Most of the cuts would come from tailpipe emissions, but the UCS says other improvements can be made in engine design as well.(Photo by Mark Brush)
A federal judge has ruled in favor of a state law aimed at cutting greenhouse gases from
cars and light trucks. Mark Brush has more:
A federal judge has ruled in favor of a state law aimed at cutting greenhouse gases from
cars and light trucks. Mark Brush has more:
Like 11 other state laws – the Vermont law calls for a 30% cut in heat-trapping gas
emissions by 2016. Automakers sued Vermont saying these kinds of regulations would
hurt the industry and can not be made by individual states. A federal judge disagreed.
Michelle Robinson is with the Union of Concerned Scientists. She says the judge heard
from the group’s engineers. They designed a minivan that would meet these new
standards with technology that exists today:
“There’s no need to change the look of the vehicle or the performance of the vehicle in
any way. So you could maintain the levels of safety and performance that drivers expect
while improving the pollution performance of the vehicle.”
Aside from a likely appeal from the auto industry, the states are also waiting on the
Environmental Protection Agency. They have to get a waiver from the EPA before they
can enforce their laws.
This week, the North American International Auto Show in Detroit opens to the public. Every year, the event is a showcase for the newest trends for tomorrow’s cars and trucks, and this year, the big trend is fuel-efficient vehicles. Cleaner cars have been promised before, but Dustin Dwyer reports that this year’s green car concepts could be more than just an attempt to polish up a dirty image for the auto industry:
This week, the North American International Auto Show in Detroit opens to the public.
Every year, the event is a showcase for the newest trends for tomorrow’s cars and trucks,
and this year, the big trend is fuel-efficient vehicles. Cleaner cars have been promised
before, but Dustin Dwyer reports that this year’s green car concepts could be more than
just an attempt to polish up a dirty image for the auto industry:
The press previews for this year’s Detroit auto show were made up of three straight days
of back-to-back new product launches. Dozens of new vehicles were unveiled. Hundreds
of glossy brochures were offered to reporters, and nothing generated as much interest as
the new Chevrolet Volt concept vehicle:
(Sound of buzzing)
A packed crowd gathered for the flashy and noisy unveiling. GM executives announced
that the concept car could run up to 40 miles without using a single drop of fuel. It runs
instead on electricity cranked out by its next-generation lithium-ion batteries. When the
liquid fuel system eventually does kick in, it recharges the battery for better fuel
economy, getting up to 150 miles per gallon.
And as GM CEO Rick Wagoner told the audience, the Chevy Volt represents a new way
of thinking for the world’s largest automaker. It comes from a realization that oil alone is
highly unlikely to supply enough energy for all of tomorrow’s vehicles:
“For the global auto industry, this means that we must as a business necessity, develop
alternative sources of propulsion based on alternative sources of energy in order to meet the
world’s growing demand for our products.”
GM wasn’t the only automaker to unveil a fuel conscious vehicle at this year’s auto show.
Ford’s Airstream concept, and Toyota’s FT-HS sports car concept both featured hybrid
style powertrain systems, backed by a lithium-ion battery.
It might not be all that surprising for automakers to release such vehicles after a year in
which gas prices surged beyond three dollars a gallon, but analyst Jim Hall of Auto
Pacific says gas prices aren’t the reason for automakers to get into low or no emission
“You do it for two reasons, one, the potential of getting out of the business of making a
mechanical engine that has to be machined and made of multiple pieces and assembled,
and the other part of it is, you never have to spend another penny on emissions controls,
and emissions research, and emissions development and emissions engineering, which, at
every major car company is billions of dollars.”
So, basically, greener technology will eventually be cheaper technology. That means that
for perhaps the first time in the history of the auto industry, the interests of
environmentalists and the interest of business-minded bean counters are finally in line.
The big question now is how to get to that greener future. The concepts at this year’s
Detroit auto show all point to lithium-ion batteries as the next frontier. These batteries
are more powerful, and potentially cheaper than the batteries in today’s hybrids, but
they’re also less stable, and don’t last as long.
