On the Spatial Politics of Lawns: Community Preservation in Flint, Michigan

Blue Green House

Presented at the 2018 Mellon Faculty Diversity Conference at Queens College, CUNY, with generous support from the Andrew Mellon Foundation.

Abstract Only, Paper Available upon Request.

I often tell people that Flint, Michigan looks like a golf-course. Few believe me. When you say “Flint, Michigan,” the collective imagination conjures decaying pipes, abandoned houses, vacant strip malls, cracked pavement, the physical evidence of abandonment—but Flint does not, in fact, look “abandoned” in that way. A local land bank oversees the demolition of derelict properties and then cares for the empty lots that are left behind. As a result, Flint is a surreal landscape of rolling lawns dotted here and there by little homes, most of which are worn, clearly abandoned, or caving in. A few still have neat little gardens, and clean siding, but they are few. Most homes have been cleared away.

In this paper, I discuss the spatial politics of decay in Flint through an ethnographic study of two individuals: Adam, a displaced anarchist squatter, and Lucille, a single mother and land bank official. I consider how the loss of the built environment has impacted them, allowing a deeper exploration of the physical, legal, racial, economic, criminological, and psycho-social aspects of decay by comparing the prefigurative political approaches that Lucille and Adam take in terms of decay.

Understand how these unique managements of decay affect Lucille, Adam, & the community of Flint as a whole brings into focus how diverse communities cope with loss, and helps to better frame numerous issues facing post-industrial U.S. society, and the underlying tensions that fracture diverse communities apart.