After people leave a city, what should happen to the physical reminders of their presence? The treasurer of Genessee County, Michigan – which includes the city of Flint – advocates bulldozing abandoned properties, and reframing the built environment around the residents who remain.

In a post in Good.Is Magazine, Treasurer Dan Kildee offers up a refreshing thesis: that a city should be judged on the quality of life for the people who live there, not compared against itself in another point in time. Through the Flint Land Bank, the city has already reclaimed about 9,000 abandoned properties – 14 percent of the land in Flint. Some of those properties have been bulldozed, and some await developers to be remade into something new. Others have been annexed by existing parcels, expanding side yards or city parks.

Kildee advocates framing a strategy of a vibrant city with diverse land uses, and a land bank is one tactic through which that can be achieved. Bulldozing is another. By adopting a dual-pronged strategy of clearing some land and redeveloping other parcels, Kildee argues, it not only helps to right-size the city, but it also gives residents a choice as to where they want to live.

Currently, many Flint residents are in close proximity to abandoned properties and blight, relics of the urban past. Under a new scheme, residents could choose whether they wanted to be in a dense neighborhood or in a more typical suburban (even, perhaps, rural) environment with larger lot sizes.

In a related post, Mayor Dayne Walling says the horizon for change is 2020. The Flint strategy is a thoughtful extension of simply bulldozing vacant properties (covered in many places, including this article in Inhabit). Flint has recognized that the 90,000 residents who’ve left may never come back. But instead of mourning their departure, the city is pushing ahead to make life great for the ones who remain.

What do you think? Can a city use bulldozers as an agent of change for improving quality of life?

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