Consider this project as a beginning of a conversation. More precisely, a three-year long conversation exploring enduring values, themes, dreams and practices that capture the spirit of the Washington Park neighborhood. This conversation will involve local residents, businesses, organizations, community scholars, students and faculty and engage them in a collaborative dialog. Philosopher Hannah Arendt once said that to live together in the world means essentially that a world of things is between those who have it in common, as a table is located between who sit around it; the world, like every in-between, relates and separates men at the same time. That shared common world, for the purpose of this project, is Washington Park—its people, events, daily life, architecture, roads, green spaces, gardens, and the many networks of relationships that connect them. But Arendt also reminds us that this world we share between us is never interpreted as the same by each of us. Rather we all approach it from different perspectives, bring our unique worldviews and “differences of position and the resulting variety of perspectives.”
When we set out to write urban stories of Washington Park, we confronted a conceptual dilemma. What do we choose to hear amongst the rich din of voices? Do we only hear the few loud commentaries and ignore those who prefer to remain silent? How do we make sense of this thriving multicultural neighborhood without reducing and simplifying its stories? If we see Washington Park neighborhood from diverse points of view, then what is it that we hold in common?
Mainstream commentaries and media representations of this neighborhood are woefully insufficient. Quantitative demographic numbers, property values, or more vulgarly, coarse statistical narratives of crime and revenue do not do justice to this neighborhood. These stories of Washington Park neither represent the nuanced diversity of opinions within this community nor do they solicit the life histories of a range of local residents. At the BLC field school we became intensely aware of the shortfalls of any research project that “reduces” a neighborhood and ends up narrating a single story of a place and its people.
The historical complexity of Washington Park ensured that we discovered an entangled network of myriad stories. Our stories emerged from our conversation with residents. Material culture and homes spoke to us too. Events and daily life suggested more tales. Each account came with a plot, a cast of characters, and larger contexts within which they played out. We approached the stories of Washington Park by identifying central themes around which they cohered. These themes were like plot-vortexes around which many conversations coalesced. In the section titled forum we introduce you to community voices around seven central themes that emerged during our 2014 field school: Change, Strength, Values, Dreams, Resilience, Ties, and Contact. Although the themes were common, people interpreted them from distinct vantage points, making each individual story a variation on a theme. If you search the stories of people and places in this website, you will discover that each story resonates with many of these thematic ideas.
A vibrant discussion around these themes will serve as a point of entry for our long journey. We need your feedback and engagement. We encourage this nascent conversation to become a civic or community discourse. We hope that this project will provide strangers, visitors, and neighbors something common to talk about.
How are our stories relevant for future action? We suggest two tentative answers: enhancement of grassroots power and knowledge. During the next three years we will explore if multiple stories around enduring plots can be heard in ways that are resounding and empowering. We want to find out if by sharing our knowledge about our common world we can strengthen, support, and enhance that world. We want to examine how our personal stories and public conversations may unite us as citizens.
So let our journey begin.
CC has a message for you!
Washington Park Newsletter. Milan Outlaw, Editor 2014
BLC Field School: A Unique Concept
Previous Field School Pages
Washington Park Stories
Washington Park Partners Sustainable Community Plan
Cultures and Communities Program
Wisconsin Humanities Council
2014 NID Plan for Washington Park
Maps of Washington Park Neighborhood taken from the USGS Historical Topographic Map Explorer. The USGS Historical Topographic Map Collection, http://historicalmaps.arcgis.com, (Accessed July 9, 2014)
Sponsors: Wisconsin Humanities Council; Buildings-Landscapes-Cultures, Office of Undergraduate Research, Cultures and Communities Program, School of Architecture and Urban Planning, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee; Washington Park Partners; Milwaukee Preservation Alliance; Historic Milwaukee, Inc.; Our Next Generation.