Transportation Authority, ☎ 810.767.0100, . Flint's MTA serves the city and inner suburbs through 14 routes that collectively cover most of the Flint's 31 square miles. That said, buses run approximately once-per-hour (meaning that a single transfer could lead to a ninety minute trip across town), and are slowed because all routes are local. Additional lines run at peak hours, and limited service to the suburbs is also available through Your Ride, a van service, for $2.50. MTA's Regional Services provide daily or weekly access to Genesee, Livingston, and Oakland Counties, including many of the Detroit suburbs.
1.25 per ride, .10 per transfer.
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.
Do not drive a foreign car!
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.
- The Walking Tour of Downtown Flint is an effort sponsored by the Flint Area Convention and Visitors Bureau (see above) is intended to tout the local economy and encourage investment. This simple Walking Tour of Downtown Flint, which include a map of the Downtown district with an emphasis on local architecture. Flint's skyline features a surprisingly diverse and well-preserved collection of significant Art Deco construction, as well as their (generally less well-loved) successors.
- What's Up, Downtown?, "519, ☎ 810.423.2321 ([email protected]), . Another Downtown tour, this marketing initiative is co-managed by the Ruth Mott Foundation (one of several prominent local cultural players) and the for-profit Uptown Reinvestment LLC. Uptown is notable here for having acquired dozens of buildings downtown and around Flint, but even more significantly because they operate the popular Downtown Tours. While definitely biased (one of the emphases of the tours are the pricey and high-tech condos the company is developing here) this tour is a good way to become acquainted with the downtown area, and the vicissitudes of its fortunes throughout the decades. Tours typically operate during the spring, summer, and fall, but call ahead for details. Tour frequency is subject to demand.
- Flint Farmers' Market, "420, ☎ 810.232.1399 ([email protected]), . Tues., Thurs., Sat., 8 AM - 5 PM. Based out of a long, squat building that resembles a cross between a greenhouse and a factory, the local Farmers' Market is one of the more surprising local success stories. Even as the surrounding neighborhood weathered the travails of AutoWorld and Saginaw Street's pedestrian experiments, the Farmers' Market has spent thirty years building a loyal customer base and taking advantage of the diversity of agricultural activity in Southeast Michigan. Typical midwestern crops, such as corn and beans are common south of Flint, while the Flint area boasts a number of small orchards, and sugar cane is cultivated further north. As a result, the produce offered here is varied and fresh. With the success of the last ten years, the Farmers' Market has expanded its hours and operation, and now offers classes and events such as the Rustic Twig Class and the BBQ Battle. Also, the market has become host to several small shops, such as the Art at the Market Gallery, and a diner, which provides a nice break from Flint's ubiquitous coney islands. Hours vary from season to season, so call ahead.
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 hosts nine separate entities managed 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), Longway Planetarium (Michigan's largest), the Flint Institute of Arts (Michigan's best endowed after the Detroit Institute of Arts), 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).
- Alfred P. Sloan Museum, 1221 E. Kearsley St. Flint, Michigan 48503, ☎ 810.237.3450 ([email protected]), . M - F 10 AM - 5 PM, Sat - Sun Noon - 5 PM.
Sloan Museum and the Buick Gallery & Research Center are an under-used treasure, devoted to the documentation and sometimes interpretation of local history. Like many local museums, the emphasis is on smart, funny, and poignant artifacts and testimonials; you won't find the sort of technologically-driven and eye-arresting exhibits common to museums in larger cities. Sloan makes up for this quite ably with discretion and creativity in the way it exploits its collections.
The first half of the museum is given to featured exhibits, such as the current Portrait Figures in Miniature or a recent exploration of camping in Michigan. The second half is given over to the compelling and narratively driven Flint and the American Dream, a thoughtful exposition and discussion of Flint's long and tumultuous relationship with the automotive industry. Encompassing figures ranging from the anti-union philanthropist C.S. Mott to the muckraking documentarian Michael Moore, and events including the sit-down strike and the 1960's sit-in for the dissolution of racist housing compacts, this exhibit offers a dizzying amount of material for political, social, and cultural discussion.
Included in the admissions price, visitors should not neglect the Buick Gallery and Research Center, located one block away at 303 Walnut Street. This display permanently features several dozen classic G.M. cars, including several concept designs.
Sloan also periodically offers workshops and lecture series and a collection of 125,000 including the Perry Archives of historical documents and photographs. Many of the local car shows are supported and promoted by the museum. The Halfway Cafe is located at the midpoint of the main museum, but is only stocked with vending machine fare, so you may want to pack a lunch.
