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Flint, MI: So much lead in children’s blood, state of emergency declared (washingtonpost.com)
405 points by uptown on Dec 15, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 321 comments

I'm glad to see this on HN. Flint is often a forgot about place in the world. I grew up there and now live outside of Flint. My dad was murdered there.

But I always think Flint is prime for opportunity. The people need basic essentials, water, food, shelter. But the infrastructure to build factories is there. Power, train lines, the whole deal. It's really a shame. The sad part is, the people are still hell bent on supporting the companies that destroyed the town. Michigan in general is like this, its why they don't allow Tesla vehicle sales.

Growing up my family owned a junkyard and the Flint river ran behind it. It was disgusting. Some of the guys would wade through it on their way two and from work. It was a shortcut, but you had to be a true animal to go that route.

I wanted to see what Flint looks like, so I dropped the little yellow streetview guy randomly. I ended up on Asylum Street (!). I'm at a loss for words:






https://goo.gl/maps/ssGZRAdiQak (memorial garden?)






As a Swede, I guess I didn't really realize how bad things really got in parts of the US. The last 50 years is just one crisis after another for this place: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flint%2C_Michigan#History

To me, there's something really heartbreaking about abandoned and decaying houses. It's all too easy to imagine the hopes and dreams that didn't play out they way they should have.

And not far from Flint, the city of Detroit now has the world's largest collection of urban ruins, even greater in size and quantity than Rome. Amazing, truly, what you see in that part of Michigan.

I lived 2 hours away from there in Central Michigan from end of 2008 - 2010. One of the sadder experiences I had was, one day while out on my daily walk around the neighborhood, there were a mass of people standing around one of the houses. I walked up to see what was happening, and the entire house and all of its contents had been abandoned without packing; little kids toys scattered on the floor where they played, wheel borrows, brooms hanging in the garage, plates on the kitchen shelves -- all being auctioned off one after another. They were literally taking them out of the cupboards and off the floor and an auctioneer (presumably hired by the mortgage owning bank) went down the sad road of dispensing of everything to anyone who wanted it.

And actually there were three auctioneers -- front yard, back yard, and inside, gradually dismantling an entire family's life for anyone to see, and participate in.

I spend a lot of time in Michigan as my company is based in Grand Rapids. It's almost like East and West Germany at times with how much better off Western Michigan is.

IMO this is really inaccurate. Rochester Hills, Bloomfield, Royal Oak, Grosse Point, all very wealthy cities .... the problems are simply accentuated by the scale economic growth/collapse, but it happens in West Michigan as well (Benton Harbor, for example).

I went to school near Benton Harbor. It's incredible to see the literal line between Benton Harbor and St. Joseph. It's like ghetto > river > water front mansions. Pretty crazy to see such different perspectives within such close proximity to each other.

I am from flint and now live in Rochester hills. There are some OK parts of flint but really there's is nothing you can say that is nice other than the colleges.

And yet Ann Arbor is in East Michigan, and it's one of the best towns in the entire country, probably largely thanks to the University.

Oakland County is also fairly prosperous (a good portion of the migration out of Detroit was a few dozen miles north to Oakland County).

I think pensions end up being a big factor. A city of 100,000 people is going to have some trouble keeping up the payments owed by the former city of 200,000. I guess as a society we need to remember to be really careful about promising compensation and then finding funds for it later (pensions were also a big factor in bankrupting GM and Chrysler).

The University and medical infrastructure make Ann Arbor a bizarre bubble of wealth in an otherwise dying state.

I've been able to travel into Detroit a few times sense moving to Ann arbor and the difference is truly shocking. Even more so when you consider the distance between the places (about 45 minute drive). I highly recommend checking out Detroit in person if you get the opportunity, pictures just simply do the place justice.

It's not that bizarre, the suburbs surrounding Detroit include some of the wealthiest areas in the nation. Also, downtown Detroit is booming. I visited in July and it was night and day compared to when I previously visited three years ago. I went to school in Ann Arbor and if I wasn't tied to my current location I'd move there in a heartbeat.

Agreed. Anyone who says there is an East/West divide in Michigan... never actually lived in Michigan.

Ditto. I'm hoping to move back at some point

yeah... i definitely wouldn't go that far.

The west side of the state is nice, but it doesnt really compare to the larger (and wealthier) markets on the East side of the state:

Birmingham, Bloomfield hills, Troy, Ann Arbor, Royal Oak, Ferndale, Grosse pointe, etc.

The far more obvious dichotomy is Oakland county vs Wayne county.

Wayne county(county where Detroit is located):

>About 18.6% of families and 23.7% of the population were below the poverty line

Oakland county (county just north of Wayne):

>About 3.80% of families and 5.50% of the population were below the poverty line

Kent county (grand rapids location):

>8.90% of the population and 6.30% of families were below the poverty line.

Have you been to the eastern part of Michigan? The Detroit suburbs like Birmingham, West Bloomfield, Bloomfield Hills, etc. are absurdly affluent. Not to mention that places like Ann Arbor, and even Royal Oak and Dearborn Heights are doing fairly well. I'd attribute it to suburban flight more than an East/West divide.

Source: lived in Michigan 22 years

A few years ago before the oil boom in west Texas, I was going to run a camera through some of the towns that were off major highways, and compare them with some of the little towns in a Mexico or some other place we consider poor. In many ways the ones in Texas look worse because the population was dying as well, houses with the roof caving in, main streets without a single open business, etc.

I'm often surprised by the ways businesses behave. I was in northern MA last month at a tech company that had recently built a new office building. Not 5 miles away was the town center, which was once a manufacturing hub. In town there were a couple old brick textile factories that were absolutely beautiful old buildings sitting vacant. Those building seem like the exact thing i've seen a couple startups trying to simulate in an office building (hard wood floors, retro lamps, etc with modern open floor plan). Running a medium sized tech company out of a 200 year old textile factory says something, but no one apparently wants to say it. Sure there would be some remodeling expense putting in power/etc but I can't imagine its a huge fraction more than long term rental/ownership/maint of the crap buildings being thrown up that start to fall apart after 10 years.

The environmental cleanup is probably a huge part of the reason companies don't invest in the old mills. Besides the mundane things like lead and asbestos, they are also probably all sort of nasties left over from the dyes and other chemicals used in the old mills.

These old factories are sometimes also designated as "historical", which limits the modifications that new tenants can make and greatly increases TI costs.

Yup... it's kinda creepy. I've spent a lot of time driving between Lubbock and Fredericksburg, TX and it's really quite sad to see the kind of decay that you find in that area of the world. I keep thinking that if I could figure out how to get enough remote development business, it'd be interesting to buy up a chunk of old buildings in Ballenger or Menard (home of 3 cemeteries and a historic "ditch walk")... but then I think about how far you are from a city and think it would be a tough sell for most folks.

In the Northeast at least, there are a fair number of old brick mill buildings that have been renovated and have tech and other tenants. I worked in one in Nashua NH for a few years and there was an apartment complex just down the street in another former textile mill.

However, as someone else said, you don't renovate these kind of properties because it's cheaper than building a generic business park. You do it because you're willing to spend extra for something with history and character.

I suspect the choice to build new may be due to remodeling costs that exceed new construction costs. Abatement of asbestos and lead paint along with bringing electrical, etc up to code is expensive. This may be a case where regulation results in government failure by constraining economic development opportunities. Anyone have any experience bringing a multi-hundred year old industrial facility up to office space code?

Brick and timber buildings would be beautiful I. California, and may even be affordable to literally deconstruct them and move them.

Look at the last sale price of this building, $535.00 five hundred!!


Unreinforced mortar doesn't cut it in California building codes. It would crumble in either a moderate earthquake or over time during lots of small ones.

Sale prices obscure some of the more expensive parts of a sale -- leins on the title and back taxes. Sometimes you do get a property for cheap, but always do your due diligence.

Why's that surprising? I'm not surprised it is cheaper to build a new office unit than to renovate an existing dilapidated one and bring it up to 2015 code.

They definitely exist, I used to work in this building:


Here's another example:


Here's an older paper from the state of RI:


So one note from that paper: northern RI alone had 10mil sq ft of vacant mill building space.

That's a lot. It will take a lot of rebuilding to come close to reclaiming all the space in those old buildings.

Also, those old buildings didn't always take into account things like, say, HVAC efficiency. That kind of retrofitting takes money.

> I was going to run a camera through some of the towns that were off major highways

Is this a project you'd still be interested in?

Something tells me the remodeling isn't the reason nobody wants to build a startup there.

>I'm at a loss for words:

Why are you are a loss for words? This doesn't look significantly different from the town I grew up in (well near). I feel like I'm missing something.

I am a US citizen who moved to Sweden. I've done a decent amount of cycling across the Swedish countryside, and think I can explain.

The sights in these photos that you (and I, who grew up in Florida) think are pretty common, are quite rare in Sweden. That is, it's rare to find houses with boarded up windows, or missing part of its siding, or burnt down and in a state of decay. Suburban areas are almost all immaculate, with well kept lawns, and solid construction.

