An Economic Transformation of the Washington Park Neighborhood
The architecture of the built environment of the neighborhood plays an immense role in maintaining the health and well-being of the area. The neighborhood in question occupies the area bound by W. Brown Street, W. Galena Street, N. 40th Street, and N. 33rd Street. Within this area there are many opportunities to adapt the landscape and enhance the experience of the Washington Park neighborhood in an effort to bring growth and prosperity to a once-prolific neighborhood. With the installation of jobs, community outreach, and activities, the interest in the neighborhood will rise, bringing in new residents and decreasing the amount of vacant properties. This will lead to the goal of creating an economic transformation of the Washington Park neighborhood that benefits current and future residents through the reuse of the existing commercial, industrial, and housing properties, as well as outdoor community spaces.
Milwaukee is known for its history as the industrial beer city with a majority of its population being foreign-born citizens; the German and Polish outnumber the natives by three to one. The people of Milwaukee were and are very proud of their city and their heritage. During a 20-year period between 1900 and 1920, Milwaukee experience an influx of extreme growth in population with over 200,000 people moving to the city. The development and transformation of the commercial trade business to the expansion of the manufacturing economy was set as the foundation on which Milwaukee was built. This expansion laid way to a once-thriving and prosperous Washington Park community.
In Pierce Lewis's work Axioms for Reading the Landscape, the corollary that related greatly to this part of the analysis of the Washington Park neighborhood is the "Corollary of Historic Lumpiness." In this analysis of the neighborhood, a major topic of study has been the change over time due to the automobile and the change over time when Milwaukee was an industrial city. In Lewis's writing he describes historic lumpiness as a major cultural change caused by wars, depressions, and major inventions. Milwaukee's time as an industrial city is a great example of Lewis's definition of historic lumpiness. These studies give an understanding of this corollary by looking into the history of the neighborhood and studying the development over time, a large amount of what Lewis would call "pre-leap" landscape, which he describes as landscape that is left lying around. The large industrial buildings that are now abandoned are great examples of "pre-leap" landscape.
This development area full of pre-leap landscape can begin to nurture the neighborhood by revitalizing the existing structures. These buildings could become places for gathering, meeting, and community events through rehabilitation. This begins to create activity that keeps people around the area, putting eyes on the street, bringing life to the neighborhood and creating a safer, more cohesive place in the neighborhood.
The issue of the potential homes throughout the Washington Park neighborhood can be resolved by merely going back to the community's roots. A large portion of the American landscape has been built by people way before any recent past. It is the job of today's society to distinguish the connections of the past to the present (tastes, habits, technology, wealth, etc.). Only then can this once-thriving community begin to be restored.
Numerous homeowners struggle maintaining older homes and are forced to leave because of health code violations. These issues are relevant to many neighborhoods that lack the necessary knowledge and equipment to maintain these older homes. As mentioned earlier, these are what are called "pre-leap" occurrences; however, there are many resources throughout the Washington park neighborhood that can assist residents in many ways. Organizations such as Washington Park Partners Housing Committee are great sources for preparing homeowners for making minor house repairs.
Time and energy spent in maintaining homes have been affected by the drastic increase in population that has crippled the stability of families' financial statuses. Back in 2011, the Washington Park area had 10,027 persons living in 2,990 households within a 145-block radius. The median household income was $26,000, and roughly 45% of families were living in poverty. The living situations have changed to the point where families can no longer support their children, let alone maintain their homes. The idea of change can only be accomplished when looking at the problem as a whole. Job opportunities have become a number one priority for organizations such as Washington Park Partners Jobs & Businesses Committee and Milwaukee County as a whole. Resources on updated job listings in papers and online are being updated frequently for the Washington Park neighborhood and are improving the overall aspect of job hunting to give them the best opportunities with their skillsets.
The improvement and well-being of the community is only as strong as the organizations that support the cause. Organizations within the neighborhood have been trying to revive the community in every aspect possible. Through surveys and interviews, volunteers collected information on the status of homes throughout the neighborhood. Roughly 245 non-owner occupants sent requests of repairs that needed to be addressed, 150 properties were boarded up, and 187 owner occupants were in need of repairs. United Methodist Children's Services has taken on a goal of completing 28 townhome units for low income families. Washington Park Partners, along with a few other organizations, are striving to encourage homeownership and provide resources to help residents in this new transitional step in the right direction.
