How An Innovative Land Policy Is Turning America's Deadliest City Into A Giant Park

Flint, Michigan, has symbolized the human side of the Rustbelt's decay since at least 1989, when in his documentary Roger and Me, Michael Moore unsuccessfully attempted to convince General Motors CEO Roger Smith to come see what downsizing had wrought on the city of GM's birth.

Twenty–four years and one bankruptcy later, the story has only gotten sadder. Flint is known less as "Vehicle City" than as the country's murder capital. With 63 murders in 2012, its homicide rate is more than 10 times the national average. Its population has dropped 30% since Roger and Me and keeps on sliding, creating a vicious cycle of abandonment and declining property values.

You can't rent them, you can't sell them. All you can do is board them and sit on them.

One man who sees that cycle up close is Douglas Weiland, executive director of the Genesee County Land Bank. "The only people living [in the most blighted areas in Flint] in most cases are older people who are economically trapped," says Weiland. Once they die, their heirs don't want to move into the houses, but can't sell them either. (Weiland says the average sale price for a house in Flint has been $15,000 for the last three years.) Left vacant, the houses are immediately stripped. "You can't rent them, you can't sell them. All you can do is board them and sit on them," says Weiland. Soon, the heirs decide there's no point paying taxes, and the houses go through the tax foreclosure process and end up at the land bank. "We see that cycle repeated over and over," says Weiland.

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