Rare, but not impossible. Here's one https://www.google.com/maps/@59.0577422,12.4528682,3a,37.5y,... . Just down the street is the old market and gas station https://www.google.com/maps/@59.0578664,12.4544937,3a,37.5y,... .

I can gave a hand-waving explanation. This picture is from Edsleskog, a town that used to be more of a real town. Cars didn't become common in Swede until the 1960 or so. (Sweden was a relatively poor country, and I have a Swedish book from the 1950s where two children visit the US and are astonished that a family might have two cars, when a family in Sweden might have a moped.)

But once cars became common, people preferred to drive the 15 minutes to get to the bigger, nearby city of Åmål for shopping and other errands, and for work. Some of the older building are now no longer useful. Since that area has had the population growth that the cities have had, older places are left to decay, rather than be replaced with something more useful.

I don't know if it's terribly useful to compare the entire US with Sweden. Sweden is about as populous as the Bay Area. If you're going to make comparisons with the worst places in the US, you should compare with the worst place in Europe. Drop a street view guy in the middle of Donetsk and have a look around.

But we aren't talking specifically about the 'worst places in the US'. I and others have commented that many of those shots don't "look significantly different from the town I grew up in", nor "markedly different than some places I've been", and that "this could easily be images from parts of Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Albany, etc" or "from any town across much of the North."

You do realize how ridiculous that statement is? Even if you compare Arkasas to New York, the difference won't be as tenth as striking as if you compare a random city from Ukraine to Sweden.

Haha I think I know you from the Python Meetup Sweden is small indeed.

You're right, I'm just not used to seeing things like this I guess.

Tjäna! Jajaman, det är jag.

Despite US's overall economical and military dominance, the poor parts of US is really bad. Especially to people from other first-world countries who thought US is similar to their own country.

For the Americans who have not traveled abroad, countries in northern Europe, Canada/Australia generally do not have the level of poverty some parts of US suffers.

Abandoned or neglected properties are not a great measure for poverty.

The average after government transfer income of the bottom quintile of households in the US is ~$25,000, which is slightly more than the after government transfers to the bottom quintile of households in the UK. Meanwhile the middle quintile of income earners in the UK is about $20,000 short of the middle US quintile.

In Canada (and Australia from what I have read, but not personally seen) the level of poverty in many Native towns is certainly comparable.

Umm, there are no "native towns" in Canada.

It's absolutely true that many of the indigenous reserves here are a living tragedy... in fact, like Australia, we have a long and shameful history with respect to our indigenous population, a history that we're still writing today (recently the CBC had to shut down comments on stories about indigenous issues due the quantity of hateful comments they attract).

That said, small town Canada can absolutely suffer as bad as anywhere in the US (just like America's coal and steel towns, it's not unusual for small towns to be dependent on a single industry, and if that industry suffers the town suffers...).

However, we don't tend to have the same level of urban blight and decay as you see in some American cities.

> Umm, there are no "native towns" in Canada.


Most of those have towns in them.

> However, we don't tend to have the same level of urban blight and decay as you see in some American cities.

There are plenty of run-down areas and derelict industrial objects in and around Montreal. It is true you cannot compare Montreal to select cities like Detroit or Newark, but that is because the urban blight there is exclusively a product of systemic racism against blacks in the United States. This is why it makes more sense to compare Detroit to Native towns. Indigenous people in Canada face blatant and open discrimination today that is comparable to what blacks face in the United States.

>the urban blight there is exclusively a product of systemic racism against blacks in the United States.


Median household income in Detroit: $26,325 83% black (http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/26/2622000.html)

Walk a block over to Grosse Point: $89,492 93% white (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grosse_Pointe,_Michigan)

Royal Oak: $52,252 90% white (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Oak,_Michigan)

Livonia: $68,973 92% white (http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/26/2649000.html)

Yeah, it's not markedly different than some places I've been, but it does look a bit more neglected, because of the overgrowth and lack of cleanup of a burned out building and overturned tree. The roads... Well, I live in California and I'm used to roads being shitty. I think a lot of smaller countries don't quite understand the cost of keeping such a large road network in order. The US is a very large place, and there are roads everywhere.

There are just huge differences in property styles in different parts of the US, and between urban and rural properties.

Road network size isn't the whole answer. Looking at http://www.nationmaster.com/country-info/stats/Transport/Hig..., Sweden has more meters of highway per capita than the USA. Looking at http://www.nationmaster.com/country-info/stats/Transport/Roa..., it has about 20-25% less motorway per capita.

The latter more or less equals the difference in GDP, correcting for purchasing power (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(PP...)

Yeah I agree. You'll see similar scenes in the rust belt. I grew up in Upstate NY and this could easily be images from parts of Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Albany, etc.

I had the exact same reaction. These photos may has well be Upstate NY.

Yeah this looks like upstate NY; you can see this just an 1-1.5 hour drive from Manhattan.

Bear in mind this is HN. Upper-middle-class people tend to originate from upper-middle-class homes. What many of us grow up in is found to be "shocking" to the Brahmin class.

Yes, sometimes it is quite surprising how sheltered people can be. I wonder how much of a role the asymmetry of TV and other media plays. People who live less affluent lifestyles can get any amount of exposure to extravagant living through TV, etc.. But the reverse doesn't seem to be true. Maybe the BBC will do a show about those strange "fly-over" people someday...

I guess I come from a different world. This looks like areas I use to walk down as a child.

Most foreigners think all of the US looks like New York City or a Beverly Hills suburb because they see that version all the time in the hit movies and on popular TV shows. My relative came to Silicon Valley and was shocked it wasn't like a space-age city with gleaming buildings and futuristic roads. Like truly shocked!

Yep, that's it I didn't mean to sound condescending. Just think it's sad to see what seems to have been a pretty cozy neighborhood fall apart like that. And no, I haven't seen anything like that here in Sweden but I don't think it makes us better than you.

"Somewhere in the past 50 years or so the media accidentally constructed an artificial reality that was hidden by the on-purpose entertainment reality of TV shows. You look at any of the CSI shows and think, "well, of course this isn't a real representation of actual crime scene investigators." But it never occurs to you to think as they're arresting a suspect, "since when did it become ordinary for professional cops in their 40s to have no kids, tons of disposable income, and regularly go out on dates that end in sex? And what the hell happened to body fat?" "


Right. I live in a rural area in the West, lots of towns look like this (not as green). The town looks poorly maintained but fairly clean, not a lot of trash etc. I don't see the signs that I see in crime infested areas.

In https://goo.gl/maps/pAQEyZSAEw92, the first one I clicked, there is decay and overgrowth everywhere.

The death of the city's economy is completely evident in that view alone...

State and local governments can't run deficits, so a collapsing local economy acts like a fiscal vise; capital improvement debts aren't easily rescheduled, so you have reduced tax bases carrying long term debt payments (possibly with nonlinear, back-loaded schedules), and so operations are squeezed and capital improvements are stopped. Once you're in that trap, you can't get out; people and companies who can move will, those who can't become cost sinks as per capita operational costs rise. Without some emergency stabilization mechanism for discharging debt and dealing with necessary operations and improvements, there's no way for a town to return to equilibrium.

The same dynamics can be seen with companies that operate on a negative cash flow basis and who fail to properly buffer a period of improved revenue that later reverts to the mean -- short-term prosperity can mean long-term impovershment.

Oh, I get that! I'm not trying to blame Flint in the slightest.

I was just trying to explain what aspects of the pictures could cause "a loss of words" for an unfamiliar viewer.

Because a building burned down? It would be nice if they fenced it off, so it shows a lack of resources, but I'm not sure that view really indicates what you say it does.

Maybe that's normal looking in the rust belt, but it's unfamiliar looking to me as well. (Can't speak for the Swede, but I suspect they're surprised for similar reasons)

There is:

1) A burned down building (which has been in that state for some time)

2) Boarded up storefronts

3) Plants growing over the unused fences, which themselves are starting to fall over

4) The lots behind the fences look to have been empty for decades

5) Visibly aging concrete

6) Crumbling sidewalks with plants coming up between the tiles

7) at least 3 of the 5 vehicles are from no newer than ~1998

Combine that with the overcast weather, and the bleak color palette of the remaining buildings, and it looks pretty depressing. :(

Maybe it's not representative: maybe on a sunnier day, the greenery would make it look lush and liveable, but as it stands it's definitely an unfortunate looking Street View, that one...

I'm not saying it doesn't show signs of a neglected area, I just think you're reading too much into certain aspects which may be explained through the area in which the picture was taken.

I'm not sure how long the building has been in that state, but I would imagine less than a year from the vegetation, but that's hard to judge if it all dies in winter. Then again, vegetation usually grows very quickly in those areas. That said, small municipalities move slower, they have less leeway in the budget to deal with unforeseen circumstances.

A lot of what you're stated seems to indicate that you see the open areas here as a sign of neglect or failure. Often in rural areas, building are much more spread out unless they are are towards the town center. There's no reason to build next to someone if you can have a lot or two between you and them. As a city expands, these are naturally filled in as sparse building pushes farther out from the town center and some people don't want to be that far out.

As for the sidewalks and concrete, areas with wet winters that continually fluctuate between freezing and non-freezing temperatures are particularly bad on brick and concrete buildings. The continual expansion of the water when it turns into ice and back into water quickly destroys concrete in these areas. Michigan is known to be particularly bad.

