Expert calls for ‘collective impact’ in Milwaukee

A recent report by national expert Paul Brophy painted a blunt and bleak picture of the condition of neighborhoods in Milwaukee’s inner city.

“While past and current initiatives to improve neighborhood conditions have had some important successes, the general trends in Milwaukee’s neighborhoods are not promising,” Brophy stated in his report, titled, "Community Development in Milwaukee: An Assessment and Recommendations.”

Brophy is a senior advisor to Enterprise Community Partners and the Center for Community Progress, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institute and specializes in older industrial cities and their neighborhoods.
His report was funded by Northwestern Mutual, Local Initiatives Support Corp. (LISC), Helen Bader Foundation, Greater Milwaukee Foundation, JP Morgan Chase, Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA), The City of Milwaukee, M&I Bank and the Zilber Family Foundation.

According to Brophy’s assessment of Milwaukee:
* The city continues its very significant racial and ethnic isolation.
* Poverty is growing in inner city Milwaukee.
* Vacant housing has increased substantially.
* Property values in many neighborhoods have plummeted.
* The path to upward mobility remains blocked for many.

The poverty rate in the city continues to rise. The most recent census report indicates that the city poverty rate is now 29.5 percent, the eighth-highest nationally among cities with populations above 250,000

“These trends are in no way unique to Milwaukee; this is a bad time for the many neighborhoods across the country. Yet these trends are an indication that the current community development system is not up to the challenge of improving the city’s neighborhoods, and that radical changes are needed in the way the city conducts its business of neighborhood improvement.  Failure to substantially improve the system is likely to lead to profound disappointment and further decline in neighborhood conditions,” Brophy wrote.

OK, we all know the problems. But what can be done about them?

Brophy began his work in July and conducted more than 50 interviews of system stakeholders in Milwaukee and, with assistance from an associate, reviewed the community development systems in the peer cities of Indianapolis, Kansas City and Columbus.

Brophy recommends a fresh “collective impact” approach to neighborhood improvement in Milwaukee. He pointed to organizations doing positive things in Milwaukee, but they are fractured and are not working together to maximize their impact to truly make a difference.

Brophy said the dimensions of a “collective impact” initiative are: a common agenda; shared measurement systems; mutually reinforcing activities; continuous communication; and backbone support organizations.
Brophy recently unveiled this bold approach at Milwaukee’s first Community Development Symposium organized by LISC Milwaukee and hosted by Marquette University Law School.

According to Leo Ries, executive director of LISC Milwaukee, the unique gathering was an opportunity to kick-start a more inclusive and much larger game plan for community development in Milwaukee.
Brophy also challenged Milwaukee’s banks to get more involved. He cited the Healthy Neighborhoods Program in Baltimore, Md., where six lenders have committed $40 million in mortgages at favorable terms and below market in 41 targeted disadvantaged neighborhoods.

“When lenders were approached in Milwaukee some time ago to form a loan program for the Greater Milwaukee Foundation’s program, the discussion languished and then ended with no loan pool created,” Brophy said.

 

Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes Milwaukee.

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