GM executives say they think they can resolve those issues and have a lithium-ion
powered vehicle by the end of the decade, but Jim Hall says no way:
“I worked on an electric vehicle program when I was employed in the auto industry
directly, and I learned that there are three kinds of liars in the world. There are liars,
damn liars and battery engineers.”
Of course, not everyone agrees with Hall’s assessment. Some lithium-ion proponents
even argue that the technology could be ready to go right now. Ford, General Motors and
the Chrysler Group have asked the federal government for more funding to speed-
development of lithium-ion batteries.
They say the Japanese government is giving its car companies several hundred million
dollars for battery development, and they want a comparable effort from the US
government. But even if Detroit automakers don’t get the money, almost everyone agrees
that big changes are coming for the auto industry, and that decades-long battle between
the good of the environment and the good of carmakers could be coming to a close.
Today’s cars and trucks are the heaviest, fastest and most powerful vehicles on the road in a generation, but according to a new report from the Environmental Protection Agency, these vehicles have stalled when it comes to fuel economy. The GLRC’s Dustin Dwyer has the story:
Today’s cars and trucks are the heaviest, fastest and most powerful vehicles on the road in
a generation, but according to a new report from the Environmental Protection Agency,
these vehicles have stalled when it comes to fuel economy. The GLRC’s Dustin Dwyer
has the story:
The EPA report says carmakers made big progress on fuel economy from the mid-70s to
mid-80s. But since then, average fuel economy numbers have actually gotten worse.
That’s mostly because cars and trucks are getting bigger. By 2005, the EPA says SUVs
alone made up a quarter of all vehicle sales in the U.S.
Daniel Becker of the Sierra Club says auto companies are to blame:
“Americans are being fed this diet of these vehicles with TV ads, but then they end up
paying at the gas pump, and they end up paying with more global warming, pollution and
more oil addiction.”
Auto companies say they’ve only made bigger cars because that’s what consumers
wanted to buy, but for now, high gas prices seem to have put a halt on demand.
Truck sales for the entire auto industry were down nearly 20 percent this June compared
to a year ago.
Environmental groups say they’ve reached a landmark deal with auto and steel makers and the EPA that could prevent tons of mercury from getting into the environment in the future. The GLRC’s Tracy Samilton reports:
Environmental groups say they’ve reached a landmark deal with auto
and steel makers and the EPA that could prevent tons of mercury from
getting into the environment in the future. The GLRC’s Tracy Samilton
The auto industry completely phased out mercury switches in lights and
antilock breaks in 2002, but as many as 60 million of the devices could
still be on the road today.
When a car is finally scrapped and melted down at the steel mill, the
mercury is released into the air. Auto makers and steel plants have
tentatively agreed to share the cost of a national retrieval program to
remove mercury switches from vehicles before they’re recycled.
The Ecology Center was instrumental in brokering the deal. The Center
says the program could potentially reduce overall mercury pollution by
ten percent, and keep 80 tons of mercury out of the environment. The
deal is expected to be finalized within a few weeks.
A new study by an environmental group says there are high
concentrations of toxic chemicals called PBDE’s and phthalates inside many cars. The Ecology Center is calling for the chemicals to be phased out. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tracy
A new study by an environmental group says there are high
concentrations of toxic chemicals called PBDEs and phthalates inside
many cars. The Ecology Center is calling for the chemicals to be phased
out. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tracy Samilton reports:
PBDEs are used as flame retardants in auto parts, and phthalates make
plastic parts more flexible. The study found that the heat that builds up
inside a car in the sun causes the chemicals to be released, which
increases exposure to humans.
Jeff Gearhart of the Ecology Center says there are plenty of safer
alternatives and the auto industry should use them. He says there are not
many studies on the effect of the chemicals on humans, but animal
studies show that they hurt reproduction and brain development.
“We should take a precautionary approach and we think that’s the
type of approach that many people take in their own lives.”
