I was in a room tonight with ±800 community organizers. Fox News would have freaked the fuck out.
It was the 2014 MANDI (Milwaukee Area Neighborhood Development Initiative) Awards, sponsored by LISC (Local Initiative Support Corporation) ( seriously, the acronym-happiness cracks me up as Missus Zombie has worked for two of the largest engineering and manufacturing companies in the world, and these folks are simply out-acronymmed)
There were 5 awards, and sixteen finalists. People in the room have accomplished game-changing community improvement projects, ranging from things like the first community-owned tavern in the State to a public park that redefines ‘urban park’ and reclaims an abandoned industrial area in the center of Milwaukee to restoring the Kinnickinnic River to a natural state from a horrible concrete drainage swale.
All told, the people in that room represented hundreds of millions of dollars in community-oriented projects that focused on real, practical solutions that demonstrate tangible results in the city, particularly in the struggling areas of the City. The Mayor kicked things off by mentioning the new NML building which is not only preserving 1100 jobs downtown, but adding nearly 3000 new jobs in construction. This isn’t Scott Walker bullshit jobs, Milwaukee and NML have nearly single-handedly added jobs at the rate that Walker’s promise to add 250,000 jobs in his first term should have (needless to say, Turdwaffle is not meeting his metric). Also mentioned was a new program to address the terrible toll on our streets from the harsh winter, by putting new street repair workers on the job, and drawing from the pool of people who’ve struggled with employment because of prison records. Makes me damn proud to have voted for that Barrett fella, who is a badass in his own right.
I talked with a couple of very nice women from Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service about the event, and we agreed that the “mainstream news” in the area is more interested in bad news, slamming the public schools, weather, and sports to actually report on good things that happen. On the good people that are making them happen. I also chatted with one of my former employees who is now a Community Organizer in her own right, and she lamented that there is nobody giving these projects the attention and accolades they deserve.
Tonight, the people who make things better were recognized by the people who make things better. As such, it was a boisterous outpouring of congratulations and recognition by the people who know best who is doing it the best. It was GLORIOUS.
Shyeah, the project that I’ve been yammering on about over the last couple of years was a finalist for the project award (missed it by THAT MUCH — mainly because the winner was bigger and was a Silver LEED project) and my client on many projects, the non-profit (yes, a COMMUNITY ORGANIZER) was the award recipient for the Cornerstone Award for work over time. Here’s the thing, though; it truly was a case where I felt honored to be a finalist, and very happy for my client who won the big accolades. I congratulated the architect whose project won out over mine, and everybody in the hall was nothing but enthusiastic for everyone who was nominated. Because none of us — not ONE — did these projects for personal recognition or just a paycheck. We are Milwaukeeans, dammit, and we will not allow a fucking recession or goddam Republicans in the State Lege weaken or damage our city. And we will drink beer while doing so.
The thing that was universal in all the attendees was a steadfast belief that Milwaukee is a great city, that it can be greater, and an irrepressible enthusiasm for working toward that goal.
I recognize that this optimism and enthusiasm may be an unusual experience at the Empire; but let’s not pretend that I am being Pollyanna Happy Zombie here. Everyone recognizes that any of these projects takes unrivaled skills and talents and ridiculous amounts of effort, not to mention bushels of luck, to come to fruition. But we all took the opportunity to recognize the times when all of that managed to actually work out.
I am currently working on a couple of projects in the same neighborhood, one of which is a rehab of an historic school building, possibly to assisted-living neighborhood-based housing, or another small project which might be used as test-bed for innovative tactics and sustainability that can provide a how-to for other owners of small buildings in the area. And beyond that, I am working a strip mall building, trying to bring the level of design for these things up a bit, not to mention the second phase of the crazy-ass angled building, the new phase has just turned into a seven story building. And I am stretching my design legs, trying to make every one of those buildings better than everything around them, and more responsive toward their neighborhoods, more environmentally sustainable, more efficient and more successful.
Tomorrow, I am going to the Business Journal Real Estate Awards lunch, and our project is up for another award. Later this year, the same project will be up for a Mayor’s Design Award (and next year, that crazy angled building will be in there also, you bet) and I won’t lie; getting awards for projects I design feels good. Damn good. But the feeling of knowing that the projects I do have had an impact on the communities where they are built, an impact beyond being a blank space housing a new Subway or a new pod-based subdivision layout, that is something I feel right from my toes to my branes.
Hey, you know what? I think I am a Community Organizer also!!