Milwaukee Residents Worry Gentrification is Changing Neighborhoods For the Worse

Milwaukee, WI – The neighborhoods of Milwaukee have recently undergone changes, the kind that cause developers to salivate over the idea of untapped markets. One in particular called Walker’s Point sits on the south side of Milwaukee between the Third Ward’s upscale shops and condos and the once working-class Bay View, which has given way to posh restaurants and homes overlooking the lakeshore. 

The Third Ward of Milwaukee has always been a comfortable and “safe” neighborhood because of city planning and all the thought and care that has been put into it. The neighborhood is predominantly homeowners and has developed into a place where people can feel safe to walk their dogs after dark, and a 300 unit condo is welcome. Bay View has become a haven for mostly white people who love the pace of city life but don’t necessarily want to mix with the cultural tapestry of Milwaukee. Case in point – when a chef on TV’s “Hell’s Kitchen” was given a Mexican food challenge, they quipped, “I am from Bay View in Milwaukee, I am the furthest thing from a fuckin’ enchilada.”

Walker’s Point sits in between these two places, a community that housed the immigrant culture of Milwaukee, where jobs were abundant and people could speak their language freely without getting strange looks from others on the street. The architecture is beautiful, ranging from New Orleans-style ranch homes to Victorian three-unit houses with wraparound porches. Turning these homes into rooming houses in the 1960’s was not uncommon, as that was when Milwaukee was a hub for industrial work, attracting people from all over the continent looking to work and plant roots. 

There was another face to this neighborhood as well, as it was Milwaukee’s red light district prior to being working class, and had the makings of being the city’s first LGBTQ+ district, which it remains until this day. Various restaurants that catered to the white dollar began popping up, which drew much attention from investors. This neighborhood was and is home to many artists who see the changes happening before their eyes.

I asked a local artist recently, “Is it important that artists show the plights of their cities and draw attention to social issues?” 

The answer – “Yes, but one has to be careful because art is usually the first wave of gentrification.” 

Art has always been the lifeblood of this neighborhood, and the trajectory of its significance is usually told with murals. Is it true that art attracts investors? It does not. It attracts young people with money, however, ones that will spend their dollars where they deem an “authentic” place to live. “Gentrification” is a word that stirs up all kinds of emotions, especially in cities where such dramatic rehabilitation is taking place. It can be done subtly, such as having pedal taverns screaming their way down streets or with billboards that proclaim “We buy ugly houses” that offer to pay for dilapidated properties. 

Commercial Banking Town Bank VP Joaquin Altoro said in an interview with Urban Milwaukee, “I don’t really think the neighborhoods will be highly integrated in my lifetime. If that’s the case, is there a way that we could take segregation and see economic development success?”

In the past year, 4 new condo developments have gone up with another one planned for 2022. Activists in the city have begun protesting this newfound stake and rampant change of a beloved neighborhood in Milwaukee. 

“Maybe there should be more attention paid to what is happening in our public schools and the way the city wants to keep adding police to a task force that is seemingly put here to drive our people out,” an unnamed activist said.

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