In truth, looking down GlenWood Ave from that picture looks fairly pleasant to me. This could easily be a few hundred feet in either of the towns my parents are from in rural Wisconsin, and much of those towns looks fairly pleasant, if extremely spread out, to my eyes.

For comparison, here's another random spot I found by just choosing a place in google maps and zooming in[1]. Every town has some run-down areas if it's old enough, but having a run-down area doesn't necessarily mean the economy is dead (but I'm not disputing that the economy is likely bad, just that the picture is more indicative of an area than a situation).

1: https://www.google.com/maps/@43.0188356,-83.6795166,3a,75y,1...

I could absolutely be wrong about some of those! As I said, I'm not familiar with the Rust Belt. My view is almost exclusively superficial.

Flint and Detroit have huge sections of the city like this. It isn't just a street or two. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nKQSPJWK5w0

Not just that it burned down. Note that there are weeds growing up the side of the charred wall. It burned down and then nothing was done about it for months.

Besides extra fencing, what should have been done? It's obvious they aren't hurting for space there, so there's not necessarily a great reason to rebuild in that spot even if the owner wanted to rebuild. It's also entirely possibly it was a derelict building, and may not really be owned by anyone. None of these speak well for the economy in the area, but they definitely don't make the "death of the city's economy is completely evident".

In some areas, work that needs to be done by the town or county may take a while. Sometimes that's the nature of living in a rural area.

Yeah, their choice makes economic sense.

I'm not blaming Flint (or any other town in the Rust Belt), just pointing out concrete items that could leave unfamiliar people "at a loss for words".

FWIW, I did some digging on this property. It burned in April of this year. Clearly arson. It was the site of a seedier than average strip club that has opened and closed a couple of different times in the past 5 years.



Under the circumstances, this seems to support the notion of a dying city perhaps giving up.

That could be from any town across much of the North. It's not like it's hard to find abandoned buildings much of anywhere....

Because he's from Sweden, which doesn't allow it's cities to reach this state. Western countries should not look like this.

Exactly. Except you can do that in Sweden because it has 9 million people and a tiny inhabited area in comparison.

The US will spend at least $637B on our military in 2015, which is, for example, between 6 and 7 times what China spends. We also wasted approximately 5-6 TRILLION dollars on the Iraq war for no coherent reason anybody can figure out, even after the fact.

It's priorities.


If Sweden can afford it, the US can as well. It's a matter of priorities.

It's also a matter of drawing boundaries. It doesn't make any more sense to complain that Sweden is nicer than Flint, than it would to make the same complaint about Seattle or Philadephia. Or, taking the converse, it makes as much sense to blame Swedes for the state of urban decay in Belarus.

Its a matter of politics. US can afford it, but that'd be "Evil Federal Government laying down red tape on locals".

It doesn't help that the local government is sometimes even more incompetent than the Federal Government either. I mean, redirecting the entire city water-supply to a poisoned river? That's some grade A F---ed up right there.

In any case, America overall is a strong country, but the worst parts of America are equivalent to a 3rd-World nation.

It's also a matter of population density. If the people move away, the buildings they leave behind soon start to look like this.

There was a documentary on this (with mostly simulated desolation): http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1433058/?ref_=fn_al_tt_2

Yes, yes, and you cant get decent internet in LA/NY downtown compared to middle of Fuk nowhere in europe due to population density as well!

I think he is at a loss of words because the supposedly richest country has areas like this.

You missed the

> As a Swede

... part

He is at a loss of words. He is not speaking on behalf of You.


Something tells me you overestimate it.

The way I try to understand it is that the US is about the same size as the EU, has the same magnitude of population, and generally has less interest in equality of its citizens than EU countries. So there are parts of the US comparable to all the parts of the EU -- rich countries and poor ones.

Twice the area, 65% of the population. There are vast swathes of land that are relatively sparsely populated, and also areas that have historically specialized in one industry or another. As those industries wax and wane, so too do the fortunes of many who live in those areas. This is an example of that, where there was a lot of manufacturing (primarily cars) in this area, and as those jobs have moved the populace is hit hard.

That said, my understanding is that the area is brutally cold and wet, and that buildings and infrastructure there quickly goes to shit because of that unless it had regular thorough upkeep.

Yes, the failure is not that a town decayed post-industrialization, it's that the federal government doesn't believe in supporting the people who are left behind after these busts. No re-training funds, no relocation support, housing placement, etc.

> No re-training funds

Not exactly truthful. Most "free trade" recent agreements (past ~30 years or so) come with some sort of TAA support [1][2].

Why is it the federal government's responsibility to do these things? These are implied powers which the states have responsibility for. The Constitution does not reserve any of these for the federal government.

You can't ignore human ego, denial, and the power of convention. All one-industry towns wane when their one industry either falls or moves. People complain, panic, and some even try to move to find better luck elsewhere.

Ultimately, the largest anchor tends to be housing/property, which in the US tends to be paid for by long term debt. When a town loses its economic engine, demand to move there drops to near zero and the housing values fall underwater at the same time when people need to leave. I fail to see why the federal government should be on the hook for something like this. It would be subsidizing failure in a large way.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trade_Adjustment_Assistance

[2] https://www.doleta.gov/programs/factsht/nafta.cfm

> Why is it the federal government's responsibility to do these things?

Because their cost imposed by federal internal and external policies adopted under the Congress' Commerce Clause powers (including when they are caused by decisions not to exercise Commerce Clause powers -- a decision not to act within granted power is itself an use of the power), and because while certain cities may the poster children for the problem, quite often when regional industries are effect, its not just one city in one state, but a whole state (or several) that suffer substantial net negative effects.

The commercial policy that Congress pursues which results in these harms is usually done on the premise that it is ultimately the best on balance for the nation as a whole, and that the harms some areas experience are more the compensated by the benefits experienced elsewhere in the country. Which may be true, on balance, but if it is, then taxing those that benefit to provide support to those that are harmed should be able to remediate the damage to those harmed while still leaving those who benefit ahead.

It's pretty crazy to think that this will only be a more common occurrence in the future as jobs are eliminated. We should be figuring out how to solve that problem now, not the day after we've suddenly eliminated ten million careers. It's my opinion that we shouldn't try to retrain these people, but begin creating a society that can support lifestyles outside of the labor force. Unfortunately, the how of it is extraordinarily difficult to even consider.

The US is significantly bigger than the EU, actually. http://www.whereisbobl.com/2015/2015-06-alps/lrg/phpRprQU3.j... (doesn't include Alaska, which is another 1/3 or so the size of the continental US.)

> generally has less interest in equality of its citizens than EU countries.

Based on what?

> So there are parts of the US comparable to all the parts of the EU -- rich countries and poor ones.

The US is far more diverse and mixed than the EU, in every respect. You have those that are poor living blocks away from the wealthiest people in the world.

My own state of New Jersey is one of the most affluent, but also has one of the most dangerous cities in the whole country.


> Based on what?

It's fundamentalist opposition to welfare and social programs and universal healthcare even when people are struggling and suffering can give that impression.

> The US is far more diverse and mixed than the EU

What are you basing that on? The EU is over 50 countries with their own languages and customs and politics.

> It's fundamentalist opposition to welfare and social programs and universal healthcare

We have welfare and a multitude of social programs design to assist those who need help. You can walk into any emergency room in the country and receive whatever care you need even without insurance or payment on-hand. Mind you, the government provides insurance to the poor and elderly. It has been this way for a very long time.

A full 66% of our federal budget is devoted to exactly these types of programs. That's over 2 trillion dollars. Every year.


Where are you getting your silly notions?

> What are you basing that on? The EU is over 50 countries with their own languages and customs and politics.

I wasn't talking about the country-level. Read what I wrote.

The US is highly diverse on a street level. Rich live with the poor, side by side. This is not the case in Europe. In Europe, the classes are highly segregated.

In the US, there is a very real attempt at having diverse neighborhoods with people of different backgrounds living side by side. Can you point to the same in the EU? And you want to talk about equality?

> You can walk into any emergency room in the country and receive whatever care you need even without insurance or payment on-hand.

While this is a benefit of sorts (you won't actually be allowed to die due to lack of funds), it's not like the work you receive is free. You'll end up paying it back to someone.

Where I live, for example, the county tends to pay off debt like this to the hospital for a significantly smaller portion of the cost. They will allow you to finance it for a very long time, but you will still pay for it. Until it's paid for, even if it takes a very long time. If the county decides not to help you (maybe, for example, you're not a taxpaying resident of the place you ended up going to the emergency room in) then the hospital will bill you for it. They might, after hounding you for a while, charge you only pennies on the dollar to pay it. Or they might be convinced to write it off - which they do occasionally, but only occasionally.

The only sure way to avoid paying debt accrued through emergency medical services is to have no assets.

> We have welfare and a multitude of social programs design to assist those who need help.

