Discovery PLACE is open to serving schools and teachers in the region and across the Saginaw Bay Watershed. Our primary focus are those communities nearest to us in Genesee, Lapeer, and Shiawassee counties, and in urban communities.
Genesee County measures approximately 650 square miles in area, mostly land and a small amount water. Genesee County is a transportation hub with its numerous major highways (I-75, I-475, I-69, US-23, M-15, M-57, M-13, M-21, M-121, and M-54) and railways (Central Michigan, Grand Trunk Western, and Chesapeake & Ohio).
The City of Flint, the county seat of Genesee County, is 66 miles northwest of Detroit and 60 miles south of Lake Huron’s Saginaw Bay. The 142-mile long Flint River flows through the city, and with its tributaries, drains about 1,332 square miles of land. The Flint River is a principal tributary of the Saginaw Bay Watershed.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Genesee County had a population of 408,615 in 2016 with about 75% white people and 25% of people of color.
Flint, Michigan is a resilient city. Often characterized by its automotive past, Flint is working to re-establish itself since the decline of its manufacturing industry and the impacts of its loss. Losing this primary business in the city led to major population loss by 43% between 1970 and 2000, which was additionally exaggerated by economic decline, negative job growth, and the recession, so now the current population is only about 100,000 residents. In 2011, 40.6 % of residents were identified as living below the federal poverty level and 60% of Flint residents were people of color (Houseal Lavigne Associates, 2013). Almost a quarter (22%) of the city’s residential property lots are vacant and another 14.4% are in poor or substandard condition. However, these challenges have also given birth to many efforts to help restore the city to its previous glory. Strong grassroots and local movements as well as organization-level partnerships and collaborations support community building and revitalization efforts. The city still has strong neighborhoods with engaged residents, a growing downtown, and historic and cultural amenities. Moreover, in 2013, the City of Flint completed and adopted the first update to its Comprehensive Master Plan since 1977. This plan outlines goals to help steer Flint in ways to improve many parts of its community, such an economics, education, public safety, transportation, housing, infrastructure, and so on. Over 5000 residents and partners contributed to the plan which provides a holistic vision and path forward for the City. (Houseal Lavigne Associates, 2013)
Recent regional growth throughout much of Genesee County has been characterized by rapid land development, which unfortunately caused a decrease in productive farmland and valuable habitats, outdoor safe spaces, and continued negative impacts on water supplies, fish habitats, and wetlands. With this increased development, it is expected that the character of the region will be changed, the unique identity of neighborhoods and towns diminished, and urban centers degraded.
However, through the use of the many outdoor spaces and resources, including over 1,800 acres of public land including 60 parks in Flint, Discovering PLACE works to weave together community assets to provide for many outdoor educational opportunities. The Flint River also presents many educational experiences as its character changes from its headwaters to the downstream area. With trees, waterways, green spaces, and built environment, Flint presents many prospects to study urban ecology. There is also potential in Flint’s abandoned properties as many are being reclaimed as community parks and gardens largely due to efforts of the Genesee County Land Bank. With Place-Based Education, Flint will be challenged to re-envision possibilities for a healthy environment.