The development of the community spaces such as parks plays an intricate role in the growth and sustainability of a community. The landscape feeds the community with a wealth of information about its identity, its past, its present, and its future. Communities should look at their landscapes and ask what they are capable of doing for the residents. Humans read into everything and form perceptions of interaction. Not all of these perceptions are correct, however. When looking at the landscapes in Washington Park, some read favorably on the community while others do not. If a landscape speaks of a community's identity, then they need to be designed to say what is wanted.
There are two community spaces that are located in the target area on W. Lisbon Avenue that have potential to be valuable assets. The park located on the corner of W. Lisbon Avenue and N. 33rd Street displays art done by the children of the local school. It is also used to hold small meetings or gatherings. The park located on W. Lisbon Avenue and N. 39th Street has some sculptural elements in its landscape that provide people with a scenario to use this site; however, it is currently not well maintained, rendering it unusable some of the time. Each of these properties currently serves some of the neighborhood, but the goal is to have them serve the entire neighborhood. These community spaces need to be developed into cultural hubs, serving the neighborhood as gathering areas for business or pleasure, areas for the community to put itself on display through art or events, and spaces where the people of the community feel at home.
In the development of these landscapes one must be careful not to cover up its history. What makes these community spaces so valuable is not just their location but the stories they tell. For the community the landscapes are their past and present, so it is important to consider this when looking at the development for the future. The surrounding neighborhood should also be taken into consideration when designing the landscapes. All too often planners focus solely on the site and ignore the adjacent properties leaving the landscape or building looking disembodied.
Lewis wrote “Our human landscape -- our houses, roads, cities, farms, and so on -- represents an enormous investment of money, time, and emotions. People will not change that landscape unless they are under very heavy pressure to do so”. Commercial corridors line the three main east-west streets in the Washington Park neighborhood. W. Lisbon Avenue has potential to be Washington Park’s main retail and office corridor. Located three blocks south of W. North Avenue, the existing land-use pattern along W. Lisbon Avenue shows that the community has great prospective opportunities in the current vacant commercial spaces. Between N. 39th Street and the railroad tracks approximately three dozen parcels that front on Lisbon are vacant assets waiting to be discovered and rehabilitated.
There are extreme indications of a rising market for quality commercial space in this area of Washington Park, located along Lisbon Avenue. Land originally cleared for the Park West freeway project became a major redevelopment opportunity area that now supports North Avenue’s revitalization, a street located also within the Washington Park area. Both of these commercial corridors, Lisbon and North, have the most potential for retail space because of the passing traffic and transit stops. Concentrating commercial uses at these corridors and nodes along Washington Park’s main arterial streets amounts to support from neighborhood residents as well as those who are from outside the area and traveling along the main streets.
The recently revised City of Milwaukee zoning code (Sec. 295-601) states that the Local Business districts “provide a wide range of goods and services to a large consumer population coming from an extensive area” and that “motor-vehicle- related activities are of major significance”. Nearly the entire available frontage on Lisbon Avenue is zoned for Commercial Service. The code states that the CS district “provides areas where businesses and personal service establishments can be accommodated…” It should be noted that within the LS2 and CS districts single-family, two-family, and multi-family residential units are also permitted, creating variations of assets throughout this area as well.
The current vacant commercial spaces establish opportunities for strengthening and building upon the existing neighborhood assets. The prospect of developing these zones promotes investment and provides guidance for public and private development. By creating new business opportunities and enhancing existing recreation and cultural alternatives, the marketability of enhanced commercial nodes will promote continued economic stability and growth for the neighborhood. This corridor has the potential to set an example for other areas of the neighborhood in how to generate new development. Large blocks of vacant land allowed a critical mass of new construction to change the direction of the market and provide more confidence to investors that new development would hold and accrue value. The vacancy along W. Lisbon Avenue is an opportunity just waiting to be explored.
Washington Park has been through many different leaps of development throughout the years. An economic transformation of the Washington Park neighborhood benefits current and future residents through the reuse of the existing commercial, industrial, and housing properties as well as outdoor community spaces. The found assets can help revitalize the neighborhood through the reuse of pre-existing buildings that contribute to the history, as well as the potential of newer construction buildings in the neighborhood. The development of the parks and commercial spaces on W. Lisbon Avenue would be a beginning to a future that could expand to some of the other landscapes in the Washington Park neighborhood, which are also waiting to tell their futures. These spaces are assets to help the community converge culturally and bridge the gap between regional differences and can be developed into prosperous spaces filled with activities and artwork from the community and seating to serve the nearby businesses. In return, the development of the landscapes will encourage more businesses to settle into some of the new proposed potential locations.