A spokesperson for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers says
flame retardant PBDEs make cars safer for people in the event of a fire,
and that PBDEs and phthalates are both safe.
A study by an auto analysis firm says that sales of sport utility vehicles are beginning to slow down. That’s because consumers are demanding more cars and car-like SUVs. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Bill Poorman reports:
A study by an auto analysis firm says that sales of sport utility vehicles are beginning to
slow down. That’s because consumers are demanding more cars and car-like SUVs. The
Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Bill Poorman reports:
The report from J.D. Power and Associates says inventories of SUVs are building up on
dealer lots, prices of SUVs are falling, and sales incentives are rising. The biggest
decline is taking place among the largest and least fuel efficient SUVs. Tom Libby with
J.D. Power says more people are demanding vehicles that look like SUVs, but are built
more like cars. He calls these crossovers.
“In the second quarter of 2004, crossovers actually reached 40 percent of all SUVs, and
that was a record. So we’re approaching the point where crossovers will be every other
And in certain cases, crossovers have better fuel efficiency than comparable traditional
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Bill Poorman.
When tires are balanced, lead weights are attached to the wheel rim. The weights make sure the tires wear evenly, and ensure a smooth ride. But the Ecology Center says the weights fall off, and the lead degrades easily, posing a risk to human health. (Photo by Mark Brush)
Lead wheel weights are about 95% lead. Two recent studies found that when the weights fall off of cars, they get ground up by traffic. Lead dust is deposited by roadways and sidewalks, and some researchers think the dust might be harmful to human health. The Ecology Center's "Lead-Free Wheels" program is trying to get tire retailers and local governments to switch to non-lead wheel weights. (Photo by Mark Brush)
For years, the government and environmentalists have been working to reduce lead exposure in the environment. Lead can cause developmental damage to children and cause other health problems. The government banned lead in gasoline. It banned lead shot in shotgun shells. There are efforts to get rid of lead sinkers in fishing tackle. And now, environmentalists are trying to ban lead weights used to balance wheels. And some companies and fleet operators seem willing to comply. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie Halpert has the story about the move to a less hazardous alternative:
For years, the government and environmentalists have been working to reduce lead exposure in the
environment. Lead can cause developmental damage to children and cause other health problems. The
government banned lead in gasoline. It banned lead shot in shotgun shells. There are efforts to get rid of lead
sinkers in fishing tackle. And now, environmentalists are trying to ban lead weights used to balance wheels.
And some companies and fleet operators seem willing to comply. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Julie
Halpert has the story about the move to a less hazardous alternative:
When you buy a new car or get your tires replaced, manufacturers use lead weights, which clip onto the wheel
rim to make sure it’s evenly balanced. They use lead, because it’s heavy, dense. So a small amount by
volume is used.
Still, a few ounces of lead can be used on each wheel. And nearly every car and truck on the road has lead
weights. They’re the second largest use of lead in cars, next to lead acid batteries.
As long as the weights stay on the tires, they’re not a huge problem. But environmentalists are worried that
they come off too often. Many fall off when a car hits a pothole or collides with a curb. Then they’re run
over, ground down and get into the environment.
Each year, roughly 30-million pounds of lead are used to make wheel weights. A recent study estimates that
more than 300 tons of lead fall off vehicles each year in the Midwest alone. Jeff Gearhart is with the Ecology
Center which conducted that study.
“Many people don’t realize there’s a lot of lead in vehicles for this particular use and this is actually a fairly
small percentage of that lead actually falls off. But when you look at it as quantity, it’s pretty significant.”
The weights don’t just pose a problem on the road. Gearhart says there’s also danger when they’re not
properly recycled when new tires are put on and the weights are replaced. Another problem is when a car is
scrapped and then later when the parts are melted down, the lead can be released into the environment.
“Lead wheel weights are not managed very well as vehicles are scrapped and the difficulty in correcting the
management of these at the end of a life in a salvage yard or in a vehicle crusher or a shredder is very
He says the solution is to make sure lead is not used in the first place. Concerned about lead’s potential
health effects, Europe has already decided to ban lead wheel weights starting next year. And Gearhart is
pushing manufacturers who design for the U.S. market to do the same. He says substitute materials, such as
zinc, iron and tin, are readily available and work just as well as lead.
