The Desire for Social Mobility
Social mobility affects every person in every generation. It is something that everyone strives for -- a better life. This may include making more money, buying a house, getting that dream job, or going to college. While there are many factors that affect this on many scales, they are usually intertwined with each other and with the community. This study is going to look into a few that are present specifically in the Washington Park neighborhood and explain why they matter, to everyone. While some of this research seems like common sense, it is important to understand that these individual assets that are being focused on are linked together and can work together to increase the social mobility of the residents in any community. Like any resource, used in the right way these can cross multiple boundaries. The local assets that have an effect on social mobility in Washington Park that are itemized in this research are home-based businesses, locally owned businesses, local means of transportation, educational institutions and non-profit organizations.
When researching Washington Park and trying to understand how its assets affect social mobility, one must first take a look at the neighborhood’s history. When Washington Park established itself as a neighborhood, the social dynamics were very different from what they are today. It had a very tight-knit feeling where everyone had their own place in the neighborhood, and everyone served a purpose. This tight-knit community did not have very much difference between social classes, and this allowed for horizontal social mobility.
If one were to take a look deeper into a specific block in the 1930s and 1940s they would begin to see some personal stories and understand how each person served the community. If one were to look at the block bound by W. North Avenue, W. Garfield Avenue, N. 37th Street, and N. 38th Street, they would find a few of these stories. In the 1930 census, Erich W. Radmer was Washington Park’s neighborhood baker. One would assume that not only did he live in his house on W. North Avenue, but that he ran his business out of it as well. By the time 1940 rolled around, Mr. Radmer and his family had moved out, and Oscar H. Krobla and his family had moved in. Mr. Krobla was an optometrist and jeweler, and one would assume that he also used this home on W. North Avenue to live in as well as run his place of business. These types of living situations are what led to the success and cohesiveness of the neighborhood. It forced people to take pride in not only their home, but in the neighborhood, because ultimately it determined the success of their well-being.
When one looks at Washington Park today, they see a very different neighborhood. What is seen is a neighborhood with businesses that are struggling to get on their feet. A large part of that is due to the fact that people have gotten away from the business/community relationship that the neighborhood was built upon. This disconnect not only takes away from the success of the businesses in the area, but also the success of the neighborhood as a whole.
Many of the small businesses located on W. Lisbon Avenue are locally owned. This is important because, since it is the local residents that form the community, any small businesses that are locally owned help to strengthen those communities. These businesses contribute to the social mobility of the citizens of the community in various ways. Social mobility refers to vertical and horizontal mobility on the socioeconomic scale. Vertical mobility refers to the movement of individuals and groups up or down the scale in terms of gains/losses in property, income, status and position while horizontal mobility refers to the same people in terms of changes in occupation or organizational involvement. Why is this important? It gives people who want a better life for themselves various opportunities, and small business and establishments can do that in a way that is much more personal and rewarding. They give back to the community, and this creates a more rewarding cycle of prosperity in communities. Think of these places as individual links on a chain, and the chain is the community.
There are always certain small businesses and establishments that will take a more active role in their neighborhood. These are the forward thinkers, and they care enough about their communities to become involved in the first place. When these spaces are also social spaces they are ideal for local residents because they become places where local information flows. This is important because issues that directly affect the neighborhood are usually not in the paper, and they are not found online. They are contained in the conversations and opinions of the local residents themselves. This is where the power of community exists. This is where opportunities arise and are realized. These opportunities could be related to employment, volunteer work, bartering services, local organizations that are meeting, social clubs and others. All of these actively contribute to an individual’s social mobility and give back to the community at the same time, strengthening the community as a whole and creating a more sustainable community at the same time.
Connecting customers to these businesses are modes of transportation. Transportation is vital to social mobility in that it affects the flow of people into, out and around a neighborhood. W. Lisbon Avenue has long been a path for travel, even when Milwaukee was first taking shape. As many new plank roads were being constructed in the Milwaukee area, one of the first was the Lisbon Toll Road. Lisbon Toll Road, as it was called in the 1890s, was built using wood planks that were two inches thick by eight feet long. Wagons with a single animal pulling were charged one cent to travel the plank roads per mile with an additional half cent if multiple animals were hauling a cart. On this road many farms were booming with taverns and hotels never running out of customers.
