Flint’s Man in Washington

The Fight for Legacy Cities Moves to Capitol Hill

Story by Edward McClelland

Illustration by Lauren Adolfsen

Published on Oct 14, 2013

Though Detroit makes far more national headlines these days, its neighbor 70 miles to the northwest may have had a rougher time of it. Flint, Mich., population 102,000, has 13,000 vacant lots and 4,000 empty houses. Its 60-per-100,000 murder rate is the highest in the country. Once known as the home of General Motors and the site of the famous Sit-Down Strike in the late 1930s, the city has come to define almost all the negative trends associated with Rust Belt decline. Chief among them is blight, and that’s why Dan Kildee, while serving as Genesee County treasurer, founded the nation’s first community land bank. It has since acquired some 9,000 properties, refurbishing some and demolishing a whole lot more. Kildee, meanwhile, has moved on — to U.S. Congress, where he advocates for post-industrial “legacy” cities like Flint, calling for federal assistance with everything from public safety to economic development. Writer Edward McClelland sets out to see what’s next for Kildee and his shrinking city back home.