ith almost 600,000 residents, Milwaukee is the largest city in Wisconsin and is situated on the western side of Lake Michigan. Located near Milwaukee’s north side rests the neighborhood of Lindsay Heights, a 110-block area home to almost 14,900 residents, 94% of whom are black.
Lindsay Heights was once a vibrant neighborhood home to many businesses and families, but the 1950s saw the beginning of a long period of disinvestment. Racial redlining, the destruction of thousands of homes and businesses for freeway expansion, and the disappearance of jobs ripped apart the community’s social and economic fabric. Commercial corridors and surrounding neighborhoods deteriorated, property values plummeted, businesses moved out, unemployment rose, and schools suffered. Following the 2008 recession, one in every 16 homes in Lindsay Heights was foreclosed, more than three times the national average. As of the 2010 census, 45% of Lindsay Heights residents 25 and older did not have a high school diploma; one-quarter of the neighborhood’s residents were unemployed, compared to 9.4% in Milwaukee as a whole; and the median income was about half of what it was for the city as a whole, with 40% of neighborhood residents living in poverty, compared to a total of 21% for the city.
In Lindsay Heights, open land most often is the result of structure demolition, making it subject to compaction, contamination, and disuse. Despite these statistics, various community-driven projects in Lindsay Heights point to a more promising future—the community is seeing healthier food options and new neighborhood-owned small businesses and nonprofits setting up shop; vacant lots being transformed into community gardens, fruit orchards, and pocket parks; centuries-old homes being renovated; and a variety of new employment options becoming available.
The Milwaukee team includes the City of Milwaukee Environmental Collaboration Office (ECO); the Cream City Conservation Corporation, a two-pronged social enterprise that works with organizations to address internal cultures and practices that contribute to workforce homogeneity; Alice’s Garden, an urban farm in the Lindsay Heights neighborhood; and the Walnut Way Conservation Corporation. In 2018, Walnut Way was selected to join the Institute for Sustainable Communities’ Partnership Resilient Communities. As a resident-led neighborhood organization, Walnut Way is committed to sustaining an economically diverse community through civic engagement and environmental stewardship, and to creating venues for prosperity. Through this partnership, and in collaboration with the ECO’s HOME GR/OWN initiative, Walnut Way is converting vacant lots into usable spaces with solar and green infrastructure to revitalize the Lindsay Heights neighborhood and increase neighborhood cohesion and placemaking.
- The team has already forged strong partnerships. ECO is an active partner in Walnut Way’s work. ECO recently released the ECO-Neighborhoods Tool Kit, which serves as a resource for neighborhood organizers and residents.
- In 2012, Walnut Way launched Blue Skies Landscaping, a workforce development program that offers a pathway to employment and neighborhood prosperity in a community where the unemployment rate is three times the national average.
- Walnut Way takes a comprehensive approach to community engagement, going beyond its environmental sustainability programming to coordinate programming that responds to neighborhood priorities, including yoga wellness classes, women’s healing circles, and a men’s wellness network.
- Systemic barriers – Systemic barriers, such as a lack of access to transportation, trainings, and work, still prevent people of color from entering the solar industry.
- Scaling up – Blue Skies Landscaping is eager to grow, but lacks capital funding for hard costs such as equipment.