Washington Park is a dynamic Milwaukee neighborhood that has undergone massive transformation in the past and continues to transform today. The neighborhood began as a middle class working community that housed many German families. As the industrial jobs moved out of the area, the median household income of Washington Park severely declined. Today, many of the previously full lots are empty, and vacant houses plaque the neighborhood; this is especially true in the area of Washington Park that is bound by W. Lloyd Street, W. Garfield Avenue, N. 38th Street, and N. 39th Street. The area contains numerous empty lots and vacant houses. A community church that plays host as a meeting place for multiple organizations is located in the area. The residents here rent their homes from landlords who refuse to maintain the property, driving values down. Fortunately, Habitat for Humanity has focused a major part of their efforts in this area. They have built multiple new homes that create a positive impact on the neighborhood. The Habitat homes, empty lots, and local church create opportunities for the neighborhood. After the potential of these assets is realized, revitalization efforts can be focused on.
Many different methods were used to gather information on this neighborhood. To begin, history of the area was gathered. Sanborn maps uncovered periods of growth and decline in the Washington Park neighborhood. Milwaukee County maps revealed information about current property owners. This process helped determine the important role Habitat for Humanity plays in this neighborhood. More specific research of these blocks was conducted in the field. Site visits revealed that empty lots are currently a major element in this area and that the current homes show great potential for improvement. Further information was gained by speaking with the pastor of the local church. She was able to provide valuable information about the important role the church plays in the neighborhood and on homeownership on these streets.
Creating Defensible Space, written by Oscar Newman, explained why different social factors, building types, and building aspects can create either a controlled, pleasant environment or an unsafe, dirty environment. Newman illustrated how single-family homes, walk-ups, and high rise residential dwellings can contribute to whether or not an environment will be safe. Single-family homes are the safest, as residents will have a responsibility and obligation to take care of their property. They will typically know their neighbors and be able to tell if somebody is in the area who does not belong, which reduces crime in single-family neighborhoods. Walk-ups are typically three-story apartment buildings in which two units share a stair landing, and all units share a common entry point to the building. Naturally, families still maintain control of their respective landing and control the environment. High rise residential housing can cause major issues for crime in residential areas. As the number of families that have access to a space increases, the families' claim to the territory reduces. When many families share a common hallway, no family claims responsibility for the cleaning or patrolling of the hallway. This leads to an accumulation of garbage and graffiti. When all of the common areas in the building are able to be accessed with ease by everybody in the building, nobody maintains a responsibility for those areas. The Pruitt-Igoe housing complex was built to be a model for modern residential housing. The building had large amounts of common space for the residents to use, but because none of the spaces were associated with specific dwelling units, no residents took responsibility for cleaning, maintaining, or patrolling the areas. This, along with other factors, caused the building complex to be demolished after about twenty years. Overall, Newman explains that "it is the socioeconomic characteristics of residents and building size that together predict most of the variation in fear, instability, and crime."
Habitat for Humanity has targeted this section of Washington Park as a focus location in the coming years. This creates many opportunities to enhance this area of the neighborhood in immense ways. Habitat for Humanity has recently adopted a new view on building homes; they have decided that it would be more beneficial to a community and to the new owners of the homes to be grouped together. They believe this will connect the new homeowners to each other to create a greater sense of community in the neighborhood in which the homes are built. There are currently ten Habitat homes on the two blocks in question, and there are already plans for two more. These new homes bring a lot of potential to this section of the neighborhood, as they increase the percentage of owned properties. In these two blocks, many of the homes are owned by landlords and rented out, and some of the problems that exist in this portion of the neighborhood are directly related to that fact. Research shows that many people who do not feel directly associated with a place will not take care of it. The homes that are rented out have become rundown; the paint is chipped, the porches are broken, and very few homes have any landscaping. This has left the neighborhood looking dirty and desolate. The potential the Habitat homes adds to this region is extremely significant in order to revitalize the neighborhood and give the residents a connected feeling of being part of a community.
In this section of Washington Park there are 68 lots, 21 of which are empty. When uncovering hidden resources in the neighborhood, these empty lots were flagged as having potential. These lots account for 30% of those within this two block radius, and, although none of them have turned into large trash dumping zones, the fact that no one in the neighborhood owns them only increases the risk that they could soon become more of an eyesore than the 'No Trespassing' signs that currently occupy them. In the reading, it was uncovered that the spaces that most commonly go ignored are those that do not belong to anyone specifically. These lots are filled with potential; they could become almost anything. It is known that Habitat for Humanity has already started planning the addition of two more homes in this area, and the amount of available lots could mean that potentially 45% of the homes on these blocks would be owned by Habitat homeowners. This potential increase in homeownership would drastically change the look and feel of the neighborhood. When homeownership is increased in an area, the residents who live there will most likely take better care of their homes than the tenants who currently live there. This will not only revitalize the appearance of the neighborhood, but it would also create potential for the neighbors to begin to create a community where there is a sense of belonging, identity, and pride.
The Christian Fellowship Community Church is one resource of the neighborhood that is relatively hidden. The church is only open during hours in which services are held, and it is extremely difficult to find any information regarding the church online. In most cases, a community church could be a huge asset to a neighborhood, but this is one instance in which the church is underutilized. The potential that lies within the church could change the identity of the community; it has potential to gather and connect the people in the surrounding neighborhood. This church is a hidden resource that has the opportunity to be a place maker for the community. The church currently owns three of the empty lots in the neighborhood, and one of them is a parking lot. The other two lots behind the church have the potential to become something great that could connect the new homeowners and community members in the nearby houses. If homeownership continues to increase in the neighborhood, there will be more residents looking to make their blocks feel like homes, there will be a greater desire to connect with neighbors, and there will be a need to have a gathering space for community events. A well-designed outdoor space could be the cherry on top for the future of this neighborhood. It could be a place for summer barbecues or a winter ice rink. The location being on church property would give this community space a direct owner and also allow it to become a church asset -- an open, welcoming face to the hidden potential behind the closed doors of the church.
The work done in this region of Washington Park through this project has a relevance to design, community, and human condition through efforts of finding potential in the area, both for connections between residents and revitalization of the neighborhood. Through increase of homeownership in the area, the neighborhood will begin to gain a sense of community. The residents will begin to form connections with each other that will turn into neighborly relationships. In order to nurture those relationships, there is a need for a gathering space for the community to increase the likelihood that they will continue to work as a whole. The changes that could come to the neighborhood would revitalize the current human condition of the area. The streets and homes could be better taken care of, the lots could be full, and the neighborhood could breathe a breath of fresh air. Homeownership would bring a sense of community, which would bring safety, pride, and a feeling of belonging and identity to the area. This research has led to many thoughts of potential revitalization efforts, but when it comes down to it, the area lacks a sense of community currently. It lacks togetherness that one would be looking for when deciding where to purchase a home. There are two questions that this research has uncovered: "How does homeownership get increased in the area?" and "How can the area be made to come together as a community?". By connecting and revitalizing the community through the potential that already exists within it, the result could be a neighborhood that people would want to invest in.