Monday, July 24, 2006

Village Ghetto Land

On the way home this afternoon, I routed through lower NW Milwaukee -- up 42nd Street to Capital, then south and east on side streets. Some thoughts:

- Is NW Milwaukee in a state comparable to St. Louis's north side 30 years ago? It's almost entirely black, appears poor, and is teaming with people hanging out on the streets. Based on my rapid windshield observations, there seem to be the social networks that pervade functional urban areas, but like St. Louis in 1970, crime is pervasive and decay is spreading. I saw two fresh burnouts. I'm starting to notice more abandoned buildings. It took me a long time to recognize these areas as a ghetto, but they really are, even if they lack the abject abandonment that marks so many St. Louis neighborhoods.

- How can such a vast area, such a large *population*, go so totally unnoticed by *everyone*? How can such vast stretches of decay be allowed to continue? How can land so close to the rising values at the city core be allowed to crumble? How can such incredible concentrations of poverty be allowed to persist?

- I passed by what appeared to be a major crime scene. A LOT of cops were gathered around some house on a side street, lots of vans and cars with lights flashing. A scattered crowd was watching from the surrounding blocks. Around the corner, a policeman was restraining a young man by the arm.

Gina used to tell me tales of listening to the police scanner at night and hearing innumerable "shots fired" reports from the neighborhoods west of Hampton. Moriya reports that after nearly being assaulted by a crazy drunk dude in broad daylight, and after having shots fired on her block at night, the police still didn't show up.

We can launch space shuttles into orbit and bring them back to Earth, but we can't tame our own cities. We can't do anything about people who have so devalued life that they will kill someone in a moment of passion. We can't provide an environment, physical and cultural, that makes these people realize how damaging their own actions are to themselves and everyone around them. We can't instill hope in thousands upon thousands of city residents.

And 95% of America either doesn't know or doesn't give a shit.

I'm not even sure if it's really conscionable to be worrying about architecture in these neighborhoods when such gross poverty is on the loose. Fighting that poverty is the only hope for the thousands of declining buildings in those neighborhoods, but it's such an enormous web of entangled causes and effects I barely know how to start grasping it, let alone finding solutions.

All I know is, if Milwaukee doesn't want its lower northwestern reaches to end up looking like St. Louis Place, somebody -- a lot of somebodies -- better start doing something soon.

5 comments:

kid said...

can i just say, RIGHT ON. the white people in milwaukee are so strange, they are so blind to what's going on around them, and i guess i shouldn't limit it to whites, because every race has something against every other race in this city. even many of the volunteers i work with at shelters and clean ups for UWM, something is wrong about their motives. something is very off about them, and they seem so aloof when they do things. they act like the homeless are like public spectacles, lesser people. they put so much distance between them and the people they work with, they make them inhuman.

i could go on forever, but i'll spare you, i'm sure you know.

seriously though, thank you for being a real fucking person.

Woody said...

Live here, work here, went to school here, and I still notice the rampant white flight. But realistically, I don't think people are turning their backs on the poor...maybe just their poor looking neighborhoods? People with money or people who remember a cleaner, less run down inner city do not want to live anywhere near some of these properties-- where the tenants and landlords both neglect the outer appearance of their homes.
The poor are in many ways turning their backs on themselves, which can be solved by simply taking more pride and fixing up their neighborhoods and educating themselves. Money is available from the city and state to help with some of these expenses. If you are SO poor that you cannot "afford" to even bend over and clean up the mounds of trash on your own lawn, there is a bigger problem. The one good thing that has been set into motion, is the Milwaukee Neighborhood Rehabilitation Project and Main Street Milwaukee, both of which will gradually focus on eliminating urban decay and sprucing up blighted, poor areas, while hopefully creating jobs. It will take some time. Really, this is not just a Milwaukee problem. This is happening in all cities across America.

Anonymous said...

Milwaukee is very ghetto. I lived on 56th and center for around ten years. I left about 4 years ago. I heard gun shots and fighting on the streets every single night in the summer. I saw cars broken into and stripped of parts on a regular basis. One time, I called the police while watching three men break into a car's window while eating a bucket of KFC. The men successfully stripped the car including taking the tires and finished their KFC hours before the cops drove by and didn't even stop. As a woman, I was constantly harassed by men on the street. Walking down the street with my boyfriend, men harassed and threatened him. There are great people in Milwaukee; responsible, hardworking, good intentioned people. The few bad apples ruin it for everyone. There aren't enough people willing to do something about it. Most people just stay in their homes sitting on the floor to avoid bullets rather than venturing out. We can't rely on the police, good men and women need to take a stand and reclaim Milwaukee!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations, on joining the 95%. You saw a problem complained about it with literally no specifics what so ever and then said someone should do something. Then in typical fashion someone on this thread complained about the "motives" of the "white people" who were willing to help. The distance between a white UWM volunteer and a homeless person is lost on you...really? Can't figure out why that might be an odd pairing? Before you spout off you should do yourself a favor and think before you type.

North Sider said...

There is a pretty simple reason why that area and most areas of the city (aside from the southern outskirts, the East Side and Bay View) are deteriorating: people are giving up. It's quite simple.

I'm speaking as a guy who lives on Milwaukee's north side and fights this doomed cause of beautifying my area. I pick up trash. I keep my lawn neat and clean. Most people have given up.

It's understandable why. Trash is being dumped faster than it can be cleaned up. People are harassed or even robbed while they clean up their properties. Most landlords don't care. I'm fortunate enough to have a great one. Even though I manage to keep my house and yard looking nice it's a Pyrrhic victory as just about everyone else's is a hot mess. Not to mention that when your place is looking so nice it can attract unwanted attention from petty thieves and trespassers.

These areas are underserved by the city. Police response times are long. Burned-out streetlights go months or even years without replacement.

I'm beginning to know how some of my neighbors feel. It's kind of like we've been abandoned by city hall. I'm so tired of this. I know I can't save my neighborhood.

Don't judge us too harshly. We may have become a minority of the residents in these neighborhoods, but there are hardworking people who have tried to renew these areas. However, we don't operate in a vacuum and there are more teens, twenty-somethings and even 30-and-40-somethings who don't appreciate the community and just tear it up. We're outnumbered.