Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City by Gordon YoungAfter living in San Francisco for 15 years, journalist Gordon Young found himself yearning for his Rust Belt hometown: Flint, Michigan, the birthplace of General Motors and �star” of the Michael Moore documentary Roger & Me. Hoping to rediscover and help a place that once boasted one of the world’s highest per capita income levels, but is now one of the countrys most impoverished and dangerous cities, he returned to Flint with the intention of buying a house. What he found was a place of stark contrasts and dramatic stories, where an exotic dancer can afford a lavish mansion, speculators scoop up cheap houses by the dozen on eBay, and arson is often the quickest route to neighborhood beautification.
Skillfully blending personal memoir, historical inquiry, and interviews with Flint residents, Young constructs a vibrant tale of a once-thriving city still fighting—despite overwhelming odds—to rise from the ashes. He befriends a rag-tag collection of urban homesteaders and die-hard locals who refuse to give up as they try to transform Flint into a smaller, greener town that offers lessons for cities all over the world. Hard-hitting, insightful, and often painfully funny, Teardown reminds us that cities are ultimately defined by people, not politics or economics.
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Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City
Reviewed by: Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City by Gordon Young Joshua Akers Gordon Young, Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City Berkeley: University of California Press T eardown is as much a love letter to Flint, Michigan, as it is a memoir, propelled by nostalgia and the seemingly overwhelming desperation, struggles, and strength that are integral to daily life in spaces of decline. Gordon Young joins a growing list of journalists returning to their childhood hometown with aged eyes and years of experience elsewhere in an attempt to understand where they came from and divine what those places have become, focusing intently on the material conditions in a place where the depth of decline surpass the early conditions glossed over by the fuzzy warmth of youth. Though treading many of the worn tropes of the authors that have come before — crime and the incapacity of public safety organization to the inefficiency of the municipality, the physical changes of neighbourhood remembered through childhood experience amplified by an exodus of people and jobs, the rhythms of a city disrupted by idled assembly lines punctuated by intermittent and marginal employment and unknowable depths of each subsequent crisis. It is this transition in the economy from production to financialization that offers some of the more interesting ways to understand [End Page ] the production of conditions Young catalogues in Flint, conditions produced in varying scopes throughout the United States. Though Young does not explicitly breakdown the local boundaries often drawn around real estate markets, he illustrates how spaces of decline draw a variety of speculators: some dreamers seeking a return home, others with altruistic intent but little capital perpetuating and accelerating decline. For decades academic research on declining cities has focused either on what is absent or lost in these places once heavily defined by industrial production.
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The Flint water crisis is the latest catastrophe to befall my hometown, a place that not so long ago was a prosperous bastion of the middle class known as the.
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I had arrived in Flint in early June of after listening to the Tigers game in my rental car during the ninety-minute drive up I from the Detroit airport. I thought baseball on the radio would snap me into a Michigan frame of mind, but the legendary Ernie Harwell, whose distinctive voice had mesmerized me as a kid, was no longer calling the games. It wasn't quite the same. But the game did remind me to stop at a thrift store and buy that baseball bat, a handy accessory for any extended stay in Flint. I eventually made it to Saginaw Street, the city's main artery, which roughly divides Flint between east and west. As I crossed the river into what was once the thriving shopping district in the heart of downtown, the first of several black metal arches harking back to the early twentieth century spanned the thoroughfare, announcing that this was the "Vehicle City.