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Committee for Geelong's Weekly Addy Opinion Piece - Innovative Cities

Innovation can be found everywhere, whether it be a new idea or device. However, innovative cities are re-inventing themselves by adapting to changing economic times and renewing their physical and cultural environments.  In Flint, Michigan, innovation is happening through the transformation of a former industrial manufacturing site into public green space, and the creation of opportunities for business.  The example set by Flint - with the community, local government, and business working together for the betterment of the city - is a precedent that should interest our community, with the obvious parallels between Flint and Geelong being former major industry.

Historically, the city of Flint grew from a fur and timber trading post on the Flint River to a mighty auto manufacturing centre, second only to Detroit in auto and parts manufacturing in the US.  Flint's population was 190,000 with 80,000 working in GM plants.  However, the economic picture from the mid-1980s was bleak with the closure of the Chevrolet Flint Motor Plant in 1984, and the subsequent demolishing of most of the site with only two buildings remaining (the site thereby known as "Chevy in the Hole"). One of the remaining buildings was donated to the nearby Kettering University and the other continues to be used by GM as Flint Tool and Die, employing about 250 workers.  Today, Flint's population has decreased to about 100,000.

However, the revival of Flint is not just another distressed auto city story.  The main driver of the transformation of the former GM site and of Flint's revival was City Hall, which formed a partnership with a local bank, the Genesee County Land Bank, and the people of Flint themselves. One of the first steps was a concept plan developed by students at the University of Michigan, together with the Bank and the Genesee Land Institute, "Re-Imagining Chevy in the Hole".  The plan envisaged two scenarios for the site - "Flint's Urban Riverfront", which saw steady growth and new mixed use development as well as increased institutional and industrial uses; and "Flint's Riverside State Park" which saw no immediate growth, and suggested that development pressures were greatest for improved residential options.

Overwhelmingly, the people of Flint supported recommendations to transform the site into one which contained community open space and would become an asset for economic development. Future uses were seen to include public institutions, offices and light manufacturing. In 2013, the City of Flint Master Plan was adopted and work began on remediation and site clearing. Critically, the plan supported transforming the site into an urban riverside park which provides employment as well as rate revenue for the City.

Flint has become a role model for other cities suffering economic downturn and facing a change from a blue-collar company town to one with a diverse economic base.  As Geelong continues on its own journey of transformation, it is important that our city draws inspiration from other places and implements similar successful initiatives for our own city.

Rebecca Casson is the Committee for Geelong Chief Executive Officer. Follow the Committee for Geelong on Twitter @Comm4Geelong.



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