Sunday, June 24, 2012

Places for youth

Oral history week has been exciting. Everyone holds a story, and we have come across many interesting characters. Our group interviewed a student who works at the Agape Community Center, where most of our classes take place (except when they're held in someone's garage as a study in American cultural landscapes). He lived in Berryland (one of Milwaukee's 24 public housing complexes) and went to Agape until he left for college a couple years ago. His time in Thurston Woods revolves around basketball, working with kids, and cleaning up trash in the neighborhood. His effort to include youth contradicts the way he and his friends are perceived. A few years ago, they had four full-size basketball courts, then the city tore them up and left the kids with two half courts, and left the rest as a grassy open area. A few other interviewees have talked about these grassy areas--they have the potential to be places where people can gather, but they have become voids instead,almost scornful in their unused potential. Youth like our interviewee feel voiceless in the community: stereotyped as dangerous, apathetic, and unimportant (when many are just the opposite, and this treatment creates the problem that it originally perceives). They play basketball in the alleys--where people don't watch their every move, where they won't get stopped by police, where they feel more ownership of their community. When their courts were taken away, they were left without a place and relegated to alleys: the back side of the neighborhood. What is our role in this? I would like to tell this student's story about urban planning and youth. As a public history project, it won't be catalogued and hidden, but how can this story be used to bring attention and awareness back to the issue of profiling youth and non-inclusive urban planning?