Definitely a first. I’ve never had a song sung for me before! The kids at Williams Elementary in Flint, Mich., almost brought tears to my eyes belting out the words to this song and swaying through a series of accompanying bicycling motions. Not only that, but there were signs welcoming “Andy Clarke” and the Farm Bureau sponsors to school to mark May 3, “All Children Exercising Simultaneously” day. I was even made an honorary Williams Wildcat.The kids had a great time walking and running around a short “track” enough times to clock up a mile, and were wonderful hosts. I was in Flint for several days of workshops, presentations and meetings designed to help the home of GM become a more bicycle-friendly community – and ensuring there are Safe Routes to School is one key strategy.
Ironically, Flint’s fall from its heyday could yet be its salvation. Flint was a booming city of more than 200,000 when Buick City and Chevy in the Hole were churning out cars hourly by the train-load in the 1970s and 80s. Now the city is barely half that size and there are conspicuous gaps on most city blocks where buildings have been razed rather than remain as eyesores, drug havens or fire hazards. One small bright spot is that the streets are anything but congested!
Additionally, the city has some terrific higher education institutions that once served the car industry and an incredible enthusiasm for recovery led by various Mott family foundations and community activists who help make up the Safe and Active Flint coalition (and many other groups beside). Indeed, the city is rediscovering itself as a college town and planning to use extra street capacity to crate two-way streets and gateway boulevards – hopefully all including bike lanes, sidewalks and street trees.
The one big worry has to be the disconcerting absence of the city – staff, elected officials, anyone – from any of the meetings of which I was a part. I did a one-hour briefing and half-day workshop, attended a regional trails committee meeting, participated in a Community Dialog session, and met with the local Health Coalition without once seeing anyone from the city participate. I’ve never had that happen before.
And frankly, the wonderful kids at Williams Elementary deserve better than that from their city administration if they are to have a real future in this proud city.