Flint is located along the Flint River, 66 miles northwest of Detroit. As of the 2006 census, the city had a population of 117,068. Some historians consider Flint and the Saginaw Valley to be the oldest continually inhabited part of Michigan. Before European settlement, the region was home to several Ojibwa tribes at the top of the 19th century, with a particularly significant community established near present-day Montrose. The Flint River had several well-protected fords which became points of contention among rival tribes supported by the presence of arrowheads and burial mounds near Flushing.
Jacob Smith, a fur trader and friend of several Ojibwa communities and the territorial government, founded a trading post in Flint around 1819. On several occasions, Smith negotiated land exchanged with the Ojibwas on behalf of the U.S. government, and he was highly regarded on both sides. The area was an ideal stopover on the overland route between Detroit and Saginaw, which helped it grow into a prosperous village. The city was officially incorporated in 1855 and soon became a lumber center, and at the turn of the 20th century the revenue and infrastructure from lumbering funded the establishment of the local carriage making industry. This paved the way for the modern day automobile industry. Most notably during the turbulent years of the first half of the century, a sit down strike during 1936-1937 brought about the growth of the fledgling United Automobile Workers when they triumphed over General Motors, which inaugurated the era of labor unions. During World War II, the city was a major contributor of tanks and other war material due to its extensive manufacturing facilities.
For decades, Flint remained politically important as a major population center, as well as for its importance to the automotive industry. The city's population peaked in 1960 at almost 200,000 and was seen as the height of Flint's prosperity and influence, culminating in the establishment of many local institutions, most notably the Flint Cultural Center, which remains one of the city's chief commercial and artistic attractions.
For years many skilled workers have left Flint for jobs in Wyoming in the booming energy industry of coal, oil, and gas. The state of Wyoming conducted three job fairs in Flint in 2006. Although the city has seen a major decline, its suburbs have flourished. Outlying towns such as Grand Blanc and Swartz Creek have seen significant growth and development as bedroom communities. However, General Motors made multi-million dollar upgrades in 2004 to three Flint factories: Flint Truck and Bus Assembly, Flint Metal Center, and Flint Engine South. Delphi's Flint East facility (formerly AC Sparkplug) had been on Delphi's long list of plants to shut down to emerge from bankruptcy, but a 2007 agreement with the UAW saved the plant and secured 1,100 jobs for at least several more years.
Since 2002, Flint's downtown has experienced a small revival, with several abandoned buildings refurbished and occupied. Among these are the former Hughes and Hatcher building (now the Land Bank Center), which was converted into lofts and offices for the Genesee County Land Bank, and First Street Lofts, a conversion of the old First National Bank building into loft apartments. Filming on the Will Ferrell movie Semi-Pro resulted in some renovations to the Capitol Theatre, with possibly more to come in hopes of bringing the premiere of the movie to Flint. Rowe Inc. renovated three buildings as an effort toward moving their headquarters from numerous southwest Michigan locations to one centrally located building in downtown Flint. Other improvements include additions on Saginaw Street of new lighting, new benches, and the return of the "Vehicle City" arches. In 2007 construction began on turning Third Avenue into a "University Corridor," connecting Kettering University and the University of Michigan-Flint with a streetscape including new lighting, a bike lane, benches, and a business center. Atwood Stadium, located on Third Avenue, has had extensive renovations, such as all new vinyl seats. Additionally, the Cultivating Our Community project is landscaping 16 different locations in Flint as a part of a $415,600 beautification project.
Several universities call Flint home. These include the University of Michigan-Flint, Kettering University (formerly known as GMI or General Motors Institute), Baker College, Mott Community College, and The Flint Institute of Arts. Many attractions in the area still draw residents and visitors to the city. Some of these are the Flint Public Library, Buick Gallery & Research Center, the Flint Youth Theatre, Flint Institute of Music-- home of the Flint Symphony Orchestra and Flint Youth Symphony Orchestra, the Longway Planetarium, Sloan Museum, and Whiting Auditorium. Other museums and arts venues are the Flint Central Academy Theatre, Flint Children's Museum, Flint City Theatre, Buckham Gallery, and Pages Independent Bookstore. Noteworthy annual events include the Flint Jazz Festival, the Michigan Storytellers Festival, the Buick Open PGA Tour golf tournament (in nearby suburb Grand Blanc), and the Crim Festival of Races.