Within the Washington Park Neighborhood, there is a potential network of natural elements occurring in hubs across the neighborhood. However, the community is currently experiencing an abundance of waste landscape, “meaning actual waste (such as municipal solid waste, sewage, scrap metal, etc.), wasted places (such as abandoned and/or contaminated sites), or wasteful places (such as oversized parking lots or duplicate big-box retail venues).” Although waste is a part of the natural process of progress and growth, it is currently detracting from the natural network of hubs transpiring within the neighborhood.
The 30th Street Industrial Corridor is the first node in the Washington Park Neighborhood. It runs along the border of the neighborhood, which helps to define its edge to the east and south. The train tracks cut Milwaukee in half from north to south, taking a major bend at Washington Park. When viewed on a map, this creates a clear frame for the Washington Park neighborhood. Industrial buildings along the train tracks reinforce this node due to the sudden change from residential housing to industry. The border is more apparent to inhabitants of the Washington Park area, as the abrupt switch is easily felt and seen when moving through the neighborhood. Heavily wooded areas lining the train tracks add to the border but can also be seen as a connecting element leading towards the park. A dense line of trees make the border made by the train tracks more apparent to a user of the space, but also begins to break off and lead the user towards Washington Park. These secondary pathways begin to create a network of spaces; creating an experience for the user as they wander towards the park.
Before anything can be done with the 30th Street Industrial Corridor the soil contamination must be cleaned up, and actions must be taken to ensure that new developments along the railroad stay clean. The 30th Street Industrial Corridor is what Alan Berger calls a “wasted place." Wasted places can be created by industries and their tendencies to produce waste but become a major problem when industries move. These spaces tend to be forgotten or ignored because they seem condemned, when actually much more attention should be paid to these spaces; they have much more to offer than meets the eye. “‘Waste landscape’ is an indicator of healthy urban growth." Growth cannot happen without waste, but one must always remember that waste landscapes should not just be thrown out and forgotten. Tax increment financing is one of many reasons that contaminated land is actually more profitable for developers than clean land. Financial aid from the government is given to developers who take on brownfields to help clean up the land and eventually redevelop it.
Although contamination runs rampant along Washington Park’s border, this is only the beginning of its story. It is currently being cleaned through government funding and redevelopment has already begun. Now it is up to the people to determine the future of this promising area.
Washington Park has few green spaces for wildlife to inhabit. The neighborhood is currently experiencing an “ongoing struggle of economics against nature." It has great potential to create wildlife hubs that branch out and connect the community, bringing people and animals together and benefiting the people who live there. It would do this by creating a nature sanctuary in the community that would not only be aesthetically pleasing, but it would also promote the education of wildlife to children and give them a place to explore. With the positive green space, it would raise views of the community and add to its sense of pride.
These wildlife hubs can be made possible by utilizing the asset of multiple empty lots. These “holey planes” that have “tremendous potential in what most of the design world has ignoring at the time: the In-between surfaces left over by the dominant economic forces of urbanization." The empty lots in close proximity to each other can be connected by heavily wooded streets that would greatly transform the in-between waste space of urbanization to magical spaces. This would attract birds, squirrels, rabbits, butterflies, and much more. It would allow residents the opportunity to watch, enjoy, and learn from the wildlife surrounding them. The reason this has so much potential is because the clusters of waste lots are hubs that reach out and create connections to other clusters, most importantly the train tracks that provide the main wildlife corridor. This creates a web of smaller veins connecting the habitat to the corridor and extends into the neighborhood. Successful wildlife design is all about making connections to promote movement of nature throughout the spaces. By connecting these wildlife hubs to the train tracks, the neighborhood starts to develop more of a sense of connectivity.
The idea of a wildlife habitat can be enhanced when looking at various other factors. Rain water, for example, can be a great asset. Rain collected from roofs can generate the water needed to support large green space such as these. Water in many urban communities such as Washington Park is seen as dross; there is no place for it, no need for it, and no want for it, but, that is, not wanting it is not going to stop the water from falling during rainstorms. As Alan Berger says, “the challenge for designers is thus not to achieve drossless urbanization but to integrate inevitable dross into more flexible aesthetic and design strategies." With the amount of water that would be captured through the rooftops it would ease the burden on city sewers and storm water drains. With that in mind this is not just a great idea for a sense of community pride and production of community resources but rather it would be of the City of Milwaukee’s benefit to makes this a reality. They would have less water flowing through the storm system tunnels thus reducing wear and tear, thus reducing maintenance costs of said sewer tunnels. This is a benefit for the community and the city because the significantly low cost of the gutters will save the city thousands on future tunnel and sewer repairs.
