I sometimes brag that I know Milwaukee so well, that all you have to do is tell me an address and I can pretty much get you there. With a few exceptions on the North and West Sides, I know my way around the whole city, but just because I pride myself on being a walking GPS, doesn't mean I visit all places equally.
In fact, ask yourself this question and please answer it seriously: How much of Milwaukee do you really see?
I bring it up because I had a meeting in Menomonee Falls yesterday, and partially to avoid I-94 construction, but partly out of curiosity, I opted to take Fond du Lac Avenue northwest all the way to get there. As I passed through a part of the city that I knew but didn't see very often, I was reminded of just how parochial my Milwaukee existence is.
The slow drive forced me to pay attention to my surroundings. True, I saw my share of boarded up businesses, but mostly I saw barber shops, cell phone stores, churches, auto parts supplies stores and day cares. I certainly wasn't driving through Milwaukee's worst neighborhoods; in fact, the Fondy corridor had a vibrant, if different, feel to it. Passing the former Capitol Court, I remembered shopping there. People still certainly shop in what it's turned into – just not me.
And that's my point. When I break it down, most of my life falls into a rectangular swath of activity that is bordered by the lake on the east, my office on the north, my home on the south, and perhaps as far as the Domes on the west. Of course, I get out of this little comfort zone to visit my parents or my in-laws or to go to Brewers games or to go to Mayfair. But the reality is, I can't remember the last time I went bowling at Silverbird Lanes on 84th St. and Silver Spring Dr., the alley I passed by yesterday. It probably was after buying an album at neighboring Mainstream Records, which is long gone.
I realized, regretfully, that if two-thirds of the City of Milwaukee would cease to exist, it would have little effect on me. Which makes me part of the problem, and I take no pride in admitting this.
So, how about you? If you like in the City of Milwaukee, how much of it do you see on a regular basis? I, personally, hope to see more. While I don't see myself doing my grocery shopping on the north side, I will visit the Fondy Farmers Market this summer. And next time a meeting takes me to Menomonee Falls, I will absolutely, positively get there taking city streets.
Milwaukee is a strange place. I have lived here a little more than two years, but I have friends who have been here close to 10 years (since they were freshmen in college) and the vast majority of them never leave the 2 mile radius that includes the UWM campus, the East Side, or Riverwest. They rarely venture out of their little enclave to experience other parts of the city and/or metro area. They don't understand why I come down so hard on Milwaukee because in the little world they have chosen to relegate themselves to everyone is white, liberal, educated, etc. They don't see the ugly side of Milwaukee that includes rampant segregation, poverty, or violent crime.
The longer I live here the more I want to go back to Denver. When I lived there I would travel anywhere and everywhere without hesitation. I could take a bus up to Boulder for the day, I could take the light rail to Park Meadows Mall in the southern suburbs, I could get amazing dim sum at the Far East Marketplace on S. Federal in Denver, or amazing pho along S. Parkder Rd. in Aurora, see a concert at Red Rocks in Morrison, or any number of other things that were spread over a region with nearly twice as many residents as Southeast Wisconsin. If Bayshore, Brookfield, and Mayfair weren't located outside of the city, I doubt I would ever go to the suburbs at all. There's segregation occurring that's city vs. suburbs, then again within the city. If you want to live in a decent area of Milwaukee, then you pretty much have to live within a mile or so of the lake. It makes for a very discombobulated metropolitan area, a gentrified lakefront with wealthy satellites surrounding it.
Your reasoning may make sense for people who lack a car, but otherwise is pretty weak. Who doesn't venture outside of their neighborhood for things like eating out, going to a bar, seeing a show, etc? Not many people I know. But most white people don't do that very often in the black part of town. OnMilwaukee is living proof - almost all the articles are about businesses and events on the east side, downtown, bay view, and riverwest. Tarnoff says he doesn't see certain parts of town very often. Well golly, why do you think that is? Is it cause he's a neighborhood recluse who never leaves a five block radius? Of course not. So why doesn't he see these other neighborhoods as much? Probably because we live in a very segregated city and he doesn't frequent places in the black part of town. No one claimed it was cause of "fear", and in fact I applaud Tarnoff for even broaching the subject, but spare us the Pollyanna reasoning that it's cause we're too lazy to go beyond 2 miles.
I love how race and/or fear always seem to get mentioned ...whatever.
The truth is that most trips we take are less than 2 miles in length. Think about what your weekly/monthly routine is. Outside of commuting to work everything you do is usually in your neighborhood, that is how neighborhoods evolve. Why would I go to the Fondy Mrkt if I can walk to south shore park for the market there? Why would I go to Brady St for brunch if I can ride my bike to State st in Tosa?
People are generally creatures of habbit, just try mixing up your commute one day...dont take the freeway, or go past every turn you normally make by a block and see something new, it feels weird. Its amazing how foreign things feel when the norm is broken, but you do get to see cool stuff!!
I do like the idea of a hidden MKE month that highlights off the path places.
Andy Tarnoff | May 11, 2011 at 12:40 p.m. (report)
In case anyone thinks the contrary, race or safety are not the reasons I haven't found myself in this part of town. As I said, I hope to get to more of these places, like the Fondy Market, this summer.
I'd like to see a Milwaukee challenge. To get folks from all parts of town to explore other parts of town. Milwaukee has so much going on in all neighborhoods - its worth exploring as a "Milwaukee Undiscovered" month Andy - like a restaurant or bar month. Do it, blog on it. Heck have the whole staff down there do it. Find all the treasures everywhere. I dare ya! (and maybe we can see some more coverage of other parts of Milwaukee too that way). Thx for sharing your feelings and insights. I hope it generates a lot of discussion or at least gives people food for thought.
That's how I feel about the parks too - so many wonderful park gems in all neighborhoods of Milwaukee yet, not everyone knows about them. Many stories to be told from all parts of the city and county. Exciting proposition to tell them! Might help break down barriers, open eyes and change perceptions throughout the area.
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