Much of my first week has been spent in meetings…with locals, with police enforcement, with artists, local business owners, politicians, activists, and committees. This project is much more prevalent on the radar than the house in Buffalo. As a result – and in the interest of exploring a method which can proliferate – I’ve been at work trying to find more legitimate ways of accessing waste material apart from the vigilante ways of the past. Mostly, I’m met with great deal of respect and enthusiasm…and then a “but it’s just too much of a liability concern.”
Especially in an economically strained city like Flint, every demolition is a missed opportunity. I was able to speak to Mayor Walling extensively about this yesterday morning. He wholeheartedly agreed and was able to put me in touch with the local Habitat for Humanity group. During my time working with Habitat in Buffalo, I noticed even they discard a lot of still usable material when doing renovations (most of their work is renovation, rather than new-build). Typically the majority of the house is gutted, leaving an excess of true 2x4’s (many of which were slow-grown to much higher qualities than today’s rapidly sprouted pine), insulation, and other materials. From my conversation with Habitat Flint it seems likely I’ll have almost free reign over materials in at least two properties they’ll be renovating in the near future.
I also have some new friends with contacts in the demo business for more pre-emptive scavenging, and have been in touch with several commercial roofing companies who throw away a lot of useful and still healthy rubber material which may be able to be repurposed for the roof at Spencer’s.
Later I met with the Carriage Town Historic Neighborhood Association - who currently holds rights to Spencer’s - to pitch the project and officially pass the 3-year lease with the Flint Public Art Project. Mostly the project was well-received – even deemed “a godsend.” The discussion got slightly heated though, when I was asked what my plans were regarding historic preservation of the building – that is, maintaining an exterior aesthetic consistent to some unspecified date in the distant past. I initially shrugged it off, failing to see why that mattered to a house which currently has a roof that is caving in, boards still over most of the windows, in a neighborhood crawling with fiends and criminal activity (and then an entire block of houses in the same condition following behind it). Apparently, the Historic District Commission is stringent on the cosmetics of buildings in any historic district (Carriage Town being one of them), and would rather let an entire block of houses rot or catch fire than let one put in his choice of window. The CTHNA was disappointingly subdued when I suggested challenging the HDC’s current requirements. With the dire situation that Flint is in, especially Grand Traverse St., one would think the system more flexible. From an architectural standpoint, the resonation of the old with new would be exciting. From a communal standpoint, it would define from the outside a rebirth of the building and a revitalized effort for creative thinking and resourcefulness: hope. I hope to be able to arrange some negotiations with the HDC, or the history they’re trying so hard to protect won’t just be the wrong color; it’ll be gone entirely.