Wednesday, October 21, 2009

And the Prophet Spoke

I finally got around to reading the New York Times article by Dan Barry, “Amid Ruin of Flint, Seeing Hope in a Garden” which has been creating quite a buzz around town. As I read the piece, I’m thinking to myself, how nice; a story about hope in Flint. And then I started reading some response to it on Facebook and other social networking sites.

One source of feedback that I find interesting, and at the same time peculiar, is the Flint Area Convention and Visitors Bureau website Changing Perceptions of Flint (the October 20th issue). The interesting part is that they shared feedback on the NYT article by local residents, some of whom were critical because they felt it “puts flint in a bad way.” Others saw the article as positive, referring to Barry’s treatment of Flint as inspirational.

And one person flat out refused to look at the portrayal of Flint’s image in this dichotomous way. Here’s the full quote: “I’m curious what some of us might define as positive, given that some see this articles’ realistic yet incredibly hopeful assessment as somehow negative. Ignoring our city’s struggle does not make us positive people; facing that struggle and working with each other to improve it, on the other hand, shows actual character and strength.”

I almost fell out of my chair when I read the person’s name who said this. Philip Greenfield. Yes, my partner Philip. If you think about it, though, it makes perfect sense that he’d say something like this. After all, he’s the one who refused to take sides when I wrecked a guys bar and when the guy kicked the shit out of me. Philip’s main concern was saving the piece of meat that, like Flint, had gotten unfairly knocked around.

That was the interesting part of the Changing Perceptions of Flint website. Here’s the peculiar part. The opening lines of this day’s entry read “This is a daily report on Flint and Genesee County, and where it appears in the news, BLOGS, etc. I’ll provide the links and your job is to help create a positive light around Flint.”

Translation (as I understand it, anyway): “This is a daily report on Flint, and I’ll provide the link to Barnett’s Eating Flint blog so you, dear reader, can rejoice in the positive light he sheds on Flint.”

Well, I’m sure you’ll find it as peculiar as I do that not one single word of this four-page report on the state of our city so much as mentioned Eating Flint. It did mention that the Mayor will host a weekly press conference and that Glenwood Cemetery, on Court Street, is hosting fall Tours, but nothing about lunches with Stephanie or tater tot casserole or Flint’s delicious Mexican food. Nothing.

I’ve even used image boosting phrases in my previous posts like “our beloved city,” “the vibrant city I choose to live in,” and “Flint: At least we’re not Saginaw.” My words are practically oozing positive light around Flint, and those of you who read the blog are like hundred-watt energy saving light bulbs brightening up the city as you talk about it with your friends and family. And the blog researcher for Changing Perceptions of Flint doesn’t even know this blog exists? We have work to do, my friends. We have work to do.

The website also goes on to alert readers that “If a blogger is bashing Flint, and Genesee County, go post a positive message. If there is an article about the depressed economy of Flint, go post something uplifting.” At this point, I’m channeling Philip’s wisdom and wondering why we can’t transcend this punch/counter punch mentality and work together to improve Flint, and more importantly perhaps, its image. Wouldn’t that show our collective character and strength in the way that Philip’s prophetic words were most likely intended? (Lord help me when I get home if I’m wrong about that).

And doesn’t Dan Barry’s New York Times article actually do that? Doesn’t it show how, surrounded by both good and bad, a group of neighbors are working together to make a piece of Flint better? Yes. That’s exactly what’s happening. As Barry notes, “East Piper Avenue now has its sidewalks back, along with a vegetable garden, a grassy expanse where a children’s playground will be built, and, close to one of those abutting abandoned houses, a mix-and-match orchard of 18 young fruit trees.” That’s positive, baby! That also shows what happens when we cast off an either/or mentality, roll up our sleeves, and become part of the solution.

This all inspires me to think more globally about how I can use Eating Flint to, among other things, be a part of the solution and not just a critic of the problems. I like how this blog is evolving, with a mix of stories and reviews, and a little bit of good humor, and I'm going to continue to create posts that stay true to that goal. But, in the spirit of brightening the light that shines on Flint, I’m open to other ideas and additional directions. In fact I'm already kicking around a few that I'll share in future posts. In the meantime, let me know if any brilliant notions come to you. I’d love to hear them. You can respon to this post or you can send ideas to my email address,

And if you haven’t read the Barry article or visited the Flint Area Convention & Visitors Bureau site, Changing Perceptions of Flint, check them out. They’re well worth the read.


  1. You forgot my T.

    Beautiful post. I love you.


  2. Why would you continue to eat leathery, cheese-whiz queso?

  3. wandmach - maybe some people LIKE leathery, cheese-whiz queso, eh?

  4. As a freshman student at UM-Flint, this blog is not only a delight to read - but has become particularly useful. Keep it up!

  5. I love finding other Michigan bloggers! Having fun checking out your work.
    I've had my own online conversation with the Flint CVB guy (most notably when I suggested that working more closely with regional bloggers might be a more cost-effective way to get some coverage for the city, rather than blowing a load of bucks promoting the Buick Open with a batch of travel writers who aren't likely interested in covering much beyond the golf course--and we all know what happened with the Buick Open this year).
    I'd like to see Flint, metro Detroit (where I'm at), and Michigan, in general, work more closely with those of us who consistently cover the area throughout the year.
    I've had some good online experiences and interaction with the Flint Institute of Music, the Toledo Museum of Art, the University of Michigan Museum of Art, and tourism orgs from Ohio and Indiana. These folks seem to monitor online mentions of their events closely and try to foster some positive interaction with folks who mention them online. Mutually supportive interaction, rather than hyper-sensitive over-reaction, makes me more inclined to cover certain locations and/or help promo them if they've got something interesting going on. I'm jus' sayin'...

  6. I'm also enjoying the way your blog is evolving. :)