And with funding from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Ecology Center is making lead-free weights
available to those who service vehicle fleets.
(sound of weights being hammered onto wheel rims)
At the city of Ann Arbor, Michigan’s garage, a technician is banging zinc weights onto wheels. Tom
Gibbons helps manage this fleet of 400 city vehicles. Ann Arbor is the first city to switch to lead-free
“We realize lead is a problem in the environment and in the city, we’re really concerned about the
environment. We’re committed to doing as much as we can to protect it, so if we can take lead out of the
system, why not do it.”
Gibbons says the substitutes work just as well as lead weights. He says once the Ecology Center’s free
supply of weights runs out, the city will began buying non-lead weights, even though they’ll cost slightly
But not everyone agrees with the idea of using other materials for wheel weights. Daimler/Chrysler doesn’t
plan to switch to lead-free weights for its U.S. models. The company is concerned the substitutes are costlier
and more difficult to install on wheels.
Other automakers are looking at eliminating the use of lead weights. Terry Cullum is with General Motors.
He agrees they’re currently an issue, but says the Ecology Center’s estimate of the number of weights that fall
off cars seems high to him. And, he says there’s no imminent danger to the public.
“I think if you look at this from a risk-based situation, we don’t view lead being used in wheel weights
applications as a risk, well, as a large risk, let’s put it that way.”
Even so, General Motors is considering moving to lead free weights. Cullum says that everywhere the
automaker uses lead is a concern. And since the company will have to stop using lead weights on the cars and
trucks it sell in Europe, he says it might be easier just to take them out of all GM vehicles. Still, Cullum says
the substitutes present a big engineering challenge: because they’re not as dense. It takes bigger pieces of
metal to make the same weight. So, they take up more space on the wheel than lead weights.
“It becomes an issue, in terms of where do you put it on the wheel, how do you do it in such a way that it
doesn’t actually interfere with the actual operation of the wheel or the brake systems. That is an issue that is
going through research and engineering right now.”
But Cullum’s optimistic that the issue can be addressed. And other auto makers, such as Honda, are forging
ahead with lead-free weights on at least one of their model.
Still there’s resistance from U.S. tire retailers. The Tire Industry Association says the weights don’t fall off
wheels. And the tire retailers say the lead weights are properly recycled. The group has no plans to stop
using lead weights if they’re not legally required to.
Jeff Gearhart with the Ecology Center says that denial of the problem is a big mistake. He says if
manufacturers and tire retailers cooperated, they could get a substantial amount of lead out of the
environment within a few years.
“There is the potential to make a really significant impact here. We’re talking hundreds of tons of lead
released into the U.S. to the environment that can be eliminated. So we think this is a high priority project,
not just for us, but we think it will be for states and for EPA to look at how to facilitate this transition to
cleaner wheel balancing.”
The Environmental Protection Agency is starting to look at the issue. It plans to conduct a study within the
next year to get a better understanding of the problem and see how lead weights are handled. Then, they’ll
issue guidelines for consumers and tire recyclers late next year. That means the public will be more aware of
the use of lead wheel weights and the potential for toxic exposure. Usually, that means public pressure for
change, whether some automakers and tire retailers like it or not.
For The Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Julie Halpert.
An environmental group has designed a safer, more fuel-efficient Sport Utility Vehicle. Now, it’s trying to get you to write the government to get the big automakers to make SUVs a lot like the one it designed. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
An environmental group has designed a safer, more fuel efficient Sport Utility Vehicle. Now, it’s
trying to get you to write the government to get the big automakers to make SUVs a lot like the
one it designed. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:
The environmental group, the Union of Concerned Scientists started with a Ford Explorer and
then looked at ways to improve the SUV to solve what the group saw as some design
“The Union of Concerned Scientists has developed a blueprint for a safer and more fuel efficient
On its website, the group lists about a dozen improvements to the SUV ranging from better,
stronger materials to keep passengers safer during a rollover to engine and transmission designs
that would mean much better gas mileage.