As the means of transportation evolved, the time it took to travel from one point to another grew shorter and, with it, the current trend at the time. Today, with many people concerned about the earth, public transportation has become a popular and reliable resource for transportation into and out of the city. W. Lisbon Avenue is the main road that cuts through the Washington Park neighborhood. The 30 and 57 public bus lines travel down W. Lisbon Avenue but are not major bus lines that have routes throughout the rest of the city. With the public transit system growing in Milwaukee there are many bus lines that travel on the borders of the neighborhood but do not provide access into the heart of the area. Even though the public transportation system in Washington Park is the current trend, many residents still use their own personal vehicles to travel into and out of the neighborhood to go to work, shop, and run errands.
With the Washington Park neighborhood continually being renovated, many non-profit organizations have set up in the area. By making these organizations easily accessible more volunteers are helping out with these renovations to the neighborhood. A proper support system is crucial for recovery, stability, and any chance of upward mobility; Washington Park provides many services to the residents. Residents have the opportunity to participate in their communities and are served by the organizations there. They can help the education of their children with after school programs. Church programs allow people to unite as a community and give them the power to positively impact their neighborhood. A stable bottom line and prospects for employment and education are a crucial first step towards social mobility.
The loss of industry was part of the decline of the economic situation in Washington Park, and services provided by these non-profits are helping with the economic recovery. Non-profit organizations help improve the quality of life for residents with the services the offer. They also empower residents to take action in their lives and their community. By creating job and education focused programs, non-profits are helping residents recover economically. Habitat for Humanity seeds housing developments in key areas to raise property values, desirability, and to reduce homelessness. By making their services available for free, non-profits are providing security to people who need it most so that residents can contribute when they are able.
Social mobility can become an option for the residents of Washington Park due in part to the services that these originations offer. Typically, neighborhoods such as this house very few people with a real chance of any upward mobility. That being the case, and in this economic state, it is even more important that these services are available in Washington Park. They help to raise the minimum standard of living there, and, in doing so, raise the standard of living overall. While all of these not for profits assist in providing a bottom line or something to fall back on, education is the first real step toward any type of social mobility.
Education has always played a big part in the social mobility of neighborhoods. Elders have always said, “A good education goes a long way," and there is true meaning behind it. Education is the starting point to a child’s whole life. The things children are taught usually show back up in their adult lives; there will always come a time where people have the chance to put the skills they have learned over the years to work. Education affects many different aspects of life and will sometimes determine where one will go in life. The further one goes in school, the more successful he or she will become. In today's world, education is a huge door opener. Education has a very important impact on both vertical and horizontal mobility, which were defined in this paper. Education shapes most things mentioned in both mobilities. It can be the shaping tool for things from economic growth to the organizational involvement around and in the community.
A good education has a great influence on all types of communities. This is especially why it is important to have good functional educational facilities in fallen urban communities. It is said that education sparks change; if this is true, it is best to spark this change in the younger generations and give them the tools and inspiration to rebuild and better their community for their needs. Doing this requires safe learning environments and community leaders that connect schools with its community. In Washington Park this is happening with the few schools in that community. There are three schools that stuck out. These schools are Westside Academy, Mary McLeod Bethune Academy, and Learning Bridges Academy. Each of these schools is providing students with education as well as after school programs and double as community centers. Education plays a big part in everybody's lives. It is all about what is gained from it and how far it is taken.
Local businesses, support systems, education, and transportation are crucial elements that enable social mobility. Local businesses provide employment and keep money in the community much as they did in the early days of Washington Park. Nonprofits provide a support network and help to provide a stable bottom line and can sometimes enable people to become more economically stable. Education is obviously crucial for social mobility, as future employment rides so heavily on this single factor. Transportation is very important for any mobility, and all of the aforementioned assets are effectively unusable without it. Washington Park is slowly recovering, and local businesses and industry that once provided the basis for a strong middle class in the area are rebounding and could once again provide the opportunity of social mobility for residents of the neighborhood.