We absolutely do not, and it is disingenuous to claim otherwise. Europe has vastly less wealth disparity, and many more social welfare programs that ensure a pretty high degree of social mobility. The United States doesn't hold a candle to most of Europe in this regard. And you know something infuriating? My tax rate is only 10% less where I live in the States than what it will be when I move to Sweden. Our taxes are high as hell and we get basically nothing for them. A nice weapons development program, and there's something to be said for that, and then the Social Security ponzi scheme. But nothing else. Sweden has a huge number of beneficial programs that actually help people when they need it.

And your one citation is from the Heritage Foundation.

> Europe has vastly less wealth disparity

How does the income disparity between Flint and San Francisco compare to the income disparity between Luxembourg and Bulgaria? Between Germany and Romania?

> My tax rate is only 10% less where I live in the States than what it will be when I move to Sweden.

No. The Swedish deduction is $2,690 - in the US it's between $6,300 and $12,600. Not to mention that our federal tax rates top out at about 2/3 of the maximum Swedish tax rate (sub-40% compared to 59.7%). Highest state sales tax is under 12% while Swedish VAT is up to 25%. Not to mention capital gains in Sweden is twice what it is in the US unless you make nearly half a million a year, in which case it's only 10 points higher (30% v. 15%/20%)


> And your one citation is from the Heritage Foundation.

I would say the source has little relevance if what it's saying is accurate (which it is).

So, for what it's worth, you're using some pretty useless numbers without context. And they are giving you a pretty distorted picture of the reality (much like the Heritage Foundation). You're looking at some numbers on Wikipedia. I am talking about my experience earning income and paying taxes in both countries. I'm telling you, my taxes right this minute are only about 10% less than my taxes in Sweden. This is the reality. If that makes you mad, make sure you're getting mad at the right people.

I'm not getting mad. I reread my comment and I'm not sure what in there gave you that impression.

Your experience is irrelevant if it directly contradicts facts and math. Until you supply some numbers I'm assuming you're including things that aren't actually taxes or the math is otherwise incorrect.

The state you're in matters a lot.[0] I have a 3% flat state income tax and 6% sales tax on non-necessities (rx drugs, food, clothing, etc are exempt).

VAT is (almost always) higher than sales tax, and many states with sales taxes do not charge it on food, clothing, etc (Sweden charges 12% on these items). Income tax is always higher. Capital gains is always higher, up to double.

[0] http://taxfoundation.org/article/state-individual-income-tax...

What's that saying? One test is worth a thousand expert opinions? Come to Sweden, earn some income, pay some taxes. You can even stay in my guest room.

So the millions of students with massive amounts of student debt or people losing their homes due to injury or disease don't need help?

Anyhow, the point about rich and poor living side by side happens anywhere where there is gentrification. Some communities, too. I promise you that in some islands in greece there are beggars living side by side to people loading 50" plasmas onto donkeys

>It's fundamentalist opposition to welfare and social programs

Except for the welfare and social programs it has though.

>What are you basing that on? The EU is over 50 countries with their own languages and customs and politics.

Poster was implying about the mix of classes. It's easy for a rich country like Norway or Sweden to look down upon the poor sections of the US and scoff because the poorer parts of Europe are segregated into countries (e.g. Bulgaria). In the US every state has rich and poor sections (and even cities are that way).

> It's fundamentalist opposition to welfare and social programs and universal healthcare even when people are struggling and suffering can give that impression.

You seem to be mistaking our inability to come to a consensus on multiple aspects of these issues with a "fundamentalist opposition. It's unfortunate, but one of the defining aspects of American culture which has served us well over the years, our reliance on self determination and belief that hard work is rewarded, also* yields attitudes that if you aren't doing well then you aren't working hard enough or trying hard enough. Obviously neither of these views are entirely true, but confronting one affects the other, and getting people to reexamine their core beliefs is never easy.

There are plenty of places in Europe where rich people and poor people live mere blocks away. Heck, in the UK alone, I've seen some of the most expensive streets in the country sit fairly close to council estates and places not at all too far away from the type of areas shown in the pictures above.

Quite a few places in the North and East of London can be like this.

A lot of the Midwest US looks like that. When I clicked the links I thought was looking at Northern Indiana.

Central Indiana here. These photos are definitely hard-scrabble, but they're definitely not the worst I've seen even in a 5-mile radius.

Or many of Chicago's neighborhoods on the south side.

South side Chicago does not look like Flint. The streets are tree-lined, the worst buildings are boarded up, the houses are solid and most of them are brick bungalows. Many tens of thousands of people live there. The worst neighborhoods, like Englewood, are still kept up, and they're bracketed by middle-class neighborhoods like Chatham --- you might not feel comfortable in Chatham, especially if you're from lily-white Startuplandia, but it's a real neighborhood.

South side Chicago is bad in a lot of ways --- it's a direct result of decades of overt racial segregation, and crime is absolutely out of control --- but it isn't Flint.

A better analog would be Gary, Indiana (for people who don't know Chicagoland, Gary is a southeast suburb of Chicago).

Fair point. I've lived in Chicago for most of my life, but to be fair I only know about Flint from the articles I've read so I don't have first-hand experience to compare.

Gary definitely seems like a good comparison the more I read about Flint.

I assume you are strictly referring to within the city limits. If you include the burbs, then check out Robbins: https://goo.gl/maps/ompv1Df5aqT2

I used to live right next to Robbins. Robbins isn't the most pleasant place in Chicago, but it's nothing resembling Flint- bad either. It's more like a low-income Texas town.

(It's also microscopic).

I was born and raised in the town next to Robbins. My family still lives there. Robbins is the worst of many notorious, small, south-side suburbs (Markham, Harvey, Phoenix, etc.). It is next to an oil refinery. It has an abandoned incinerator. And plenty of other nasty corporations covering the place in pollutants. You will find plenty of burned down houses not closed off, etc. It just gets worse and worse:


Of course, as with any "no true scotsman" argument, it isn't as bad Flint in every way.

Those images don't really show 'decay' IMO. Here is a set of images that demonstrate very recent decay w/in Detroit:


Wow. You win.

Theres so much amazing history in Flint, Michigan. I lived there for ~5.5 years from 2008-2013. There's such an odd dichotomy of greatness and despair in the streets of downtown with such an eerie mystery about it.

For example https://goo.gl/maps/AviSiJQBcEH2 is the office and https://goo.gl/maps/jWHBmk51nxw is the factory for the Durant-Dort Carriage company (which would eventually evolve into General Motors). And yet, on that same block theres abandoned houses and burned down lots. I lived 1 block from there while building a hardware startup (http://lava.io). Theres a great heritage of DIY and Entrepreneurship on the streets of flint. Even today there's a pretty cool group of entrepreneurs working there to found companies and make big change.

I live in SF now, and it's interesting to draw parallels between SF circa today and Flint circa 1910. Once upon a time Flint was the Silicon Valley of our country, and now it's a wasteland long forgotten by the industry that built it. Definitely makes me wonder what some parts of the bay area might look like 100 years from now.

There's a spot like that near me. https://goo.gl/maps/jSVLtA5qQix is Thomas Edison's lab, now a museum and historic landmark. Right up the street on the next block is a huge fenced-off abandoned building complex. https://goo.gl/maps/gskvqGi89kz. The immediate neighborhood isn't bad, but within a few miles are the towns of East Orange and Irvington which have a lot of poverty and crime, and they are next to some of the rougher parts of Newark which are even worse.

EDIT: I noticed a "STYLECRAFT CLOTHING" sign on that abandoned building, and found this: https://books.google.com/books?id=jNwDAAAAMBAJ&lpg=PA302&ots...

It's an ad from a 1952 issue of Popular Mechanics for "Furniture Repair Kit". Neat.

Remember, we have a lot of land. What you're seeing is an area that was used in the past but not really being used right now, so it's essentially being left fallow. Those images are not evidence either for or against Flint being in crisis (which by all accounts it is). They're just proof that in most parts of the US, land is not at a premium.

Flint is more of a well known place for being an absolutely shattered industrial waste infested area, but parts of East Cleveland would make me want to live in Flint.


Just because of that one house that needs a paint job and some upkeep? Interesting that everyone appears to be able to afford satellite TV. You can surely find rougher neighborhoods than that.

That was one house out of at least 4 that are abandoned on that street alone. Just clicking around on streetview shows you some pretty dismal images in the area.

That white house with the black Jeep out front? I don't think that one is abandoned. Or at least I'd strongly suspect that there are people living there. I don't see graffiti, or broken windows, or garbage strewn everywhere. The cars in the neighborhood seem to be newer and clean. This has the beginnings of an interesting HN poll. Put up a link like like that, and ask:

"Take a look at this neighborhood, and tell us what you see"

    1.) A horrible slum that is a disgrace and
        embarrassment to the U.S.  It is an outrage that
        anyone would have to live in conditions like that
        in the third millennium.
    2.) A quaint lower-income neighborhood.
    3.) Doesn't seem that bad, not much different in 
        character from where I grew up.
    4.) Drug-dealers and prostitutes gotta live somewhere.
    5.) I see a place with home-owners and mortgage
        holders, living the American Dream.
    6.) We are doing a hell of a job as a society, if this
        is supposedly the worst of the worst.

It started as 2 and 5. Abandoned houses peppering the neighborhoods continually degrades 5. Home values have plummeted in this area.