David Friedman is the Research Director for the Clean Vehicle Program at the Union of
Concerned Scientists. He says consumers should have those choices.
“When you step into a showroom, sure, you can choose the cup holders, you can choose the color
of your SUV. But, you can’t choose the fuel economy. You’re stuck between 16, 17, 18 miles
per gallon. What we’re talking about is taking technologies that the automakers already have to
save thousands of lives every year and to save on the order of $2,500 on fuel.”
Friedman says all the options the Union of Concerned Scientists have suggested are off-the-shelf
The auto industry says those options are available in SUVs. But nobody’s asking for them. Eron
Shosteck is a spokesperson for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a trade association.
Shosteck says most people want more cargo space, more power, and more towing capacity from
their SUVs. They’re not clamoring for the added safety and efficiency features that the
environmentalists are pushing.
“For consumers who wish to have better fuel economy than other attributes, automakers offer
more than 30 different models of vehicles that get 30 miles per gallon or better. They are very
That statement sounds a lot like a video cartoon satire of the auto industry on the Union of
Concerned Scientists website, SUV-TV.org.
“Look, if you want fuel economy, go drive a compact.”
The auto industry is portrayed as a cigar puffing fat cat who offers lots of excuses for why SUVs
have to be made the way they’re made. The cartoon declares satirically it’s all because “Industry
The auto industry actually says the chief reason SUVs are made the way they’re made is: that’s
what consumers want.
The Union of Concerned Scientists’ David Friedman says he doesn’t see it that way.
“They’re saying they’re responding to the marketplace, but when consumers say they want an
SUV that gets higher fuel economy, they literally do tell them to go drive a compact.”
So, the Union of Concerned Scientists is launching a campaign called the SUV-TV Challenge.
It’s trying to get 50-thousand people to visit the website and then write to the government and
automakers, demanding better fuel efficiency standards for SUVs and other vehicles.
“Well, what we’re trying to do is show consumers they have a choice and have consumers contact
the U.S. government, who’s responsible for taking care of consumers, and let them know they
want better SUVs. They want a real choice when they step into the showroom.”
The auto industry says those choices are there if you order them. But most people buy vehicles
on the showroom floor. The Auto Alliance’s Eron Shosteck says the demand for the SUVs there
“We respond to consumer demand, not to publicity stunts by special interest groups.”
The environmentalists hope demands for safety and fuel efficiency are felt through the SUV-TV
challenge. But the real demand for fuel efficiency is more likely to come from rising prices at the
pump, which are expected to reach record highs this summer.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.
For the past few years, people who have wanted to buy a more energy-efficient car have had to think small. That’s about to change. The floor of this year’s North American International Auto Show in Detroit offered a look at several new energy-efficient models due out later this year or within the next few years. The auto industry hasn’t sold very many of the cars carrying one type of new technology so far, but officials hope more choices will boost sales. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Michael Leland has more:
For the past few years, people who have wanted to buy a more energy-efficient car have had to
think small. That’s about to change. The floor of this year’s North American International Auto
Show in Detroit offered a look at several new energy-efficient models due out later this year or
within the next few years. The auto industry hasn’t sold very many of the cars carrying one type
of new technology so far, but officials hope more choices will boost sales. The Great Lakes
Radio Consortium’s Michael Leland has more:
At the Toyota display at this year’s auto show, a small crowd formed around the newest version
of the gasoline-electric Prius. Toyota’s sold the car since 1997, and has made it bigger for this
year. What makes this car different is it’s powered by a gasoline-electric hybrid engine. A few
months ago, Denny Jones of Toledo, Ohio ordered a new Prius. He’s still waiting for delivery, so
he drove to Detroit to sit in one at the auto show.
“First of all, I’ve had other Toyotas, so I like the quality. They’ve made improvements on this
one. There’s hatchback. On the first style you couldn’t have a hatchback. They get better
mileage than the first one. And, overall it is a larger car.”