$6 Adults, $5 Seniors, $4 Children (3-11), Adult School Programs, $3 Student School Programs, Free for Children (2 and under), Teachers.
- Flint Instutute of Arts, 1120 E. Kearsley St. Flint, Michigan 48503, ☎ 810.234.1695 ([email protected]), . Gallery: T - Sat 10 AM - 5 PM, Sat 1 PM - 5 PM. Office: M - F 9 AM - 5 PM. Considered to be one of Michigan's most impressive collections outside of Detroit, the Flint Institute of Arts was regarded as outstanding even before the $7.15 million expansion of its Charles Stuart Mott Gallery in 2006. While the permanent collection of some 7,000 works might be considered modest by some standards, this is belied by the near-encyclopedic scope of the galleries. Works representing six hundred years of art on five continents are on permanent display, with highlights being a colorful and exquisite collection of 18th and 19th century paperweights' and 17th century French tapestries on display in a cavernous room at the back of the museum. Paintings by Auguste Renoir, Mary Cassatt, and other artists of the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist period are prominently displayed. The Bishop Gallery features the work of local artists, students, and Institute faculty.
The institute also offers a series of exhibitions, often with a heavy emphasis on contemporary work. Upcoming exhibitions include "Jean Gumpper: Woodland Meditations" and "Las Artes de Mexico: From the Collection of Gilcrease Museum."
The Institute offers classes through its Art School (see below) as well as other programs and special events. Check the website for details.
$7 Adults, $5 Seniors, Students, Free for Children (12 and under) and Members.
- Sarvis Center, 1231 E. Kearsley St. Flint, Michigan 48503, ☎ 810.760.1351, .
The Sarvis Center, a sloping slab of black and white stone set off to the north of the main campus, is Flint's main convention center and is currently managed by the Flint Board of Education. It offers little of interest to tourists, but a number of civic organizations such as Big Brothers, Big Sisters of Greater Flint and the Optimist Club hold their meetings here.
- The Motor Cities National Heritage Area -- Flint is an undertaking of the National Park Service to present and teach the public about the growth of America's automotive industry. Pick up literature at Sloan Museum (see above), and go on a walking or driving tour of such sites as the former Buick-City automotive plant, used in the manufacturing of Sherman tanks during World War II, and the Fisher Body Plants, where a sit-down strike during the bitter winter of 1937-38 led to the official recognition of the United Auto Workers (UAW). Such tours are largely unguided and will have to be self-motived, but they can also be among the most poignant of what the city has to offer. They take the extremes of Flint from the square miles of brownfield left by the recent demolition of Flint's largest factories to the still-beautiful bungalows built for autoworkers in the struggling Civic Park neighborhood, or the stately neoclassical manors of the still-affluent Woodcroft neighborhood. Be aware that many of the areas included in these tours are far off-the-beaten-path. Travelers would be well-advised to travel in groups and during the daytime.
Sites in the Suburbs
- Crossroads Village is a family-friendly attraction reminiscent of a late 19th-century town. It features a cider mill, the Huckleberry Railroad, and the Genesee Belle steam boat.
- The Flint Tropics basketball team, are fun to watch. You can watch Jackie Moon and hear his song Love Me Sexy.
- Flint Institute of Arts, Newly renovated with an impressive collection as well as a new art theater.
- Flint Institute of Music Recently underwent a large renovation also.
- Venues for taking in a show include the "New" McCree Theater, the Flint City Theatre (which performs at the Good Beans Cafe), the Flint Community Players, Vertigo Productions (at the Masonic Temple downtown), and the University of Michigan-Flint theatre and dance program.
Festivals and Events
- During the summertime Flint hosts a series of lively festivals and events, usually centered downtown or at the Cultural Center. These are included, but not limited to, Juneteenth, The Flint Art Festival, Flint 4th of July Celebration, The Flint Storytellers Festival, Quilts at the Crossroads, The Flint Gallery Walk, The Flint Jazz Festival, and the internationally famed Bobby Crim Festival of Races and more. For a real dose of the city, any and all of these festivals are a great time to visit, because this is when the locals come out to play.
Sagano Japanese Bistro delivers wonderful authentic and a crowd-pleasing Bistro experience.
- Holiday Inn, Robert T. Longway Blvd. If you want to be a minute or less away from the Cultural Center, downtown, and the University of Michigan-Flint.