3, 4 currently apply (I'm from the area. Many of us in NEO have a conditions like this nearby), and if the lack of upkeep continues, is headed towards 1.

6 would qualify if you're comparing it 3rd world country poverty living standards or if you really want to be optimistic.

Pretty sure this house in Detroit has you beat: https://goo.gl/maps/Z2fGbLJkiYx

I am married to a Swede, and we had our wedding on my wife's family farm. My family came out for the wedding, and both my parents and grandmother had never been outside of the country (USA) before. It was a bit awkward that most of my relatives kept remarking "it is so clean here" whenever we went to a new place. Some of my wife's family has never been to the States, and so now they think the US is just a dirty craphole because of those remarks. They're not so wrong, though. Cities in the US have a special kind of indescribable grime and smell. Of course few places are as bad as they are in Flint, but there is definitely urban decay in many places.

"Last sold in 2011 for $535.00"

I attempted to zillow that area. This is what I found:


I am from flint. In your fifth link, if you turn around and see the building with the bright blue painting, that is a medical marijuana dispensary called Michigan compassion care center or something. About 1 mile from that is Kettering university one of the top flight mechanical engineering schools in the country. Also Michigan flint, Mott community college, and baker college are all within 5 miles of each other. I lived in flint and the greater flint area for the first 22 years of my life. Such a sad, sad place. My family worked at the GM plants there now they are abandoned buildings.

Not just Mechanical Engineering. Their EE and Management programs are incredibly solid too. I graduated with a CS degree there a couple years ago too, haven't had too many issues. They also had a fair bit of R&D coming through there and a startup incubator being built when I was graduating.

It's a sad place but there's some really cool stuff going on there between the universities.

I actually worked in that building for ~1.5 years. Theres a ton of cool startup stuff happening right around there thanks to Kettering and UM-Flint. The water situation seems to have dealt a pretty big blow, but I'm sure progress is still happening. If you haven't been back, I definitely recommend grabbing a bite / drinks downtown if you're ever in the area. Saginaw street is a much different place than it was 5-6 years ago.

I went back about 2 years ago for my brother's graduation (he was ME)and it seemed revitalized. Haven't been back since. Maybe I'll swing by sometime this year.

I know poverty is on a much larger scale in Flint, but honestly those streets don't look very different to the rougher areas in most towns I've been in.

I would suggest you avoid googling romanians in Sweden then. Plus you might find down trodden areas in your country as well. About every country in the world has areas where homes stand abandoned or are in disrepair, the difference mainly being does someone need a news story.

having grown up in Youngstown Ohio I got a good first hand impression of what happens when the big jobs providers go away

I don't get it - what is so bad about that street?

> I'm at a loss for words

> To me, there's something really heartbreaking about abandoned and decaying houses.

You're at a lost for words because of some old houses?

At least there aren't gangs roaming the capital, looting, killing, and burning for days. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2328952/Sweden-riots...

I'm not saying either US or Sweden is a nightmare; just that every place has its uglier side.

If you're "out of words" for some old houses and some vegetation, you're probably missing a lot.

You are probably right. I get emotional over buildings quite often. Might be some kind of personality disorder.

Understandable. I also get emotional, though differently.

I reminisce when I see old buildings, even those in poor condition.

They make me think of the history of the place, and the connections I have to the past.

Also, I've lived in a lot of humble circumstances and have really liked the people I got to know, so I'm somewhat biased towards less modernized settings. I understand that there are a lot of problems in indigent places, and I don't want to minimize that at all, but I have fond memories.

This reminds me of Orhan Pamuk's Istanbul and the concept of hüzün. The memories of a once-great city and the collective melancholia of the people living among the ruins.

> gangs roaming the capital, looting, killing, and burning

That's quite the hyperbole compared to what actually happened.

Multiple buildings (including two schools) and hundreds of cars were burned, at least one elderly man was killed.

IDK of anything comparable in the US in this century.

It's hyperbole only in that the area affected was small compared to the rest of Sweden, in the same way that one street is small compared to the rest of the US.

Yep. I stand corrected. Those are similar and on the same scale (i.e. larger than I had remembered). Like I said, there are worst sights than an old house.

Are you implying that the Daily Mail would exagerate something involving immigrants in Sweden? That's preposterous. /s

One unique aspect of the United States is that it's a huge country, where more than half of the land is livable/arable[1]. When an area isn't working, the economic forces that would revive it out of raw necessity just don't have the force that they do in many other countries, so areas can just hollow out as people move to other cities, to the endless suburbs, and so on. These pictures are primarily just abandoned areas, which in a country of some 5 million square kilometers of arable land just isn't that odd.

[1] I'm from Canada and we often like to talk about how big this country is, but in reality most of us live huddled on the US border, and where 45%+ of the US is arable, just 7% of Canada is.

Exactly. In one sense, it's like seeing a phone "abandoned" for a newer model.

People don't live in the same place for centuries, because they don't need to.

> The sad part is, the people are still hell bent on supporting the companies that destroyed the town. Michigan in general is like this, its why they don't allow Tesla vehicle sales.

I grew up outside of Flint, and I agree. There's this weird cognitive dissonance going on there because these companies supported so many families for so long. There's a sort of one-way loyalty going on. I knew so many friends and family that worked in the auto industry for years, and were all laid off when it went downhill years back. I'm talking about lots of people with nothing more than a high school diploma (or not even) -- jobless now at 30 or 40. Yet for some reason there's still this loyalty to GM, etc... that big auto is gonna turn things around and come back to save the day.

The Midwest is full of people whose entire careers consist solely of one company. Those jobs were good ones with great benefits, so the loyalty was both ways. Turns out when they get dumped, people still remain loyal. They just don't understand that money talks, and most of it has walked overseas.

My dad was in the Ohio state employee union. I remember going to other union's rallies and protests, especially the Middletown steel lockout: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AK_Steel_Holding_Corporation#M...

I've seen a lot of good things rot and rust (I'm not even 30!), and Flint is just another of many places.

Sounds like mass Stockholm syndrome.

We should call it "Detroit delusion" or "Detroit deficiency"

Dependency, Devotion, Disorientation...

"Disorder" could work but sounds a bit too nakedly-pejorative.

> Flint is often a forgot about place in the world.

At least this Dutch boys knows about Flint through Sufjan Steven's song "Flint (For The Unemployed And Underpaid)"[1]:

    It's the same outside  
    Driving to the riverside  
    I pretend to cry  
    Even if I cried alone

    I forgot the start  
    Use my hands to use my heart  
    Even if I died alone  
    Even if I died alone

    Since the first of June  
    Lost my job  
    And lost my room  
    I pretend to try  
    Even if I tried alone

    I forgot the part  
    Use my hands to use my heart  
    Even if I died alone  
    Even if I died alone  
    Even if I died alone  
    Even if I died alone  
    Even if I died
[1]: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PAJCUGD6FtM (I rather like this fan-made video)

Flint is often a forgot about place in the world.

Not since Michael Moore immortalized it. I wouldn't be surprised if many people upvoting this story were making an association with Roger & Me.

Michael Moore is great example of Michigans backwardness. Michael Moores high school won't put him in their hall of fame. As if they have had anyone else make any sort of impact as large as his. Recently the Bruins goalie skipped a visit to the white house to meet Obama. He went to the same high school as Moore. The goalie was praised and is in the hall of fame there. It's backwards. There is a lot of unreasonable hate for Michael Moore and I don't even particularly like the guy, but I definitely respect what he has accomplished.

This isn't as surprising as you might think. Roger and Me isn't a documentary, it's an editorial. It's actually used in film classes as an example of creative editing to make a point. I'm not saying that Flint isn't bad, but Moore did pretty much everything he could to make it look as bad as possible.

The feeling of most folks from Flint I've spoken to is that Moore made a disingenuous "documentary" about Flint not to raise awareness, but to make a buck. It's understandable he's not lauded as a hero.

I also think it's unfair to characterize the reaction of some residents of Michigan to a controversial figure at best as "Michigans backwardness".

Totally agree. Michael Moore even won an oscar for documentary filmmaking, but he uses some pretty crafty and biased techniques to make his point. All documentaries tend to have the point of view of their filmmaker, but they often try to expose both sides of the coin in the process and at least present the evidence in a way the audience can judge on their own (at least the good films do this). Michael Moore is very skilled but not at documentary filmmaking. He is a master of propaganda.

I think you are confusing documentaries with "fair and balanced" news programs.

CitizenFour - did this present the NSA side of things?

An Inconvenient Truth - did this present the fossil fuel industry's viewpoint?

GasLand -- did this present the drilling industries perspective?

Documentaries are about presenting both sides. Documentaries are about presenting truth as the filmmaker sees it - usually with the intent to draw awareness and elicit change.

> but they often try to expose both sides of the coin in the process and at least present the evidence in a way the audience can judge on their own

Having seen it, and having read a lot of this stuff...I'm genuinely curious what the other side of the coin was/should have been in this film?

I grew up in the Flint area, lived and worked there for a number of years. Roger & Me is pretty much spot on.

I grew up there too, and while I agree that he is tricky with editing, on the whole I would say its as bad (or worse now) as displayed in the film.

