Thompson’s Take (Opinion): The wrong people are excited about Kenosha Innovation Neighborhood

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Lately, when I think about the Kenosha Innovation Neighborhood project near Uptown Kenosha, I return to the same thought: The wrong people are excited about this.

See, I’ve obviously been following developments on it, and recently, I attended the public input session on the project at the old Brown Bank Building.

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Now, I acknowledge the hard work that has gone into this project. And I do honestly appreciate the idea. 

However, all I could see when I looked at the concepts, the mock-ups of eateries and art spaces and so on and so forth was a little Downtown Kenosha ⏤ not a bit of Uptown Kenosha.

And that, in a nutshell, is the problem with the project. 

I hear excitement from people in Downtown Kenosha and other areas of the city about the Kenosha Innovation Neighborhood project. All of it having the unsaid sentiment of “Finally, Uptown will have something.”

But it won’t. Not the people who live there now. 

And the people who live there now are acutely aware of that. Therefore, they are ⏤ let’s say ⏤ far less excited about it. 

KIN leading Kenosha in direction of Racine

To explain my point, let me compare Kenosha to Racine.

Quite a few people know that I grew up in Racine. And as I’ve grown older, I see more and more why Racine is how it is.

You see, Racine is not a well-planned city when it comes to the mix of houses or even clusters of houses in the same income level.

You can drive past a block of really nice, clearly upper-middle class family homes on one block, then see kids playing basketball with a literal carton nailed to a tree outside of a dilapidated house the next. 

It’s a disheartening, stark contrast. One that people should see. But also, one that I’m sure can be hard for lower-income residents of that city to deal with mentally.

Kenosha decided to be more proactive. Here, somehow the city basically got segregated into “good” and “bad” areas ⏤ read white areas and areas of color, to be frank. 

Now, before you think I’m intentionally trying to cause racial divide. I assure you I’m not. 

As I grew up as a person of color, even as a child, I thought of Kenosha as a white city and Racine as a city for Black people. Because I actually saw Black people in Racine.

That’s just a fact of my life and how I perceived the city through my experiences in Kenosha throughout my formative years. 

Mimicking Racine’s mistake with KIN

With that in mind, I looked over the Kenosha Innovation Neighborhood project. 

And I realized, this project will do the same thing to Kenosha.

It’s no secret that the word “gentrification” has been tied to this project since the beginning in some residents’ minds. 

Recently, at the Juneteenth Festival on 52nd Street, Dist. 3 Ald. Jan Michalski promised that some of the apartments would be built with lower-income families in mind.

However, it won’t be all of them. In fact, as Dist. 10 Ald. Anthony Kennedy pointed out at the same Juneteenth event, the market will most likely gentrify Uptown Kenosha through the project. 

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Current prices for studio, one-bedroom apartments

Even a cursory glance of any apartment-search website online will show you that the rent for even a studio apartment in Kenosha at market price runs above $600 a month.

Now, take into account a family of low income that needs more than a studio. If you require more than a studio, expect to pay upwards of $700, and most likely between $800 and $900 for just a one-bedroom apartment. 

And quite honestly, you may as well not even search if you have a family pet. Because in desperation, you’ll probably have to get rid of them because most of these “affordable” places don’t allow them in Kenosha. 

The story is apparently a little different in Racine. As of Monday morning, there were two studio apartments, both allowing pets, in the $500 range.

Pricing people out of Uptown, but sending them where?

I’m aware that there are talking points about the Kenosha Innovation Neighborhood project, and I’ve heard the comments by leaders time and time again about how this won’t drive people out of Uptown. 

Everyone has. That’s not the problem.

They just don’t believe you. 

And I’m not sure they should. 

So far, to be honest, as a resident and a person that watched everything that happened to Uptown over the last year, I’m significantly disappointed in the project on the horizon. 

To be blunt, right now there are two potential outcomes I see.  It will make Uptown a little Downtown Kenosha and scatter the current residents either over to Racine or in pockets of low-income places in the city they can actually afford. 

Or we will build it and no one will come.

Cause the thing is, no one in Uptown asked for this. 

They asked for attention. They asked for funding. They asked to be treated as part of Kenosha for once. They asked for the city to actually invest in their businesses like they have in Downtown Kenosha businesses so that Uptown didn’t look like it was stuck in the ‘90s while downtown got a new face every few years. 

But they did not ask to be slowly, but aggressively edged out of their own neighborhood, their own homes. 

And it’s a shame that the city has decided to not listen to the people that actually live in that area and, instead, bring a project onto the land of and still hold on to the glory of the Chrysler days and what Kenosha used to be.

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