Gasoline-electric hybrid engines have lower emissions and get better mileage than cars with
standard gasoline engines. Toyota says the Prius gets about 50-miles per gallon. But the only
hybrids on the market so far have been small cars like the Prius and the Honda Civic.
Later this year and next, larger hybrids will roll into showrooms. Honda will offer a hybrid
Accord. And Ford will sell a hybrid version of its Escape SUV. Jerry Bissi braved an afternoon
snowstorm to come to the auto show, and was checking one out.
“I prefer to have an SUV-type vehicle for driving back and forth, all-wheel drive, the weather
conditions we have today outside. So I prefer something like that rather than the car.”
There will be several hybrid SUV’s available by next year. Toyota will sell a hybrid Highlander,
and its luxury division Lexus will offer its own model.
“Ladies and gentlemen, it is my pleasure to introduce the world’s first luxury hybrid vehicle, the
Denny Clements is a vice-president at Lexus. He says there seems to be a pent-up demand for
“Our dealers have taken a huge amount of orders just off word of mouth about Prius, I think. I
think what we have when you talk to our customers is there is a lot of very affluent people who
would like to make a statement about Middle East oil, would like to make a statement about who
they are, but they don’t want to make the sacrifices in terms of luxury amenities.”
Toyota says Americans bought about 21-thousand hybrid Priuses last year. But that’s a drop in
the bucket compared to the almost 16-million vehicles sold in the U.S. last year.
“If you added up all the hybrids that have ever been made since the beginning of time, they don’t
equal the production of one high-volume auto plant in one year.”
That’s David Cole. He heads the Center for Automotive Research. He says some people have
shied away from hybrids because they’ve only been available as small cars, and others have been
wary of the new technology. But mostly, Cole says a lot of people aren’t willing to pay more for
“Where it is going to be in the future is dependant on one thing in my judgment and that is
economics. Can it be done at a cost that consumers will pay for?”
So far, Toyota, Lexus and Ford aren’t saying what their new hybrids will cost. Right now a new
hybrid Honda Civic costs about two-thousand dollars more than the most expensive gasoline
model. The federal government offers a tax deduction to hybrid-buyers to help close that gap, but
it is being phased out during the next few years. Some automakers and environmental groups say
it’s not enough anyway. They want Congress to pass a federal tax credit for people who buy
David Friedman is with the Union of Concerned Scientists. He says the automakers’ decision to
offer hybrid engines in more models is an opportunity for the country to become less dependant
on imported oil – if enough people can be persuaded to buy the vehicles.
“If automakers put some of their 10-to-15 billion dollars of advertising muscle behind this, and if
the government is willing to get these tax credits out there, I think we can see hybrids grow into a
significant portion of the market.”
Back at the auto show, Jerry Bissi says he’d consider buying a hybrid SUV. He says he thinks
others will too, if the price is right and they prove to be reliable.
“I think there are a lot of people sitting on the fence. They’re going to watch the first one, see
how it does. If it does prove to be good, they’ll jump on the bandwagon and be late joiners.”
Buyers might need some convincing, though. On this afternoon at the auto show, Ford’s hybrid
version of the Escape SUV drew only a few visitors compared to the crowds surrounding the
standard gasoline-engine Escape and the company’s larger Explorer SUV.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Michael Leland.
The art deco style Mott Building is the tallest building in Flint, Michigan. Local chapters of the American Institute of Architects are trying to raise awareness about buildings like these in order to preserve them. (Photo by Ronald Campbell)
As people move to homes and businesses in the suburbs they often abandon beautiful buildings. Some inner cities are now filled with boarded up store fronts and dilapidated high-rises. A group of architects hopes that people will be less likely to do this if they value good architecture and design. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tamar Charney has this story:
As people move to homes and businesses in the suburbs they often abandon beautiful buildings. Some inner cities are now filled with boarded up store fronts and dilapidated high-rises. A group of architects hopes that people will be less likely to do this if they value good architecture and design. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tamar Charney reports:
Flint, Michigan could be the poster child for a city left behind. Parts of the city have crumbled since Flint’s
auto industry moved away. But like
many older cities, there are dozens
of architectural gems here… (sound up)
like the Mott Building. It’s the city’s
tallest building and the exterior, the
interior, and every detail right down
to the doors on the elevators (sound
of elevator) are designed and
decorated in the Art Deco style.