The rooftops throughout the Washington Park neighborhood are an underutilized, yet valuable resource to the community. What is better in a neighborhood than a giant collection basin that is able to provide vast amounts of natural fresh rainwater? One rooftop is able to, in an average summer rainfall, provide enough water to take care of and provide nutrition for hundreds of tomato plants to grow. Now take the collection basin area from one rooftop, and multiply it by three or four times that size; there is a massive area of rainwater collection. This area is not only able to provide enough water for tomatoes but also other plants such as cucumbers, peas, watermelons, and pretty much any other sort of vegetable that is able to be grown in Wisconsin can be grown in the dense city. There needs to be an initiative or group created to make these rooftop rainwater collection basins a reality. Not only will it give the community hundreds of gallons of water to use for crops that can be locally grown and sold, but it helps on an infrastructure level as well. A way to emphasize on this point is to look at community gardens.
Community gardens are an excellent example of the potential some of the “waste” lots have. As noted previously, “‘waste landscape,’ is an indicator of healthy urban growth." To see a transformation of a land of waste to one of a prosperous garden is a physical example of seeing this healthy growth. The connection of gardens to the Washington Park Neighborhood is vital to the link between the community and nature. They play several roles in empowering the community, using natural resources, and educating the neighborhood. Gardens promote the community to grow their own food, which puts the members in an active role in sustaining themselves and their neighbors. During the process of preparation, planting, and cultivating, there are many opportunities for education. The future of the neighborhood relies largely on the younger generation, and providing an environment to be hands on in gardening will hopefully encourage them to continue neighborhood involvement such as this. Speaking specifically for the gardens located between W. Lisbon Avenue and W. Galena Street, there are two that stand out: the one next to Our Next Generation on N. 35th Street and the one behind the Amaranth Bakery & Cafe on W. Lisbon Avenue. Both gardens are displayed on street edges so as to invite the community in and create a proud streetscape. One way to take the gardens further would be to explore the idea of roof water collection to help maintain them as well as create new, more flourishing planters.
The opportunity for growth can spread throughout the neighborhood, opening opportunities for a greener, self-sustaining landscape. This would give purpose to empty lots, and create gateways that lead from the opening of the neighborhood at the train tracks to the park itself.
When looking for innovative ways to transform the Washington Park neighborhood, the underlying topography of the site is an underutilized asset. Within the park, there is a seventy-five foot difference between the highest point and the lowest point. Beyond the park and throughout the rest of the neighborhood, the change in elevation is not very noticeable. The reason the park’s elevation changes more dramatically than the rest of the neighborhood is because of the diverse uses of the land. The park is mainly used for recreational purposes so the varied elevations within it allow for different activities to happen. Outside of the park, the change in elevation is almost unnoticeable because the main use is to guide water runoff.
While the park is a great endpoint to arrive at, what are the qualities of the spaces that lead a person to it? This raises the question of how these spaces can be better utilized to emphasize Washington Park and positively influence the neighborhood as a whole.
Alan Berger mentions illustrating a city by “building behavior from aerial overviews and via time-lapse photography to reveal their strikingly organism-like aspects." By mapping out empty lots directly adjacent to the park, a chain of hubs begin to appear around the east side: areas on the perimeter of the park, within a quarter of a mile, on a street that led directly to the park, and that were at least 10,000 square feet were mapped out. This revealed an even larger chain of empty hubs that connected a lot of the neighborhood to the park. These spaces are an asset to the neighborhood because they are relatively flat and have great potential for altercations. They could be utilized to attract people to the park or be a great introduction in general to the park as a person travels down the road. By manipulating these lots, the experience a person has walking to the park could dramatically change and influence the way they perceive the rest of the neighborhood. In whole, these created spaces can begin to piece the neighborhood and park back together. From the train tracks to the park, there will be a web of intertwining experiences that no longer separates the two entities from each other.
There are innumerable potential hubs of natural elements within the Washington Park Neighborhood. In the few explored here, it is clear that Washington Park is just a few small steps away from once again becoming the incredible neighborhood it is meant to be. It is up to the “designers [to] identify opportunities within production modes of their time to enable new ways of thinking about the city and its landscape” and refurbish the Washington Park neighborhood.