Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City

Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City

Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City

Teardown: Memoir of a Vanishing City


After 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 country's 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.


The sticky summer weather had finally overpowered the cold, rainy spring, and I was sleeping on the floor of a vacant house across the river from downtown Flint, Michigan, in a neighborhood called Carriage Town.

Festive Victorian-era homes in various stages of restoration battled for supremacy with boarded-up firetraps and overgrown lots landscaped with weeds, garbage, and “ghetto palms,” a particularly hardy invasive species known more formally as Ailanthus altissima, or the tree of heaven, perhaps because only God can kill the things. Around the corner, business was brisk at a drug house where residents and customers alike weren’t above casually taking a piss in the driveway.

Hardwood floors were as advertised, but my camping pad and L. L. Bean sleeping bag weren’t nearly as comfortable as they had looked in the catalog. a loud thud—either real or imagined—had woken me with a start at two in the morning, and I finally drifted back to sleep snuggling what passed for my security blanket—an aluminum baseball bat. a siren served as an alarm clock just after dawn.

Awake, I wanted to call my girlfriend, Traci, back in San Francisco, but I knew she was still asleep. I figured Sergio, our aggressive twentypound cat, would have reclaimed what he considered his rightful spot in our bed by now, as he always did when I was out of town. I grabbed my cell phone. Maybe Traci was up early for work. At 4 A.M. West Coast time? Not a chance.

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