Davison actually closed the city "hall of fame" when someone put his name in as a candidate for it.

You're right that Michael Moore is an example of Michigan's backwardness, you're just wrong about which way is forward and which way is back. Flint and Moore represent each other quite well, add Pontiac, Saginaw and Detroit to the List

Really? I was just thinking the other day that I hear about Flint, Michigan all the time. Relatively speaking at least. It's not even in the top 300 for city size yet I hear about it relatively often. Certainly more than Las Cruces, New Mexico.


It's frequently referred to as an example of a wasteland, but not referred to as a place of possibility.

I swear there's something in the water in Flint.


> I swear there's something in the water in Flint.

Lead apparently.

I grew up there too, on the east side. It was interesting if nothing else, but I was pretty happy to leave the minute I turned 18. I think 90% of the people I knew growing up have left.

You're right about the infrastructure, they even have an airport. Somehow I doubt it will come back. At least occasionally people talk about Detroit revitalization, but you never hear that for Flint.

This lead in the water thing is shameful and makes me very sad and angry.

Also grew up there and live just outside of it. My favorite Flint River joke I heard when I was young, was that you didn't need to wade across it, you walked across the dead bodies.

Dark, but when you're a kid, funny enough.

I'm from Michigan. The unhealthy adherence to the golden days of yore is one of the reasons I left.

I won't waste time and energy trying to help people who really, really don't want the kind of help that might actually accomplish something.

West Virginia is like that too with the mining companies.

The one thing I don't see is the lead levels of the water supply. Doesn't the EPA have limits on that and isn't it an easy thing to test?

It is true that different water supplies will have different levels of contaminants (lead, arsenic, etc) but can all be within EPA limits. Switching to a water supply with a higher level of contamination will increase exposure. The medical study seems to look at the percentage of children below 5g/dL before and after the switch. It goes from 2% to 4%. So with the old water supply, a certain percentage of children were already being exposed to elevated levels of lead. Switching to a water source with higher lead levels will push more children who are being exposed to lead through other sources to above the 5g/dL mark. However, this would seem to indicate that the primary source of lead for these children above 5g/dL is something other than the water.

Hmm...reading further the problem doesn't seem to be one handled well by EPA standards. The new water supply is more corrosive than the old water supply, so in poorer neighborhoods with lead piping, more lead (sometimes significantly) is being leeched from the pipes than before.

Why are they using lead pipes? I understand that they may have a legacy system put in place before the dangers of lead were fully understood, but when your water distribution system is literally made of poison, I don't understand how replacing it could be back-burnered.

In theory, you are right. In practice, replacement of legacy lead pipes is more complex.

Briefly: replacing only some of the pipes can cause lead levels to increase due to (1) disturbance of nearby lead pipes during replacement; (2) ongoing galvanic effects near the replacement; (3) interfaces between the utility's new lead-free lines and a customer's old lead lines, if the customer does not choose to replace at the same time the utility does.

Point (3) is especially troublesome. Even if the utility replaces all its lead pipes, things could get much worse for customers that don't follow suit right away.

For (much) more: http://investigativereportingworkshop.org/investigations/tox...

All these issues are just about pipe replacement, as distinct from higher lead levels due to pH changes or use of chloramines rather than chlorine (which was a surprise, see http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1817707/).

Thanks, this was really informative. Makes me glad I live in California.

That's how America works unfortunately.

The State DEQ applied the wrong federal standards: http://www.mlive.com/news/flint/index.ssf/2015/10/top_state_...

But why aren't the EPA / Water companies testing what comes out of the pipes?

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality instructed Flint residents to flush their tap for 2 minutes before sampling the water which under-represented the amount of lead in the water. The EPA doesn't explicitly forbid flushing but doesn't recommend it.


My understanding is that it's not the lead level in the water that's the problem, it's the increased corrosivity of the water coming from the river, which is leaching lead from the pipes. Most homes in Flint still have lead pipes connecting them to city water mains.

(sorry, 5ug/dL, the study listed it as 5g/dL in a few places)

So Flint has failed to govern itself - hardly the first time - and now children are poisoned. The city apparently now expects the rest of the country to pick up the tab for the cleanup of their mess.

At some point it should become necessary to recognize and acknowledge that self-government has failed and must end. I'd suggest some form of a city death penalty - declare the city dead and give the locals a one-time offer of relocation assistance to an approved list of better places. The city government, and anyone who remains, are officially on their own.

We've known Flint (and many similar cities) are doomed for decades. Why do we keep them alive as zombies rather than just help the humans and let the municipalities die?

The country will pick up the tab for Flint, because that is how the country works. The expectation that Michigan and then the federal government will provide assistance isn't something Flint invented: it's part of the deal.

Not enough money flows to places like Flint. Michigan just barely ekes out a return on dollars remitted to the IRS; they're in the bottom quartile of benecifiaries. Meanwhile, for every $1 a Floridian pays in taxes, they receive $4.50.

The historical reason Michigan is such a low drag on the USG has a lot to do with the businesses Flint enabled.

This is such a straightforward point to make, and so easily Googlable, that I feel like you have to have known it already. Some of your acerbic comments are interesting because they bring a perspective to these discussions that I (for one) wouldn't think to consider. This was not one of those comments.

Reread what I wrote. I didn't suggest we shouldn't help the humans in Flint. I suggested we should do so in a way that solves the problem for the humans once and for all.

The comparison to Florida is silly. Florida gets a lot of money that a) is for the national good (naval bases) and b) follows humans around (SS/medicare). The fact that humans work in NY and retire to Florida doesn't mean that we somehow owe Flint an infinite stream of subsidies.

I do oppose the variety of unfair subsidies that Florida does get, e.g. bailouts after hurricanes predictably destroy cheaply made houses.

No, once again, Florida's figure does not come from military spending.

I don't know where you are getting the data. Google suggests to me that Florida gets $2.02 per dollar invested.


In any case, the specific source of federal largess to Florida is not relevant to my main point. Namely, help the humans rather than the municipality.

In much the same way, if it were a for-profit corporation that was failing horribly, I'd suggest giving the former human workers limited assistance designed to get them back into the workforce and letting the corporation die. That would be true even if other corporations get corporate welfare (which I also oppose).

Since you seem to favor the municipality over the humans, one might ask why?

To avoid status quo bias, lets ask why we shouldn't shift other programs to favor municipalities over humans, e.g. social security goes to the state where work was performed rather than the individual human who did the work?

Well, he did say "Why do we keep them alive as zombies rather than just help the humans and let the municipalities die?"

Is it reasonable to simply pick everyone up and move them? That seems at least plausible, though I'd expect the cost to still fall on the Federal government.

Yeah, we should build some naval bases in Flint, MI to even things out.

The $1/$4.50 figure isn't due to military spending, for what it's worth.

Being pretty close to $1/$1 seems about the right, though. If a city can't support itself, it can't support itself, right? Why should it be subsidized?

Same goes for Florida, for whatever it's worth.

Because that's how the state/federal financial model works. Some states are a burden (usually poor conservative states), some states pay for more themselves (New York, California, to name the biggest).

"From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs." as it were.

> Some states are a burden (usually poor conservative states)

Yeah, I'm not sure the math is simple enough to say that definitively. People from those states are disproportionately represented in the military, for example, and there's no way to add "deaths in overseas wars" to help balance the books.

There's also a tendency to count infrastructure projects for states as being for those states. But good highways through the Midwest, for example, are also used for shipping goods coast-to-coast. The locals in Podunk, WY certainly wouldn't choose a superhighway as their first infrastructure project if they were handed 10 million dollars.

> Yeah, I'm not sure the math is simple enough to say that definitively.

Its pretty well studied:



> People from those states are disproportionately represented in the military, for example, and there's no way to add "deaths in overseas wars" to help balance the books.

Who weren't drafted, and voluntarily went.

> There's also a tendency to count infrastructure projects for states as being for those states. But good highways through the Midwest, for example, are also used for shipping goods coast-to-coast. The locals in Podunk, WY certainly wouldn't choose a superhighway as their first infrastructure project if they were handed 10 million dollars.

Goods can be delivered to New York and California far more efficiently by water than over the continental US. Flyover country influence continues to wane as citizens continue to migrate to major urban cores.

Don't forget that it was a State-appointed emergency manager that made the water source switch (from Detroit's supply to the Flint River), and the State DEQ that didn't enforce the correct Federal EPA guidelines for water corrosiveness. It's true that Flint has been mismanaged at the local level, but the State has fouled things up pretty well too.


[edit to add link]

> So Flint has failed to govern itself - hardly the first time - and now children are poisoned.

To be fair, The State of Michigan took complete control of Flint (through the "Emergency Manager" law). The State of Michigan made the decision to poison Flint's water, not Flint itself.

The infrastructure for solid factory work is all still there. They just need a collection of companies from another industry to capitalize on the manufacturing assets there.

What makes this area so good for manufacturing? (I've never been and I'm curious)

There's no environmental protections or regulations of any meaningful kind, property is almost free, and there's a significant labor force of people willing to work for minimum wages.

It's not great for manufacturing. But it's not the worst place to do so.

