Me on Gentrification

I moved up here in 1994 from a small town down south. Everyone back home in my hood looked the same. We all enjoyed the same things. Cheap apartments or shotgun shacks. New used cars. We dressed in Target and flea market wardrobes. Boring, but comfortable and familiar!

Most of the well-to-do lived in communities gated with wrought iron. Played on chemically manicured lawns and slept in identical ranch houses with sporty vans and smart lawn mowers on display out front. Was I supposed to aspire to this world of picture perfect families dressed in preppy clothes…step proud into this world with some expensive, real leather shoes on? (I was used to Payless pleather!) \

I had never been much of anywhere, so when I made it to Milwaukee I was wide-eyed and thrilled by what I saw as diversity! Little country girl in the big city! I found the “inner city” exciting and depressing at the same time. The East Side was hip and full of what the folks back home might call weirdos. I was hooked on the offbeat; the outsiders…the rainbow and polka dotted ones. I dug the hippie chicks. The bums. The suburbanite teens hanging out trying too hard to look delinquent and cool. The skater dudes. The poets…especially that Expressions journal crew! The Italian Jewish Polish grannies that would pinch my baby girl’s cheek and call her CUTE. Looked forward to Orchid Annie’s cheap sidewalk sales!

And my average poor single mother self was happy living a block off Brady street. It became my new hood. I fit right in. For a while. Gentrification! Things changed. So, I escaped to Riverwest. Away from the spread of the middle and upper class enclaves. Away from the upscale restaurants, bars, and shops. To a place where I wasn’t so aware of my socio-economic condition.

I found the real soul of Milwaukee residing here. I was intrigued by the complexity … a deteriorating neighborhood full of creative individuals working to make it better place to live, yet at the same time, trying to avoid the upgrading of the hood and the consequent displacement of folks that have been calling Riverwest home for a long time. (Yeah, that’s a long sentence and I will admit that this issue has me a bit confused.)

It’s upon us. Things are changing. GENTRIFICATION…people of a certain class with lots of money moving into neighborhoods to make them better? But what is “better”? Sacred green space and ethnic businesses or a huge corporate supermarket store? Funky second hand store or trendy Gap? Unique and humble houses or cookie- cutter luxury condos? You tell me.

I can’t break this issue down to right or wrong. But I do know that I live, do business and work here. I’m a homeowner and I can’t imagine living in any other part of this city. I like what we’ve got going on this side of the River. What to do? What to do? Grassroots. Local. Safe. Diverse in every way.

Riverwest Currents – Volume 1 – Issue 5 – June 2002