Lately, my boyfriend and I have been going on a lot of walks in various pockets and neighborhoods in Milwaukee. More so, we were able to participate in a two-day even called “Doors Open” which allowed citizens to explore buildings that are often closed off from the public. One of the places we’ve visited and is the most popular site was the 41st floor of the US Bank Building. This is the highest building in Milwaukee and arguably offers the best 360 view of Milwaukee. On top of that, it was a clear summer day to enjoy the view of Lake Michigan and everything Milwaukee had to offer.
But after all these urban explorations, one thing that striked me from living in the most segregated city in America is the lack of public spaces in the community. Cities often invest in public spaces as a way to counter the worsening social and economic segregation. More so now, greater initiatives are placed on recognizing that Americans are living in increasingly segregated neighborhoods. A 2014 report from the city observatory shows that the economic segregation is on the rise: The number of high poverty neighborhoods in core urban areas has tripled, and their population doubled between 1970 and 2010. At the same time, Americans spend less time together in social settings, trust each other less and interact less frequently with people whose social and economic experiences differ from their own.
Rather than focusing on building new housing developments over historical cream city buildings, or replacing sports stadiums, completely renovating neighborhoods, we must focus and rethink our efforts on creating inclusive spaces to the diverse community in Milwaukee. The new commercial spaces are just going to make the segregation worse. There is no neutral ground where people can share experiences with people who are different from themselves, where a common purpose is nurtured. By honoring the rich culture we have, fostering artist spaces, growing community gardens and investing in our homegrown talent as well as connecting neighborhoods, we can slowly begin to bridge the longstanding economic, racial and social divisions and create new opportunities together, as one city. I can’t keep envisioning what could be in a public spaces when I have seen it work in other cities, nor can I keep comparing Milwaukee to other cities knowing full well that it has the capability to be the cornerstone of civic engagement.