It's false that Michigan lacks environmental protections. It isn't as strict as California, but the question of where to house factories isn't between California and Michigan; it's between places like Michigan and places like Vietnam and Thailand.

There is a lowest common denominator of environmental protection in the US that is higher than most of the other places manufacturers would consider new plants.

>There's no environmental protections or regulations of any meaningful kind,

So it's either "have no money and get poisoned by lead in the water pipes" or "have money and get poisoned by the pollution of the factories?"

I agree completely. I don't defend it in any way -- it's terrible.

But that's what most people mean/imply when they say Flint is "set up for manufacturing".

I didn't mean to imply you defended it. Sorry that I wasn't clear enough.

Curious, what are things you think are good for manufacturing? As proximity to the cheapest mode of transporting raw materials, access to raw materials and sources of energy don't seem to be on your list.

Historically, some of the big reasons were access to coal and iron mining (for steel making) and access to the Great Lakes for shipping heavy goods and materials.

As I understand it those industries are drying up pretty badly. (I live in Wisconsin so I hear stuff about Michigan pretty regularly)

Is there any other conclusion to these areas where ignorance is a badge of honor? Once you cross that line where you start rewarding people for standing up to "the man" no matter how reasonable and logical said man's actions are, you're already locked into the road to ruin. I don't see how you recover from it.

What are some of the other doomed cities you're talking about? And with what metrics?

I don't disagree with you that there are troubled towns and cities but it seems really difficult to decide when it's beyond salvage or even what that means.

This was done because of the Republican willingness to let this happen. The children are the victims. Gov. Snyder (R) let this continue because Flint is Democratic.

Even now the state is only offering:

"has also offered more than $10 million in financial assistance to pay for a temporary switch into the Detroit system while the connection to Lake Huron is being prepared."


1. Why did the state even let this happen?

2. Why is the state only offering "financial aid" when it be paying for the switch - since the state failed Flint when it permitted the use of Flint River water in the first place?

3. Why did the citizens have to protest at all? Why wasn't the state proactively step in?

4. Why isn't the state providing emergency water supplies immediately?

These are Republican "values" at work.

"The City of Flint will also continually test the water being provided to residents."


Multiple state and local departments approved of the quality. You might as well ask: why did Democrats and Obama let this happen?

No. Obama is not responsible for every bad thing that happens.

I would rather ask why right-to-lifers let this happen.

> Through continued demonstrations by Flint residents and mounting scientific evidence of the water’s toxins, city and state officials offered various solutions — from asking residents to boil their water to providing them with water filters — in an attempt to work around the need to reconnect to the Detroit system.

Can you boil lead out of water, or does it just become more concentrated?

Distillation would essentially be doing the reverse, "boiling the water out of the lead", and that would work. But no amount of boiling in a open pot is going to remove lead from your water.

It's hard to tell from the article, but the reference to boiling water might have been in response to the other issue mentioned, trihalomethanes in the water. As dissolved gases, boiling should help drive them out.

(side note: a trihalomethane is more commonly referred to as a haloform, which is the family chloroform comes from)

Yup. Distillation should remove any heavy metal elements. It's not ideal to consume long term, as it removes most useful minerals and results in a hydrogen-heavy/acidic water, but it's certainly far better than consuming lead.

When you say that boiling results in acidic water, are you referring to the fact that pH-neutral water would be slightly more acidic than your (slightly basic) blood, or is this about dissolved CO2 or something else entirely?

It's due to absorbing C02 from the air whilst in gaseous form, which is then subsequently absorbed into the blood stream after consumption.

> hydrogen-heavy/acidic water, but it's certainly far better than consuming lead.

Yeah, but why would a water with slightly acidic pH be a major problem for health anyway? Numerous mineral waters sold on the market at not at pH 7 in the first place.

Tooth Decay

Well, at least we have solutions to that, unlike young-child lead poisoning.

Dimercaptosuccinic acid is a chelation agent that has been recommended for lead poisoning in children. The side effects seem less severe than most of the effects of lead poisoning.

Definitely would prefer the tooth decay if we have to pick.

@shabda Hydrogen heavy water means acidic water with high amounts of dissolved H+.

Can you explain what hydrogen-heavy means?

The ratio of hydrogen to hydroxide is higher than it normally is. Water naturally dissociates into hydrogen and hydroxide ever so slightly in equal amounts under neutral conditions.

The auto-dissociation constant Kw is 10^-14 mol^2 L^-2.

That means that concentration of hydronium [H3O+] ion multiplied by the concentration of hydroxide [OH-] ion is equal to the constant. In pure water, there are no other ions to change the balance, so you get 2 H2O <-> H3O+ + OH-, and each concentration is the square root of the dissociation constant.

So 10^-7 mol/L H3O+ and 10^-7 mol/L OH-. The abbreviation "pH" stands for "power hydrogen", and is the negative log10 of the H3O+ concentration. 10^-7 mol/L H3O+ is pH 7, which is neutral. There is also a lesser-known term pOH, which is pretty much pOH + pH = 14 under normal conditions.

But that water doesn't stay perfectly neutral for long. CO2 from the atmosphere dissolves into it, using

  CO2(g) <-> CO2(aq)                           K_CO2 = 2.0e-3, P_CO2 = 3.6e-4
  CO2(aq) + H2O(l) <-> H2CO3(aq)               K     = 1.3e-3
  H2CO3(aq) + H2O(l) <-> H3O+(aq) + HCO3-(aq)  Ka1   = 2.0e-4
  HCO3-(aq) + H2O(l) <-> H3O+(aq) + CO3--(aq)  Ka2   = 4.7e-11
Solving the equilibrium gives you a pH of 5.65 (10^-5.65 mol/L H3O+).

Some natural groundwater contains other dissolved minerals, including carbonates (limestone is CaCO3), which pushes the CO2 equilibrium in the other direction, making water more basic (higher pH).

No, according to the CDC:

> Heating or boiling your water will not remove lead. Because some of the water evaporates during the boiling process, the lead concentration of the water can actually increase slightly as the water is boiled.


It depends on the lead salt type, but you could usually precipitate the soluble lead into an insoluble salt with simple ingredients available at home - then, you could remove the formed salt with a proper filter to remove most of the lead.


Solid guide, but having to purify the water coming out of your tap defeats much of the purpose of having a city water supply.

I agree, but it's usually less expensive than buying bottled water.

You can't boil lead out of water, in the same way that you can't boil salt out of water. Metal extraction is a pretty hard problem.

It seems that you can reduce the levels of the aforementioned trihalomethane compounds by boiling though.



Iron overdose is pretty dangerous, especially for children.


Here's what WHO say:

> Several chelating agents are effective in lead excretion, but the chelator of choice depends on the blood lead concentration, the patient’s symptoms and the environmental lead burden. Symptomatic patients should be hospitalized and chelation therapy with Edetate Calcium Disodium (CaNa2EDTA). CaNa2EDTA is an intravenous formulation that has been shown to be effective with British AntiLewisite (BAL, Dimercaprol) for removal of lead in patients with encephalopathy. Edetate calcium disodium, used alone, may aggravate symptoms in patients with very high blood lead levels. When clinical symptoms consistent with lead poisoning or when blood lead levels are greater than 70 micrograms/deciliter, it is recommended that edetate calcium disodium be used in conjunction with dimercaprol.24 British-Anti-Lewisite (BAL) or dimercaprol is a small molecule drug which will cross into cells and may prevent the worsening of clinical and biochemical status on the first day of EDTA therapy.25 Oral chelating agents are available for treatment of lead poisoned patients who have elevated blood lead concentrations and asymptomatic. In the Unites States, 2,3 Dimercaptosuccinic Acid (DMSA, Succimer) is the drug most commonly used. Other oral agents that may be used are DMPS (Unithiol) and penicillamine.

Here's what CDC say about the pharmacology of chelating agents:


Off-topic, but what's the point of the "this is not medical advice" disclaimer? Your post is, patently obviously, medical advice.

It's a reminder to double-check with your doctor before taking the advice of a stranger on the internet.

> Your post is, patently obviously, medical advice.

Or it is the provision of basic information to avoid "not knowing about what you don't know". Knowing that this option might exist, you can ask medical professionals about it.

I just took a look at the Map of Michigan. I realized after zooming into Flint to try to understand where the water was coming from that Michigan has many, many bodies of water scattered all around the place. Plus they are right next to the world's biggest lakes.

And yet they never took care of their water supply? The one state with so much fresh water has little regulation on keeping water protected.

I keep wondering why its been prophecied that the world in the end will wage war over water, not oil. And now I am beginning to understand.

The water sources themselves are ok. (They could be much cleaner of course.) It's the aging and decaying infrastructure that brings the water from the source to a Flint homeowner's sink that is causing the issue. Lead is not in the source water; it's in the pipes, solder joints, fixtures, etc. When the State switched Flint over from Detroit's Lake Huron source to the Flint River, the water chemistry change was not correctly accounted for, and thus caused excessive amounts of lead to leach into the water on its way through the system.

The reason it's been prophesied that the world in the end will wage war over water, not oil, is because most places in the world aren't surrounded by gigantic lakes of fresh water... not because Flint, MI has lead in their water supply.

