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bringing people together

one photo at a time

9 | 11 |16

BY Dominic inouye



27 zip codes.  1 city.  Bringing people together, one photo at a time.


This is one of the taglines for a new project getting ready to launch this month: ZIP MKE.


Between now and the end of 2016, ZIP MKE plans to visit every zip code in the city of Milwaukee to capture beautiful images of people and places.  The goal is to break down the geographical barriers that divide the city through an online gallery (coming soon to and exhibits in 2017 at various locations throughout the city of photographs both scenic and portrait.


ZIP MKE's philosophy recognizes that the historical segregation and economic disparities of Milwaukee, the useful but artificial zip code divides, and the divisive, dichotomous nature of our language (“city/inner city,” “urban/suburban,” “good neighborhood/bad neighborhood," "the hood," "the ghetto," "yuppieville," "dangerous neighborhood," etc.) affect how we see the city and, more importantly, how we see each other.

53206 is 53213 is 53202.  They are all our city.


Leading the charge at ZIP MKE will be a core team of "Zipsters," which includes me and the following:


  • Mario Sinclair of Humans of Milwaukee (@wearehumansofmke)

  • Austin Anderson of AA Photography (@austinandersonphotography)

  • Carol Rice Kraco of Kraco Photograph (@kracophotography)

  • Bryan Kubel of Good Land News (@mkegoodlandnews)


In the two weeks that we have been planning this endeavor, I have begun to force myself to see the city anew, familiarizing myself with the stretch between my home in the Wauwatosa part of 53213 and the lake front in 53202 and the East Side in 53211, where I spend time each week writing at The Pfister Hotel and working out with November Project Milwaukee. Center, Locust, and Burleigh Streets get me where I need to go with ease, as do North Avenue and Capitol Drive, Lisbon Avenue and Fond Du Lac Avenue.  I've begun taking little detours to explore Sherman Park (53210), trips north up Fond Du Lac and Martin Luther King Drive.  I've found little parks and playgrounds I never knew existed, beautiful gardens, both personal and community, and places that are being reclaimed by residents and made beautiful again.  And I'm definitely looking forward to the opening of a new restaurant at 1848 W. Fond Du Lac called The Tandem, in the Lindsay Heights neighborhood (53205).


I refuse to refer to these zip codes as "the inner city."  They are the city--at least as much as 53202 and 53211.


It's not like my life has never brought me to these other parts of Milwaukee since I came here from Seattle in 1994.  When I moved into my first apartment as a graduate student at Marquette University, my father and I drove to the nearest Target in the Midtown shopping center on 60th and Capitol (53216) (it closed in 1996).  This was my first experience of the deep segregation in the city: my Japanese father, Yukio, and I were the only non-Black customers.  Starting in about 2006, I began attending Juneteenth Day on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive (53212) each summer with my Pius XI High School student Denzel Johnson as we began a failed attempt at making a documentary on gun violence in Milwaukee.  Though we ultimately never finished, the time spent talking to dozens of people, many in their homes--like the woman who lost her son to a shooting near Sherman Park--opened my eyes to my privilege.  I spent years on my way back from Racine, where I taught at The Prairie School, stopping in 53233 at the freeway exit, talking to and befriending the men who were experiencing homelessness, living in the woods south of the freeway.  Last summer, I spent a couple of days during the bus workers' strike as an impromptu taxi for residents all over the city.  And this summer, I spent time documenting Teens Grow Greens' efforts in Franklin Heights (53206).


I write this not to toot my own horn ("Wow," I can hear some people saying.  "Look at all the ways you've come in as an outsider.  Big deal.") but more to recognize that while I have never shied away from seeing and experiencing the various zip codes--and the people and places within them--I haven't done enough.  Hence, ZIP MKE, which was born shortly after the August 13th police shooting of Sylville Smith and the violent unrest (then rest and clean-up and restoration) in Sherman Park (that I learned about the night-of while enjoying music and spoken word poetry about peace at the Strange Fruit music festival in 53212).


Which brings me to this weekend.  


Yesterday, I jogged 6 miles from my home to the Milwaukee Art Museum.  This is part of my "training" (which started, yes, this weekend) for a half marathon next weekend, but I also chose the route with ZIP MKE in mind.  If I had not taken the route I had (through the Washington Highlands, east on Vliet to Highland, then east to 35th and all the way down State and then Wisconsin), I might not have ever known that there are some pretty cute shops on Vliet (a garden store, a home goods store, a glass blowing studio) and that Artists Working in Education (A.W.E.) has its headquarters at 4315 W. Vliet St. (53208), which is right next to a cute specialty cake shop called Eat Cake!.  I'll be going back to West Highland Boulevard just south of Vliet to take some lovely photos from that vantage point of Miller Park and the Miller brewery.  On 27th and State, I enjoyed three hanging ferns on the first-floor porch of a house that I've driven past countless times, and heard the deep reverberations of a large wind chime on the second-floor balcony.  Further down State as I approached Marquette, a woman whistled at me from her car (my first thought was that that was a little bit sexist, but let me tell you that no one has ever whistled at me, so it was . . . cute and flattering).  And then I was in, well, the city that many of us already know: downtown.



Then today, I ran another 6 miles, but this time stayed closer to home, exploring Washington Park, which, I'm embarrassed to admit, I had only visited earlier this summer with November Project Milwaukee to do a workout there.  My neighbors, both in their 80s, have been going there for years to listen to bandshell concerts in the summer, but I had never bothered to venture there, even though it's only about two miles away.


Arriving at the beautiful pond at the north end of the park, I met a boy who was fishing for Bluegills (he had caught one no bigger than 3 inches) and an old man who had brought his son and daughter to the park to fish because she wanted to get out of the house.  What a beautiful way to spend a Sunday morning, I thought.  And people say that kids today are selfish and connected to their devices.  Nope, today they were fishing in a pond I didn't know existed until a few months ago.  Before I left them, the gentleman reminded me that Washington Park used to be the city's zoo and that he remembered spending time there with his mother when he was growing up.  Here are some of the photos of them I took, which could become part of ZIP MKE's "53208" gallery:

I left these peaceful fishers and ran through the park toward the bandshell and past the playground, then south to head back home, and on my way up a little hill I encountered a man and a woman holding hands.  It turns out that the man was the woman's father and that they were on their daily walk through Milwaukee's many parks.  She could not speak--he told me she had some mental challenges--but smiled and communicated with her lips in joyful ways.  He told me that she was having a wonderful time.  Every day he picks a different park and they walk for one mile together, partly to help her lose some weight, mostly because they got to spend time together.  I could take some hints from that kind of dedication.  We all could take some hints from that kind of love.​

ZIP MKE is still getting ready to launch, but I hope that in the meantime you will consider doing a few things:


  • Get to know a different zip code a little better.  Take a walk somewhere new.  Take a detour on your way home from work.  Visit a new shop or restaurant.

  • Get to know your own zip code a little better.  See above.

  • Support other get-to-know-your-city organizations like Doors Open Milwaukee and other celebrate-your-city projects like Dear MKE.  But also venture beyond the well-known streets and landmarks.

  • Most importantly, talk to strangers, wherever they are.  Ask them how their day is going.  Ask them to tell you a story.  Listen to them.  They may be weirded out or cautious at first, but that's only because we've all been conditioned to keep to ourselves.  That's a problem.


And keep your eyes open and your cameras ready.  ZIP MKE will be seeking your photographs soon!  Together, we can bring all of us together, one photograph at a time.

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