Peering through a chain-link fence at the former location of General Motors’ Buick City, once a massive complex of factories that employed upwards of 28,000 people. All that remains now is a vast expanse of weedy concrete and the ghostly outline of the buildings that once stood here. A variety of hazardous chemicals including PFAS have been found in soil and groundwater at the site, which ranks among the largest brownfields in the United States. Visible in the background is the water tower at the Flint Water Treatment Plant, from which water from the nearby Flint River was dispensed to Flint residents from April 2014 to October 2015. Improper treatment procedures exacerbated the natural corrosivity of the water, resulting in severe damage to Flint’s infrastructure and a public health crisis. Many residents were wary of the river water from the beginning, conscious of the river’s history as a kind of toxic thoroughfare channeling the byproducts of 150 years’ worth of industrial activity along its banks. Just as that toxic history looms large within popular understandings of Flint’s water crisis, the experience of the crisis now colors popular perceptions of the Buick City site in turn. On one hand, the site has been implicated in the recovery effort, held up as a possible source of revival and opportunity, with major corporate suitors eyeing the site and promising jobs; on the other hand, it exemplifies the difficulty and expense of environmental remediation, as prospects of redevelopment have been complicated by new revelations about the extent of chemical contamination at the site as well as proposals for potentially additional extractive industries. For the most part, residents themselves have been on the outside looking in, as the land is owned and managed by the Revitalizing Auto Communities Environmental Response (RACER) Trust, created during GM’s bankruptcy to take charge of the corporation’s bad assets. Recently, RACER has begun offering tours of the site and holding informational meetings, but the extent of its commitment to engaging the community in its planning remains in question, to the frustration of neighbors and other concerned residents who feel a connection to the site.
Ben Pauli, "Flint's Buick City: One of America's Largest Brownfields", contributed by Ben Pauli, Center for Ethnography, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 29 February 2020, accessed 18 August 2022. https://centerforethnography.org/content/flints-buick-city-one-americas-largest-brownfields