They are constructing a supply that will tap Lake Huron.

Lakes Superior, Michigan and Huron are not especially polluted. The little inland lakes vary, but they end up having a lot of trouble with residential inputs (fertilizer runoff and (historically) sewage).

They already had a supply from Huron before. They disconnected from it about a year ago. Now they are hooked back up to Huron but much of the damage has already been done.

They switched away from and back to Detroit as a water supplier. The switch to drawing water from Huron is in progress:


Clean water is bad for business.

You've been posting unsubstantive and inflammatory comments to HN. That breaks the site guidelines, so please don't do that.



What institutional failure led to this? It seems like this has been a long time coming. Why has the leadership of the area allowed this to happen?

Flint's basically bankrupt and the state wants to delay the inevitable, so they installed an "emergency manager" with all the powers of mayor+city council (but accountable only to the governor). The emergency manager wanted to save money by using a local source of water instead of paying Detroit for water. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality basically knew that the water was so acidic that it would eat through the biofilm on the pipes and start leeching lead (and discussed as much in emails), and gave incorrect advice on measurements to the city to try and hide the problem.




I can't tell you the exact reasons, but I would suspect it all comes down to money. I grew up just outside of Flint, went to school in the city, and worked there for a few years. There were winters where the city couldn't afford to plow the roads. They had to lay off most of the firefighters 5 or so years ago, along with much of their police force. It is a struggling area, maybe not quite as much as Detroit, but close to it.

Decades of decay of American industrial towns is the standard... Flint seems to have gotten unlucky with a double whammy from pollution.

This isn't the first time they've had water problems. My grandmother's been boiling water there for years because of previous problems.

The fact that this kind of isse will generate publicity after just a year, and that citizens will actually care enough to fight for their rights, and that mayor will feel fallout because of that — it makes me feel so jealous of US.

Americans that cry about how the system "doesn't work" really don't have a clue about how this would turn out in other countries.

If the system truly worked, there would be no children with lead poisoning in the first place. That there are places on earth where things are worse doesn't change that.

I think that we can agree that the extent to which the system "works" is not a boolean value.

If you are interested in a detailed breakdown of everything that's been happening over the past year or so, I would suggest reading Michigan Radio's excellent coverage: http://michiganradio.org/term/flint-water

Full disclosure: my wife works as a reporter Michigan Radio, but generally doesn't cover Flint.

I've been trying to understand what the heck happened, since pH management has been standard part of water treatment forever. I mean did they not bother to consult with any water supply engineers first?

It all looks like a game between Emergency Managers appointed by the governor to see who can save the most money fastest.


Someday Silicon Valley may be left in the same disarray and disrepair. Jobs can be outsourced and bright people lured away to work on new things.

Tech is somewhat harder to automate than manufacturing, at least.

Silicon Valley also has a bunch of top-shelf universities nearby, which are a massive boost to local economies. The University of Michigan similarly boosts Ann Arbor's economy.

At least SV is (mostly) taking care of their toxic waste problem.

This story has been building up and up for a while now, Michigan Radio has several stories/reports/etc.


Was looking at a map of Flint and noticed that the City of Flint Water Plant is right next to three metal scrap yards.


It's more that Flint is an industrial town and Dow has been polluting the river for 120 years.

It's also not direct pollution per se, it's that the river is so polluted that it's crazy acidic and it's corroding lead out of the pipes. A compounding factor is that it's got all kinds of funky bacteria stuff going on, which can also accelerate the corrosion process.

What led to this particular situation was apparently rate hikes in the Detroit water system, which caused Flint to switch to using the Flint river as their water source last year. Beyond that, water systems all over the country are in bad shape. Because water rates are subject to public control, they are far too low and there is a huge under-investment in water systems:http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/a/#p/drinking-water/...

Subtly attempts to frame the issue as public controlled water.

A counterpoint might be that the companies with a vested interest in privitising water supplies have lobbied to choke out the public systems of funding.

Perhaps instead of cutting deplorable tax breaks for big business, it would be more prudent to augment the public funds to prevent your citizens from getting lead poisoning?


"it would be more prudent to augment the public funds to prevent your citizens from getting lead poisoning?"

In the context of Flint, this argument ends up a bit moot; there's no money, anywhere. Private, public, doesn't matter, the city can't sustain itself as it is. Flint has way more infrastructure than it can support. And "evaporative cooling" is in full effect; anyone who can leave, is leaving or more likely has left. As I live in the Ann Arbor area, I can name names. Flint is a popular place to be from.

A State of Emergency and the resulting external emergency assistance is the only way out of this mess for Flint, regardless. This is especially important if the recent theories about how dangerous lead poisoning is are true, with the suggestions that the majority of the cause of the crime wave in the 60s and 70s may have been due to leaded gasoline. Leading up the next generation of Flint residents could make things even harder for the city for the next 30-50 years, and Flint really doesn't need that.

What big businesses are you talking about? Water in almost every U.S. city is provided by a municipal utility. E.g. in Flint, it's the Utilities Department: https://www.cityofflint.com/public-works/water-service-cente.... Water rates are set by the city, and are just too low to cover modernization of the systems. Both the ASCE and the EPA have reported that investment in water systems is a fraction of what is required: http://geospatial.blogs.com/geospatial/2011/12/asce-report-o....

Here's a big water utility company: http://www.amwater.com/about-us/our-states.html

It's pretty common for water supply to be treated as a utility, with municipal monopolies provided - like cable or electricity.

Only 15% of water utilities are private companies: http://www.waterencyclopedia.com/Po-Re/Privatization-of-Wate.... And even, it's usually an arrangement where the city contracts with a private company to operate its water system. The companies don't own the system and prices are set by the municipalities.

I think they are referring to the big businesses that are either consuming the water supply or polluting the water supply.

Do you even know if "big businesses" are even a major consumer of water in Flint? In a city (as opposed to an agricultural area), residential users are probably the primary water users. In any case, even if that were true, how is that relevant to the city charging too low a price for water to be able to replace aging lead pipes?

It comes down to what you think of as a "consumer" of the water. Clearly, someone was using the water to dispose of these contaminants. I admit, it's not as clear-cut as, say, the use of water by the Coca-Cola Company.

Regardless, my understanding is that Flint has no money, neither the individual constituents nor the city itself. Literally no one can pay to replace these old pipes. IMHO, the reason they switched water supplies in the first place was because they couldn't afford the rising rates from their previous water source.

In this case, the lead is in the water pipes, though. It's not the result of industry dumping waste into the river. (At least that's how I understand it.)

I agree, it sounds like the water from the river is more corrosive then their last source. The water is leaching out the lead and delivering it through the faucet. Another article suggests that the pipes will now leach lead into any water source for at least a couple of months.

Adding an anti-corrosive agent might have helped, but could introduce other issues (I don't know enough to know how much they would need to add and if it would be safe).

The funny thing is that because the Flint River water is so acidic, it's corroding the hell out of the water pipes (which is where the lead is coming from). They have done 11.5 years worth of damage in 16 months.

Assuming the article's figures of a 50 year lifespan and $1.5 billion replacement cost [1], that works out to an additional $306 million of damage from this whole fiasco.

The whole "emergency manager" thing is ridiculous and this only underscores the problem. It's absurd from both a health and a financial standpoint.


"Because water rates are subject to public control, they are far too low and there is a huge under-investment in water." One does not necessarily follow from the other as water infrastructure can be subsidized through public investment that doesn't come strictly from billing for water.

Are those the same rate hikes that triggered such a rebellion in the Detroit metropolitan area that people started filling the water shutoff valves with concrete instead of paying their water bills?

Damage from Detroit's economic implosion keeps rolling downhill.

No those are not the same rate hikes, and Flint's been rolling downhill separate from Detroit for generations now

That's really a ridiculous argument.

The lifespan of drinking water system infrastructure is anywhere from 50-100 years -- far to long to pay as you go or accumulate money to pay for repairs later. The way you fix infrastructure is with bonds, which the public owned entity has a major advantage in doing, as it has a tax base to secure the bond as well as tax exempt status.

The other infrastructure issue is that older water & sewer systems were designed for the primarily urban needs of 100 years ago. Because of the growth in suburban communities, you have a patchwork of infrastructure with varying levels of coordination between them.

Funding issues become more difficult as a service base shrinks. This particular situation is clearly a bad engineering decision exacerbated by the city being broke. If an engineer signed off on it, he should lose his PE. If some political hack signed off on it, they need to be fired or charged with negligence.

The amount of revenue coming into the water department doesn't matter for getting financing?

Not current revenue.

Bonds for something like are typically secured by revenue. When they issue a revenue bond, they need to have the ability to raise the rates to cover the bond. Current rates only matter if they are too high.

The situation in a place like Flint or Detroit is complicated by the fact that the municipality is depopulating, and they cannot afford the infrastructure built for a few million people that now serves far fewer. In any case, a private entity doesn't have a magical ability to fix this stuff. A private company would just buy the future cash flows at a discount and farm the resource for as long as possible.

> When they issue a revenue bond, they need to have the ability to raise the rates to cover the bond.

They have little practical ability to raise rates, because raising water rates is politically untenable in most places.


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