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.