Monday, March 30, 2009

The Wasteland.

If you live in Flint, Michigan, it's apparently permissible to strap a colander to your face and play "Lord of the Wasteland" now:
Temporary Mayor Michael Brown made the off-the-cuff suggestion Friday in response to a question at a Rotary Club of Flint luncheon about the thousands of empty houses in Flint.

Brown said that as more people abandon homes, eating away at the city's tax base and creating more blight, the city might need to examine "shutting down quadrants of the city where we (wouldn't) provide services."

He did not define what that could mean -- bulldozing abandoned areas, simply leaving the vacant homes to rot or some other idea entirely.Really, what do you do when the people go away and don't come back?
Can two taxpayers on a block pay for enough cop cars to protect them from the vagrants and crackheads using the other ten houses as temporary hideouts; places to steal pipe, or hit on one? What about when somebody drops their lighter while crackin' down in one of those abandoned houses? Can the two taxpayers left on the block cover the tab for the fire department?

How do you tell somebody "Sorry, civilization is retreating, and unless you want to be left outside the fence, you need to move."

35 comments:

Marko said...

It looks like the "social contract" is only enforceable one way...but I guess we knew that all along.

Wonder whether the people living in those areas will cease getting property tax bills from the city?

Matthew said...

I'm no Randite, but that is eerily reminiscent of what happened in Atlas Shrugged.

staghounds said...

If the people ARE paying their taxes, then they will get the services. But of course they aren't.

So the house owners are defaulting on the social contract first, aren't they?

Do exactly what the law provides for- seize the houses and sell them for the trivial back taxes. The ones that don't sell, knock them down. This is nothing new. The West is full of abandoned mining towns. The rural South is dotted with the chimneys of unprofitable farmsteads gone to woods. All over Australia, there are towns of which the only remnants are some collapsed buildings and the War Memorial from the 1920s.

Joanna said...

Don't be silly, Marko, of course they will! Somebody's gotta pay for the crime scene tape and the chalk for outlines.

karrde said...

I've heard someone saying that the same idea would be good inside of Detroit.

Declare certain areas "low-response" or "no-response" zones.

My criticism is that such behavior effectively ceeds the areas to the local Earl of the Crips as his private fiefdom.

But when the city is running out of money, something's gotta give.

And in Detroit, it apparently isn't the Mayor's mansion with his extensive private-security team, which was a special detachment of City Police.

atlharp said...

Here is the best idea:

Bulldoze the entire area and turn it into one big ass rifle range! It would be a sure fire money maker...LOL!

Yeah like that would ever happen!

Jeff the Baptist said...

"My criticism is that such behavior effectively ceeds the areas to the local Earl of the Crips as his private fiefdom."

The sad thing is that such behavior ought to cede the area to the citizens as their private fiefdom. They should have the right to form their own government and enforce their own laws since the local government has refused to do this on their behalf.

Countertop said...

Not for nothing, but does anyone find it fascinating that the car sitting in front of the old junker of a house isn't an old junker of a car but a brand spanking new Dodge Charger?

Ken said...

The sad thing is that such behavior ought to cede the area to the citizens as their private fiefdom. They should have the right to form their own government and enforce their own laws since the local government has refused to do this on their behalf.

They do have the right, Jeff. Making it stick is another matter. Unfortunately.

This is kind of pertinent to me, since I live right next door to Cleveland and TPTB keep rumbling about wanting to "regionalize" (in effect, turning all of Cuyahoga County, plus more if they can swing it, into a source of plasma to keep Cleveland gasping along).

Sailorcurt said...

When these cities were expanding, did they ask the residents permission before moving the city lines and annexing the areas?

Did they have to ask people to move in to those areas as the city was growing?

Then why should they bother with asking people to move? Shouldn't they just cede the area back to the county that they once annexed it from?

Heck, if it happened around here...if the city ceded control of an area, I'd jump at the chance to buy a cheap "fix-er-upper" (or maybe a whole block of them) that are free from the onerous taxes and city regulations levied by the city overlords.

