By Dave Begel Contributing Writer Published Apr 26, 2012 at 3:00 PM

One of the greatest strengths of Milwaukee is its neighborhoods, enclaves where people live and where they make their homes.

And a question that people ask when they are deciding where to live is, "Is it a good neighborhood?" It's a simple question but the answer is complex and open to a lot of interpretation.

I've been thinking about neighborhoods lately and wondering where in Milwaukee are the good neighborhoods and which one is the best.

I won't pretend that the ideas I have that make up a great neighborhood are mine alone. In large measure they've been formed by my experiences and by reading Richard Florida, a world renowned urban theorist.

Florida wrote a book called "The Rise of the Creative Class" which, among other things, talks about the things that make up a great neighborhood and influence the way we live.

"When the Gallup Organization looked at what gives you a high degree of emotional attachment to your neighborhood, the answers were pretty surprising," he said in an interview when the book came out.

"Obviously, having a low crime rate and great schools and good jobs are important, but there were two other factors that were really critical. The first was a community that treats all of its residents fairly — ethnic minorities, new immigrants, low-income people, young people, old people, families, entrepreneurs, artists.

"And then the most important factor was what I call the quality of the neighborhood itself. Does it have trees? Does it have open space? Does it preserve its historic architecture? In other words, does it have some kind of physical beauty? This quality, the aesthetic character, was the number one factor. "

With that in mind I've been thinking about Milwaukee and which neighborhoods qualify as great and which ones have a way to go.

The East Side is often mentioned as the best neighborhood in the city. I lived on the East Side for much of my adult life and am tempted to agree. But looking at it dispassionately it doesn't really qualify.

The area is largely white and high income. If a great neighborhood has ethnic and economic diversity, the East Side seems to be missing it.

But it's a wonderful place to live, if you can afford it.

The Brewers Hill neighborhood is a candidate, mainly because of the outstanding architecture in the area.

The old factories have been turned into condominiums and the houses are a rich cultural mix. A drive through Brewers Hill will allow you to see some of the greatest home building this city has ever seen.

Riverwest, where I live, meets a lot of the requirements of a great neighborhood.

It's an appealing mix of residential and commercial, the population is one of the most diverse in the city and it has a lot of green space and physical beauty. One of the weaknesses of Riverwest is its proximity to some of the highest crime areas in the city.

The Sherman Park area will get a lot of votes as one of the longest lasting integrated neighborhoods in the city. There are some very gracious homes in Sherman Park, which at one time was the base of much of Milwaukee's Jewish community. Sherman Park, though, has been beset by spells of crime that have been a cause for concern.

The Jackson Park neighborhood on the South Side is the home for many municipal workers, police, firefighters and hospital workers. A recent influx of Hispanic residents has increased the diversity of the area and it is relatively free of crime with one of the most active block watch programs in the city.

Bay View can stake a claim as the best neighborhood in the city and it would be hard to argue. The area is diverse, in age, income, sexual preference and ethnicity, although it does lack a significant black population. The area is home to many wonderful commercial establishments from restaurants to bars and taverns and interesting shops.

No survey of great Milwaukee neighborhoods would be complete without a mention of Clarke Square. It is one of the most diverse communities in the city with a vast array of shops, restaurants, churches and community activities. It is home to the vibrant Latino community and features outstanding shopping.

It's hard to pick a best out of Milwaukee's neighborhoods and I'm sure I've left some places out. But one thing that's sure, the City of Milwaukee offers a lot of variety in living choices. It's a heck of a lot better than any of Milwaukee's suburbs.

Dave Begel Contributing Writer

With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.

He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.

This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.

Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.