Busting Blight

Angelina Cruz, 10 (left), and Alicia Bard, 9, lead a parade to help celebrate neighborhood beautification. Photo: Paul Engstrom
Angelina Cruz, 10 (left), and Alicia Bard, 9, lead a parade to help celebrate neighborhood beautification.
Jackie Berg, Founder & Publisher, TheHUB Photo: Paul Engstrom
Jackie Berg, Founder & Publisher, TheHUB

It’s an age-old question in major cities across America – how do you prevent neighborhood decay? While there are no silver bullets or magic wands that solve the problem, communities have traditionally developed their own unique strategies.

Whether it’s boarding up doors and windows in dangerous structures or repurposing empty lots, residents are the common denominator of any successful effort. The best work is done by those who live in the neighborhood working in tandem with responsive and accountable city departments with tackling neighborhood eyesores on their priority lists.

Whether it’s boarding up doors and windows in dangerous structures or repurposing empty lots, residents are the common denominator of any successful effort.

In Flint, which is in its second year of a five-year blight-elimination program, city officials like blight coordinator Raul Garcia won’t hesitate to tell you who the heroes are.

They are the hundreds of volunteers, block club members and programs of the Genesee County Land Bank Authority and visionaries like Jay Roland, coordinator of the Flint Public Art Project.

They see opportunity and creativity.

Neighborhood resident H.B. Cooper enjoys the scenery at Saginaw and Harriet Streets where a memorial illustrating Amariyanna Copeny’s meeting with President Obama hides blight. Photo: Paul Engstrom
Neighborhood resident H.B. Cooper enjoys the scenery at Saginaw and Harriet Streets where a memorial illustrating Amariyanna Copeny’s meeting with President Obama hides blight.

Buildings that once stood out because of their emptiness and disrepair now get noticed for eye-catching imagery like Kevin “Scraps” Burdick’s mural of President Barack Obama and Amariyanna Copeny.

Amariyanna, 8, gained the White House’s attention this year after writing a letter that shared her concerns about the Flint community.

Much less noticeable are the boarded doors and the empty marquis spaces at two abandoned buildings that now bear images of tall, bright flowers and ripe fruit, thanks to skillful paint strokes by Ariel Sammone and Rowland himself.

Angelina Cruz, 10 (left), and Alicia Bard, 9, lead a parade to help celebrate neighborhood beautification. Photo: Paul Engstrom
Angelina Cruz, 10 (left), and Alicia Bard, 9, lead a parade to help celebrate neighborhood beautification.

What is most encouraging, is Flint’s next generation is involved. Children marched through Flint in August. They were literally waving a civic pride banner to celebrate the initiative that treats abandoned property as a blank canvas. Their future commitment to continuing the city’s transformation makes all the difference.

While there might not be a silver bullet, or even an instruction book, that solves blight, Flint’s creativity and resourceful spirit can serve as a model for communities nationwide. City leadership, concerned citizens and the commitment of future generations have always proved to be a winning combination.

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