I'd move to Flint or Detroit and buy a block of houses that they reportedly can't even give away right now...if it weren't for the terrible conditions at the state level that have added to the problems of the major cities by helping to drive businesses to other areas.

Which is why these things don't happen everywhere. Virginia has a few pretty crappy city governments that would merrily self-immolate if the state would let them. The State creates an environment that, if not encouraging business growth, at least doesn't encourage them to LEAVE...and tends to keep the city governments from doing anything TOO stupid.

Actually, perhaps now would be a good time to invest in a block of "prime" Detroit or Flint real estate. Hold onto it, pay the taxes...maybe even bulldoze the buildings...and wait.

It's a gamble that the state and the cities will eventually improve and start growing again, but if the gamble paid off...your great-grandkids could make a killing.

Anonymous said...

The dark side of Lewis Mumford: it's harder to "manage" contraction than growth, but we all worship at the altar of City Planning. Flint's fuse has been lit since the 1920's--it grew so fast that it had whole villages of packing crates for more than a generation.

Meander around your neighboring counties, and you're sure to find some ghost towns. Lately it has been the migration of revenue sources that rendered areas no longer desirable to inhabit; in the past it was often disease or invasion. There's a natural process of abandonment, often not pretty to watch, that sometimes leaves a person or two in a favorable living condition. Usually these are persons who don't care so much about civic services. They're fun to watch.

These days, "we" don't think things should ever happen by long, slow natural process, especially when there are drug labs involved (obviously, there's an unwritten zoning code that decides where those belong--I can't get Council to issue my copy).

Old Northwest states (including Indiana and Michigan) had a presumed succession plan written into their charters, assuming that every acre would one day be part of a city. That was short-sighted, and left the considerable weapon of back-room dealing in the hands of developers who used annexation to pump up the value of their vacant lots at no expense to themselves.

It ain't natural for every place to become, and remain, urban. We are cleaning up the mess created by starry-eyed, and not overly honest, optimists. The result will doubtlessly be Mumfordian "green belts": done wrong, some of those green patches will be graves.

jimbob86 said...

If this situation were occurring in a human body, they would call it "compensatory shock" (the body shunting resources away from non-vital areas, to better serve the core).... which if the root cause is not fixed, will become a serious case of death, as the body runs out of resources...... somebody page out ALS......

Nomen Nescio said...

How do you tell somebody "Sorry, civilization is retreating, and unless you want to be left outside the fence, you need to move."

keep in mind, this is Flint we're talking about.

they pick the most blighted parts of the city for this, go tell the residents those very words, and said residents will scratch their heads and reply "we thought you went and did that years ago".

something similar applies for Detroit. neither city is home to a full million people any longer; both of them peaked at several million in their heyday. Flint's got barely more than one tenth the population it once sported, and it's been a steady unbroken decline from there to where it is now. i've driven through them both. "urban wasteland" is no mere simile.

Anonymous said...

As Detroit declined, the total population of SE Michigan actually grew, first because whoever could afford it wanted to live in the "townships," closer to Nature (Americans love Nature to death), then because the depopulated city got rough. Flint was born rough.

Don't make MacNeill's error of equating the city with the Polis. Civic centers exist to serve their hinterland--Chicago prospered by shipping pants and pianos to Scottsbluff, then slaughtering their cattle. The Ur-city that absorbs the excess populace of the countryside and turns them into waiters who really want to direct, is vaguely Akkadian in concept and will not root in the Midwest. Baghdad-on-the-Hudson is another matter; it sees its occupation not as making, but owning. Delendam.

_Jon said...

"... pay the taxes ..."
Considering that I own two houses in Detroit, I can tell you that the taxes aren't cheap. A 700 sq ft house has taxes in the $1,500 per year area. High 'static' taxes. Plus, every time a city employee gets sued, it adds $200 per year onto your tax bill. Currently, I am paying on 3 of those decisions, with the Mayor's $9 Mm decision yet to be added.

It isn't that good of a bargain.

Sailorcurt said...

It isn't that good of a bargain.