Albert Ashley is a security contractor
at the Mott Building. He says a week
doesn’t go by without someone
asking about it.
(elevator bings and boings)
“It’s quite regular, quite regular we
get comments about it and the
architectural design and so forth…
well they can tell that it was pretty
old building and well kept, you know,
and the design is pretty much the
same throughout the building, so they
notice that and they like it.”
(Sounds of traffic)
One person who has always liked this
building is Ron Campbell. As a child,
he’d stand here on the corner of
Saginaw Street waiting for the bus.
“I can remember asking my mother,
‘how many stories is that?’ And I
probably pestered her with questions
to the point where she was ‘just be
quiet and wait for the bus.’ But…
‘How high is that compared with the
Empire State Building? How many
buildings do we have like that?'”
With that kind of early interest in
buildings, it’s no surprise Ron
Campbell grew up to become an
architect. And he’s now written a
guide to the architecture in Flint.
It’s a pamphlet with pictures and
blurbs about 34 places in the city.
It’s available at highway rest stops
and at businesses and museums.
Campbell says he’s trying to
teach people about the various styles
of architecture found in the city, but
he’s also hoping the guide can in
some small way combat urban sprawl
by celebrating places that are
beautiful, well thought out, and
designed to last. He thinks that if
more people paid attention to good
architecture in many older cities
they’d be less likely to abandoned
them in favor of new buildings and
“The Guide is to show, you know,
can come from good design. It
doesn’t matter if it was built in
1800’s or today. If it’s good design
and it interfaces well, it functions well,
it’s going to be with us, and therefore
we should use it and not think of it
The Guide to Flint Architecture is one
of many projects local chapters of the
American Institute of Architects are
doing to raise awareness about
architecture and the environments
that we build. Similar guides have
been created for cities ranging from
Duluth, Minnesota to Manhattan.
Celeste Novak is the president of
AIA Michigan. She says the buildings
in a city can tell stories about the
“They are a museum that we are all
participants in, and so it’s important
that people understand that
about the buildings and the communities,
and so that they begin to treasure their
communities and that’s one way we
can all have more livable
communities and really prevent things
like sprawl and the unpleasant places
we all find ourselves at when we’re grocery shopping.”
Those strip malls and big box stores
near the highway look very different
from the places shown in Ron
(sound of footsteps on bridge)
Campbell and I walk across a small
wooden footbridge in the heart of
downtown Flint. We’ve just left a
peaceful riverfront park designed by
a well known architect. On the other
side of the river where we’re going
sits Carriagetown. It’s where the
vehicle industry began in Flint.
“Oh, Carriage Town is rich in history –
this is the birthplace of General Motors
Company with the Durant Dort
After years of neglect, this factory
from the late 1800’s has been
restored as have many homes in this
historic district. Ron Campbell says
he’s glad Carriage Town was never
torn down. It’s part of the city’s
industrial history. And Carriage Town,
like the Art Deco Mott Building and
many other places in the Guide to
Flint Architecture are nostalgic places
for Ron Campbell. They’re reminders
of his past and things he’s done over
“Those buildings, it re-kindles
childhood memories for me, but then
I look at the future, and what are we
leaving for our children and our
children’s children and hopefully it’s
something just as memorable.”
He says design decisions can
change a community for better or for
worse. He and other architects like
him want to encourage people to
think about the buildings they have
and to pay more attention to
aesthetics. The hope is society can
do a better job protecting historical
structures, preserving natural
resources, and by doing so
For the Great Lakes Radio
Consortium, I’m Tamar Charney.