After living in San Francisco for fifteen years, journalist Gordon Young found himself yearning for his Rust Belt hometown: Flint, Michigan, the birthplace of General Motors and the “star” of the Michael Moore documentary Roger & Me. Hoping to rediscover and help a place that had once boasted one of the world’s highest per capita income levels but had become 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 could afford a lavish mansion, speculators scooped up cheap houses by the dozen on eBay, and arson was 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 ragtag 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.
San Francisco-based journalist Young finds himself consumed with nostalgia for his hometown, the desperately impoverished "Vehicle City": Flint, Michigan. For two years he travels to Flint seeking an affordable house to purchase and getting a "crash course" on a "shrinking city caught up in a post-bubble economy." Young returns to the neighborhood he grew up in, Civic Park, where "blight was in abundant supply", and meets a preacher named Sherman McCathern who is intent on turning the community around. He discusses budget cuts with mayor Dayne Walling and speaks with county treasurer Dan Kildee about his controversial "shrinking-city concept" that involves leveling abandoned buildings in less populated neighborhoods in favor of more green space. Flint's myriad problems are on display, including real estate speculators turned slumlords, rampant arsons coupled with fire department layoffs, and high murder rates including a racially motivated serial killer in 2010. Young also shares the history of Flint, from Jacob Smith's fur trading post to the establishment of General Motors and the Sit-Down Strike of 1936-7. Young shines a spotlight on a broken city and the efforts of those desperate to save it, but this is also the story of a man confronting a crisis of identity and finding hope where there seemed to be none.