Thanks for the insight. I guess that's why they can't give the places away.

George Hedgepeth said...

"Flint's got barely more than one tenth the population it once sported, and it's been a steady unbroken decline from there to where it is now. i've driven through them both. "urban wasteland" is no mere simile.
."

I am in Flint this very minute...

I believe your facts are off- flint topped out around 300,000 in 1959, and is currently at about 115,000. Your point is well taken though!

Anonymous said...

Dis-incorporate the area. Pull the city boundaries back, and give oversight of the land back to the county/state.

Local government isn't a necessity.

Andrew said...

How about addressing the issues that are driving everyone out of the State?

Excessive taxes, excessive goverment spending, etc.

Frickin liberals.

Anonymous said...

The most respected American brand name in China is Buick.

Ain't that a kick in the head.

Reminds me of the day BSA went bankrupt the same day they won Daytona.

Nomen Nescio said...

turns out both George and me are wrong about the historical population of Flint... but i'm the more badly, far more embarrassingly wrong.

according to the U.S. census, it peaked in 1960 (or thereabouts), at just under 200,000. mea culpa.

(my spouse spent about a decade or so in Flint, before meeting me, but that was a decade ago now. i've been given the sightseeing tour of the old neighborhood, and it was scary enough that we didn't stop the car.)

Windy Wilson said...

"How about addressing the issues that are driving everyone out of the State?
Excessive taxes, excessive goverment spending, etc.
Frickin liberals."
This whole discussion about what to do reminds me of the adage about how the last thing a fish discovers is water. The last things a liberal will think is the problem of declining population and economy are excessive taxes, excessive government spending on things that do not support the productive, and excessive regulation. Excessively dense zoning goes in there somewhere, too, since the more dense the city the more likely it is to vote against liberty.

Anonymous said...

Well Windy, with the dense zoning we come full circle, back to the de-urbanization plan. Looks like they actually can do something on that score.

Most industrial-worker freestandings were on 35 or 40 foot lots. That means if you remove two houses out of three, the remaining homesteads still have less lawn and garden than a typical modest new home.

In the middle of a credit [crunch, contraction, retrenchment, EOTWAWKI] may not be the smartest time to undertake it, but WTH,
never waste a good crisis.

rickn8or said...

What Ken said. Pretty much same-same here in Shelby Co. TN, with their bi-yearly threat of annexation / consolidation to recapture the people that fled the corrupt / incompetent city government in the first place.

(Can you tell which poster has been boresighted by either process?)

But if they bulldozed all the empty abandoned houses, decades of fraud by ghost voters would be painfully apparent.

mts1 said...

No one wants to live in a drug and gang infested area. That's what happened to Gary. Gary was always a rough, "wide open" (you can get anything you want at Alice's restaurant, vice-wise), and corrupt city (it paid a million for a nondescript high school football stadium in 1950 dollars). But if you weren't looking for trouble, it wouldn't look for you. People who minded their business had a clean, nice city with low crime and decent services for its first 60 years. The old timers still can tell you of when they slept on hammocks in their yards on hot summer nights without a worry.

Liberals here blame racism and the fall of steel as the cause. It wasn't "Cliff & Claire Huxtable" that got them to move, it was the Thug Life types. Mill workers who didn't want to get jumped in their driveways for painting over gang graffiti, or have their kids beat in the school bathrooms, or have their home's windows shot out because they were holdouts who wouldn't move (my mother's church got repeatedly vandalized until they got the hint and sold), walked away from immaculate homes to start anew in the suburbs.

Fear made them abandon millions of dollars worth of good housing and storefront stock. I see the old photos of that time, and remember what those blue collar people went through to buy and keep up that city, only now to see it all blight, and I want to holler. Fear is why the Railcats parking lots empty out in 10 minutes in a mad rush to I-65, and no one patronizes the nascent ring businesses after the game.

Overload in Colorado said...

JUST WALK AWAY!

Warthog said...

Flint has been circling the bowl for years.

