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New book explores the complex & diverse neighborhood of Riverwest

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88Nine Radio Milwaukee

When I was looking for a place to live in Milwaukee in 2007, I came across the Riverwest neighborhood and fell in love.  I still live in Riverwest to this day.  The neighborhood reminded me of the diverse D.C. neighborhood of Adams Morgan from the 90s.

A new book by Evelyn M. Perry titled “Live and Let Live: Diversity, Conflict, and Community in an Integrated Neighborhood” examines why Riverwest is not like any other neighborhood in Milwaukee. Perry, a sociologist at Rhodes College in Memphis, studied Riverwest for three years.

“We are in a bind,” writes Evelyn M. Perry. While conventional wisdom asserts that residential racial and economic integration holds great promise for reducing inequality in the United States, Americans are demonstrably not very good at living with difference. Perry’s analysis of the multiethnic, mixed-income Milwaukee community of Riverwest, where residents maintain relative stability without insisting on conformity, advances our understanding of why and how neighborhoods matter. In response to the myriad urban quantitative assessments, Perry examines the impacts of neighborhood diversity using more than three years of ethnographic fieldwork and interviews. Her in-depth examination of life “on the block” expands our understanding of the mechanisms by which neighborhoods shape the perceptions, behaviors, and opportunities of those who live in them. Perry challenges researchers’ assumptions about what “good” communities look like and what well-regulated communities want. Live and Let Live shifts the conventional scholarly focus from “What can integration do?” to “How is integration done?”

Read more below.

Live and Let Live by Evelyn M. Perry

In the book, she writes that Milwaukee’s segregation rates have barely moved between 1980 and 2010 and there are only a few neighborhoods that are racially integrated like Riverwest. Perry’s book investigates why Riverwest, for the most part, has remained one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the city.

Perry used tools like urban ethnography to explore the lived experience of integration. She also conducted 60 in-depth, open interviews with a wide range of people who were actively engaged in the neighborhood. 

Perry writes that the book explores everyday “doing of difference in a diverse neighborhood. In chapters 2 and 3, she provides a look a the history of Riverwest.  Chapter 4 explores regulation in a diverse neighborhood like policing. In chapter 5 and 6, Perry examines the social bases for shared perceptions for specific features of the neighborhood. The final chapter looks at the durability of Riverwest’s social diversity. She discusses the implications of her findings for inequality, power relations, and the understanding of the “good” community.

The book cover was created by local musician Mike Fredrickson. Tonight (March 31), Evelyn M. Perry will be at the Woodland Pattern Book Center to talk about her book beginning at 7 pm.