There was a great story in The New York Times last week about neighbors in Flint, Michigan who transformed vacant lots into a vegetable garden and fruit orchard. And in turn, this garden has inspired them to revive their community.

The article touches upon several themes related to a ‘Shrinking City.’

Loss of manufacturing jobs – Flint suffered the loss of 70,000 jobs at General Motors; presently the city’s unemployment rate is about 25%.

Landbanking – the Genesee County Land Bank acquires foreclosed properties in Flint and throughout the rest of the county, then coordinates the reuse of abandoned buildings and vacant lots. In 2005, the Land Bank gave permission for this garden to be planted.

Returning land to productive use – neighbors removed litter and debris, and cleared the land to make way for the garden. According to the article, “The [garden] is really 10 contiguous lots where a row of houses once stood.”

Sustainability – The garden has improved the food security of this neighborhood by providing fresh, locally grown produce. Those who tend the garden reap the harvest, and they often also give food to neighbors in need. And now, Harry Ryan – who spearheaded the garden effort – is looking to further green the neighborhood by building a power-generating windmill in the garden.

Patchwork of decline and growth – Like many shrinking cities, some areas of Flint are thriving. Downtown Flint – just five miles away – has regained its vitality with several new commercial and residential developments.

All-in-all, it’s a heart-warming story about how a garden is helping to reverse the cycle of decline this neighborhood. The garden has rekindled a sense of community pride; neighbors have since pitched in to mow unkempt lawns and unearth sidewalks, because as one resident put it, “It needs to be done.”

Read the full story here, and also check out the related slide show.


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?