Instructors: Cynthia Anderson. Amin Mojtahedi. Nader Sayadi. Arijit Sen
Why Washington Park?
Washington Park's Potential
Along with conducting research into the past and present of Washington Park, students in Architecture 302 were asked to come up with proposals that contribute to the neighborhood's revitalization. Ideas were compiled into a blog for use in conjunction with this website.
Disguised Meaning in Mundane Uses
“Some of these daycares don’t look legitimate,” reported a student during a discussion about the Washington Park neighborhood. The student was referring to a number of daycares that had been inserted into vacant store fronts or hosted out of homes. Later, I overheard another student conclude that most of these “illegitimate” daycares were in truth fronts for the sale of drugs. All of this speculation by my peers led me to ask how and why they deduced this rationale, and what influences the neighborhood has on me to believe otherwise.
As I continued my research in Washington Park, I found many examples of buildings being refashioned in unexpected ways. Primarily, I found a high occurrence of “DIY” churches being placed into anything from garages to store fronts to houses. My conclusion was not that the residents were fanatically religious, but rather that the function was to help preserve perhaps their most precious asset, community. At a quick and context-less glance, the churches may not appear “legitimate,” but it is the objectification of what a church “should” look like that is blinding us from what the church is actually doing. A shift in context reframes otherwise shabby environments, so that appearance as an organizing criteria gives way to use at its core.
Use, however, is not easily defined, especially in the case of Washington Park. My research pointed me towards a great number of vacant retail and industrial spaces. Rather than making the assumption that industry, commerce, and business is totally absent from the neighborhood, I thought back to the house-run daycares and churches. Could it be true that in this community-reliant environment, transactions were taking place outside of typical commercial landscape of our regulated East side? A man dragging a salvaged metal frame to the scrap yard uses the money to pay a neighbor to fix his car out of his garage. These types of exchanges are not easily noticed, but are a legitimate part of the local economy of Washington Park.
It is easy to move into unfamiliar areas with the same cultural expectations as we had in our own neighborhoods. But in fact, this attitude may have been how many students failed to recognize the implications of the daycares and other property uses outside the norm of their experiences. In the case of such a drastic shift of landscape, it is imperative that we take a moment to allow a shift in our perspective. From a new vantage point emerges a people that are skilled, resourceful, and syndicated.
Website designed by Jayne Iken and Jessica Yester with funding from the Office of Undergraduate Research, UWM