Sunday, June 24, 2012

The BLC Thurston Woods Project Week in Review

This week has been dedicated to interviewing citizens who live in the Thurston Woods area to gather a sense of what the community means and has meant to them: What is their sense of place, what does “Thurston Woods” as a place mean to them, and how do they exist within this constructed environment.
It may be in some respects obvious as personal experience drives personal perspective, but nonetheless fascinating to encounter the diverging interpretations of a community and the “trappings” of community: work, safety, fun, enrichment, transportation, neighborliness. They certainly mean different things to different people. 
However, the points of intersection are also rather illuminating…such as how a community adapts to demographic, economic, and social change.
So what are we finding out about Thurston Woods or the personal conception of Thurston Woods as a community?
Interview one delved into the world of Jean Devlin.  Jean has been in the community for over 40 years. She is sharp, gregarious, and comfortable sharing things form 30 years ago or yesterday without inhibition.  Jean’s testimony of the neighborhood is invaluable; she’s able to remember the community as it was and relays that information through a spatial, physical, and social lens.  Her words have created a palimpsest of a community in flux over time.
My second interview was with Gerald who grew up in the Thurston Woods community, moved out, and then moved back. Gerald’s time away from the community allowed for an acute understanding of the changes once he returned. He doesn’t merely talk about how the community changed, however, but why it did. Some historical and social instances that affected the community include the recession in the 1980s and the closing of AO Smith and Latish, the crack epidemic, and the continuation of suburban sprawl. In the 1970s, when Gerald and his family moved from 14th and Burleigh,  Thurston Woods was perceived as a suburb of the city…a place for upward mobility and security. However, now, Gerald suggests that this has changed. Places like Oak Creek, Waukesha, and Menominee Falls now constitute Milwaukee’s suburbs. Safety issues are also a concern; good high schools in the neighborhood have closed, parks have become havens for crime, and businesses have moved out. Gerald and his family go outside of the community for entertainment and work.
My third interview was by a happy accident when I met Mrs. Dora and Dorothea at the Agape Community Center dinner program. Both ladies suggested that the crime rates have increased and MPS school boards are less than diverse; however, people in the community have not relinquished their sense of agency. Mrs. Dora and Dorothea both talked about how they have fought slum lords and poor school policy in order to make a better life predominately for their children and grandchildren.
The interviews that have been conducted thus far suggest a community that has somewhat of a split identity. Security, safety, and neighborliness are all threads that tie the interviews; however, perspectives regarding them vary. What more can we uncover about the Thurston Woods community in the following weeks? I’m interested to press on and learn more! Stay tuned!