The whole state of Michigan is a nightmare. The problem is, when your alarm clock goes off in the morning, the nightmare is still there.

They spent way too much time, effort and money trying to shore up an auto maker centric economy while the auto makers were declining. They should have gotten rid of the confiscatory business taxes and diversified the economic base of this state years ago.

Anonymous said...

Flint's museum (Now without Roger&Me poster! But also w/o curator) had a half page in today's WlStJrnl. So you see where they get their Journo List.

mts, that's a sad story, well told. Must be true of a hundred cities and a hundred readers.

You know, this happens in Europe too. They never talk about it.

Mike said...

Sounds like Heinlein's "abandoned areas."

And why would the city de-annex the property? That would mean less power, less council wards, less credibility, and admitting failure.

I love how Dems move out of hellholes like that, then immediately try to create all the same problems in the new area--see what Massholes are doing to VT and NH. They can never quite figure out where the cause of the problem lies. It's either the "capitalist fascists" or the "Fascist capitalists."

Anonymous said...

Mike, "I'm intrigued with your ideas," but, this blog being partisan only on other issues, it'd be remiss not to mention that old-skule Republicans had a great deal to with the cancer-paced growth of boomtowns. Other than that, you're right.

Keep in mind that industrial Michigan was built over the old survey lines of gone-bust farms, dairies, orchards and mines. We have the white-tailed deer today (and those weepy Currier & Ives prints) because the urban auto put all of New England's hay farms out of business. Connecticut hardly had a woods still standing when the Year of No Summer changed everything. It's a process.

Mike said...

Of course both sides blame the other. But, in this case, you won't find many Republicans on the council. The Dems may not have caused all the problems, but they are managing them now.

It will be interesting to see if they even try for a real solution.

Anonymous said...

I live near and work in Flint. The declining tax base and population are like a cancer in the city. They do need to give up areas.

Call it failure, call it prudence, call it whatever, a city needs a concentrated population to provide services within its boundaries.

We need to find a way to compensate those who have maintained their property and relocate those willing to move into the most viable areas of the city.

This is not to say that people should be forced to relocate, but merely that if they want city services they must be willing to move into an area that can support them.

There are NO areas that do not have vacant properties that could be give to those who want to move within the proverbial walls in some sort of property exchange program.

The abandoned ares should be bulldozed to eliminate havens for crime and squatters, and converted to industrial land or agricultural garden sections that could be leased out.

The money is not there to maintain these areas. Period. The gap is too large to cost cut our way out of the deficit. I don't pretend that this is the best or most well thought out answer, but I have not heard a lot of other plans suggested.

Kavius said...

I agree with the other Anonymous poster. It is unfortunate, but the city no longer has enough customers in the outlying regions to justify offering services. The should pull back their borders and allow those on the outside the option of trading for houses on the inside.

As for those who stay outside, good oportunity to make something of the property (agriculture, gated community, shooting range, horse stables, new municipality).

I have beeen trying to figure out how to buy these abandonded neighborhoods since I first learned about them. Only two problems: my lawyer and my accountant. My lawyer laughed when I told him I wanted to buy US Property (as a non-citizen). My accountant laughed at me when I told him the estimated price tag (frankly it was the municipal taxes that make it unatainable).

markm said...

The Flint City's plan seems to be to abandon the areas but keep anything worth taxing in them on their tax rolls. It's beyond their comprehension that they are thereby ensuring that there won't be any legal enterprise to tax.

Countertop said...

"Not for nothing, but does anyone find it fascinating that the car sitting in front of the old junker of a house isn't an old junker of a car but a brand spanking new Dodge Charger?"

In these conditions, it's perfectly sensible to only put your money into portable assets, even if they're depreciating. In addition, Flint can't tax the car. (The state does, but the sales tax is collected only once, and the annual registration fee is much, much less than real estate taxes.)

Jay.Mac said...

There's talk that Obama wants to institute this on a grand scale- bulldozing sections of up to 50 cities.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/financetopics/financialcrisis/5516536/US-cities-may-have-to-be-bulldozed-in-order-to-survive.html