Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Thriving Cities Project Aims to Build on Milwaukee's Successes

S Bence

The Thriving Cities Project was born at the University of Virginia.  It makes its first public appearance in Milwaukee Wednesday as a focus group  explores  “what it means and what it takes to thrive.”
Portland, Oregon; Richmond Virginia; and Orlando, Florida are also part of the project, created by the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture.

Over a five year process, Thriving Cities will fold in a total of ten cities. Their accumulated feedback will help design what organizers say will be a “new method of community assessment.”

David Flowers is the local coordinator and will pull together Milwaukee’s “profile.” He says he fell into the project, when University of Virginia sociologist Josh Yates  telephoned his graduate advisor.

“I was a graduate student at Marquette and my advisor works with the Community Transformation Project out of Marquette and I just happened to be in his office one day when Josh called. And Josh was looking for someone to write the profile for Milwaukee and I just happened to be at the right place at the right time,” Flowers says.

Katherine Wilson is executive director of the Frank Zeidler Center for Public Discussion. She offered to coordinate the focus group series.

“I just extended the Zeidler Center’s process and our services. Just thinking it would be a good fit,” Wilson says.

Volunteers, emboldened by Milwaukee’s former mayor Frank Zeidler started the center in 2006.

“His vision was to create safe spaces that people who hold vastly different opinions about key issues related to the city and national could come together and speak to each other and hear and be heard by people they would normally feel very threatened to be in the same room with,” Wilson says.

She says The Thriving Cities Project sessions will follow the Zeidler Center formula.

“We meet in a large group and then we split into small groups and each of those groups has a facilitator and there are a series of rounds; and with each round the participants are asked a specific question,” Wilson explains.

Each week, participants will share insights and opinions about different facets of Milwaukee.

- Arts and Architecture

- Law, Legal, Demographics, Police, Community Participation, Community Development, Neighborhood Participation

- Education, Community-based programs

- Economics, Employments, Homelessness, City Budget

- Religious organizations, Ethical Institutions, Private/Public Partnerships, Philanthropy

- Environmental Programs, Health Data, Farmer's Markets, Brown Fields

Unless participants say otherwise, their comments remain confidential.

“These focus groups we want people to feel like they’re in a safe place to be honest about what’s happening. The process is not about creating consensus it’s about maintain difference and allowing others to hear and come in contact with that difference,” Wilson says.

Coordinator David Flowers says the resulting report  will incorporate key thoughts shared throughout the public input process. Milwaukee's summary will be analyzed alongside those of the other Thriving Cities Project participants.

“The final product of this whole five year study, what we’re hoping to create is a city-wide assessment tool based on examining what is thriving, what it going well, where do people flourish in a city; in contrast to many assessment tools based on what’s going wrong. It’s also based on cities not as institutions or a hierarchical structure where things are managed from on high; it’s more of notion that cities are a stand-alone human ecology,” Flowers says.

Katherine Wilson says each session is limited to 15 participants.

“I think that the intention is to invited people, for instance for example in the realm of the justice; not everyone in the city will know what’s thriving in terms of the just and well-ordered, so we want to be targeting those people who can speak to those endowments, so that’s why we’re limited it to fifteen people,” she says.

When we spoke, Wilson said spots “at the table” were still open.

Check here if you are interested in registering.

Susan Bence entered broadcasting in an untraditional way. After years of avid public radio listening, Susan returned to school and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She interned for WUWM News and worked with the Lake Effect team, before being hired full-time as a WUWM News reporter / producer.