Residents of Flint, MI, at one of the many community meetings that informed the city’s new comprehensive plan. Image via Imagine Flint.
The last time Flint, Michigan approved a master plan for the city’s development, Dwight Eisenhower was president and the city’s population was nearly double what it is today. Now, for the first time in over 50 years, Flint has a comprehensive plan to guide future growth that accurately reflects the opportunities and challenges facing the city today.
The city of Flint was a 20th century boomtown, but decades of job losses, disinvestment and population decline took a hard toll on the community. Flint mayor Dayne Walling, a member of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council, knew the city needed a new comprehensive plan that would update city policies and guide future public investments in a way that acknowledged these changes.
The new plan, called Imagine Flint, was the result of over two years of public meetings and community participation involving over 5,000 residents and community stakeholders. The plan aims to direct future growth and development, create a new zoning code and act as a guide for decisions about the long-term improvement of the city. It also includes sections on economic development, educational and public facilities, and services including public safety, transportation and mobility, infrastructure, environmental issues and open space, and housing.
“The value in a comprehensive plan is that all the necessary action areas are coordinated and put into concert with each other,” said Walling. “Within this framework, each objective goes back to the guiding principles of the plan—which are all intended to help Flint enhance our economy and better adapt for the future.”
One of the action areas the plan addresses is vacant land. Imagine Flint designates various parcels of vacant city land as “green innovation zones,” which are designed to foster investment in sustainable urban agriculture.
“We began with the idea that every place in Flint is unique and important—even places that are vacant or seem underutilized,” said Megan Hunter, Flint’s Chief Planning Officer. “The green innovation zones will allow us to explore things like urban agriculture, solar installations and other agriculture-based businesses.”
New housing strategies are another key part of Imagine Flint. “Our housing plan is a pretty significant departure from Flint’s history, which was characterized by an over supply of single-family homes on small lots,” said Walling. “Imagine Flint proposes a variety of density patterns including mixed-use, walkable development along key corridors.”
Throughout the planning process, Walling always had an eye for the larger picture and the potential significance of the plan across Michigan. “For other cities or suburbs that developed rapidly during the 20th century, Imagine Flint provides lessons on how to create different types of residential environments that are more resilient and responsive to market demand.”
Imagine Flint was unanimously approved by the city council on October 28, 2013. It was funded by a $1.57 million grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and includes matching funds from the city and various local community stakeholders.