The City of Flint will enter a new era at the end of October when the recently adopted zoning code goes into full effect. The land use classifications and requirements from the age of urban renewal finally will be replaced with 21st century categories for redevelopment. With this legal change, we can move from imagining a more equitable community to actually implementing innovative ideas and developments in every part of the city.
This journey started more than a decade ago with the community’s call for a new vision and comprehensive plan for Flint’s future. The formal planning process was able to start with a grant to the City of Flint from President Obama’s administration for sustainable community planning. Thousands of residents and hundreds of stakeholders contributed to the comprehensive plan and accompanying strategies, including a draft of a new zoning code.
A word of thanks is due to the Flint Planning Commission, the Flint City Council, Mayor Sheldon Neeley, and the Department of Planning & Development for working together to adopt the new zoning code. Countless residents provided their thoughts and feedback. The community group, Flint Residents for Stronger Neighborhoods, stepped up to make this a reality. This is a case of better late than never if there ever was one.
The new zoning categories are designed to respond to our community’s aspirations for equitable and sustainable development, despite the serious challenges we face with a declining population and ageing infrastructure. The new zoning preserves our traditional neighborhoods in many areas but also open the door to the kind of mixed-use and mixed-income developments that are attracting new residents and businesses in other cities.
The two things I am most excited about with the new zoning code are the neighborhood centers across the city and the innovation area along University Avenue. The neighborhood centers were designated with the hopes of having more local businesses and mixed-use buildings in distinct parts of the city. They should be accessible to vehicles but also encourage pedestrian activity. These neighborhood centers should, “contribute to neighborhood character, viability, and attractiveness,” according to Article 4. This is consistent with the strong neighborhood tradition we have here in Flint.
The new university core district between the University of Michigan-Flint and Kettering University holds promise for innovative development. The district allows for residential apartments, commercial activities, and light manufacturing to all coexist. We need places for our entrepreneurs and makers to call home and I am hopeful the parameters set for this district will create that unique place.
There is a great deal of work to complete to realize the vision in the comprehensive plan and to take advantage of all the opportunities in the new zoning code. It is going to take new commitments from the city, businesses, developers, and the foundations to realize truly equitable redevelopment. Let us not take another decade to make this a reality.
Dayne Walling is the Principal and Senior Policy Advisor for 2 P/M/C consulting and an adjunct faculty at Saginaw Valley State University and Central Michigan University.
He is a former mayor and a resident of Flint. Follow him on Twitter @dayneawalling.