RACINE — Visioning A Greater Racine announced its 11 WAVE initiatives almost a year ago. Each team, comprised of volunteers striving to make Racine a better place to live before a self-imposed goal of 2030, has spent the past 11 months planning and analyzing different problems the community is facing.
Representatives from each team presented their progress to a standing-room only crowd during the Making Waves community update event Tuesday at Gateway Technical College’s S.C. Johnson Student Commons, 1001 S. Main St.
Some WAVE (Work, Action, Vision, Engagement) teams have been laying the groundwork for future improvements, like how the Thriving Economy WAVE team is trying to bring a new festival to Racine in 2020. Others have already implemented some changes, like the commencement of a mural project in Uptown by the Vibrant Atmosphere team.
“Now it’s time to get to work,” VGR Executive Director Joan Roehre said. “(The WAVE teams) are working on the vision you all asked for.”
Here’s a rundown of what each WAVE team has been up to:
Kestrel Hawk Landfill, located at the far west end of the city, takes on hundreds of tons of waste every day. The expiration date for the landfill could be coming soon, perhaps in less than a decade.
“In six years or less, Racine residents will have to pay to ship their waste to someone else’s backyard,” Model of Environmental Sustainability team leader Meg Richardson said. “It wreaks havoc on the local environment and contributes to climate change.”
A lot of that waste comes from food, from schools in particular, and Richardson thinks schools may hold the solution.
“We want to educate kids on the landfill problem and have them become part of the solution,” Richardson said. “Keeping Racine clean and green is everyone’s responsibility.”
For starters, the WAVE team is working on establishing a composting site in Sturtevant, where residents and families can drop off food waste, protecting the environment while encouraging environmentally friendly agriculture. If that’s effective, more programs can be established across Greater Racine.
Pride and Positive Self Image
“Can you believe people don’t like Racine?” Dustan Balkcom wondered.
Four years ago, Balkcom started the “Ask Me Why I Love Racine” campaign. When Balkcom became part of VGR, “Ask Me Why I Love Racine” T-shirts and bumper stickers came with him.
One of the original plans of the Pride and Positive Self Image WAVE team was to create promotional videos showing off the city, but Real Racine, the area’s tourism promotional agency, beat them to it.
So now, Balkcom’s focus is to “Get Racine merchandise in the hands of people,” so that more people can display Racine pride.
“Our job as the Pride and Positive Self Image team is to help people see what we have here,” Balkcom said.
He’s also excited about the Imagine Alley campaign, trying to turn a forgotten alley “into a destination for people” just off Main Street.
Balkcom promised that more plans are in the works, but they can’t be shared yet.
“We’ve got amazing things going here. We want people to know about it,” Balkcom said.
Culture and Recreation
With everything going on in greater Racine, it’s sometimes tough to stay on top of all the goings-on.
Tricia Blasko, a member of the Culture WAVE team, said that she wants to create “a cohesive, collaborative calendar” for the community.
That kind of organization and communication could help make Racine “an arts corridor,” Blasko said.
There’s also an ongoing effort to bring more pickleball courts to Greater Racine.
The Vibrant Atmosphere WAVE team’s goal is similar to that of Pride and Positive Self Image.
Like how Balkcom started his own “Ask Me Why I Love Racine,” Megan Dorsey — one of the Vibrant Atmosphere leaders — started What’s Up Racine as “a social rebranding initiative.”
Dorsey admits that she had some trouble acclimating to Racine when she first moved here. That’s why she wants to be part if the city’s revitalization.
One of the major focuses of the team has been making the city a more attractive place to be.
“Art in Uptown has been going phenomenally,” team member Brianna Wright said, referencing the mural and cleanup going on in the neighborhood. “We’re really making a difference there … It’s all about collaboration.”
Another Pop Up Racine artist fair is planed for 6 p.m. on Nov. 15 at The Branch at 1501, hosted by VGR, featuring local artists selling their creations accompanied by live music.
The goal is “bringing light to artisans in the cultural center of our area,” Wright said.
There’s beauty back in Uptown.
On top of more permanent projects, like adding murals to Uptown, there are more immediate initiatives being taken.
Already the Revitalization team has brought together some two dozen nonprofits to improve the lighting in Uptown, clean up gardens, bring plant life to sidewalks and motivate building owners to take care of storefronts.
“We’ve had a really great response on getting that community together again,” Kristina Campbell said. “We’d love to see more artwork in the area, stimulating growth.”
Planned for either the summer or fall of 2020, is a technology festival in Downtown Racine, accompanied by a prize purse totaling half a million dollars.
Tech Prize aims to bring innovators and inventors worldwide to Racine, part of an ongoing effort to turn Racine into a “hub of innovation,” said Tony Bigonia, the owner of Uncorkt, 240 Main St.
“The excitement is here. (Racine) is where this should be,” he continued.
Tech Prize is modeled after Festival of the Arts, a yearly 19-day fair in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which boosts local businesses’ revenue anywhere from 50 to 2,000 percent, according to Bigonia.
“(Tech Prize) can be transformational to the whole community,” he said. “People will naturally come to participate.”
Healthy Productive Lives
On Saturday, this WAVE team met with speakers from The Neighborhood Watch, Landlords Association and Housing Resources Inc. as part of the ongoing information gathering process.
That team has placed a focus on the ongoing housing issues in Racine, particularly related to landlords and tenants.
Diverse and Collaborative Leadership
Barry Uhlenhake said that there are hundreds of nonprofit organizations in Racine County. Uhlenhake also said that he thinks more of them should work together.
“How could they collaborate on different projects?” Uhlenhake and his team are asking themselves.
For one, the Diverse Collaboration WAVE team is working on creating a database of local faith leaders. They hope the database will make it easier for different faith communities to connect and collaborate on projects.
There is also a plan to establish a series of interfaith dialogues, aiming to create greater countywide understandings of the different religions present in greater Racine. This exchange of ideas, Uhlenhake hopes, will lead to more well-rounded leaders community-wide.
“We’re cultivating change in leadership styles here,” Uhlenhake said.
“Transportation intersects with everything we’re talking about here,” team leader Nick Postorino said.
The Transportation WAVE team has already made waves. They presented recommendations to Foxconn planners.
They’re also advocating to increase public transport city- and region-wide.
“Let’s get KRM going again,” Postorino said to cheers from the audience, referencing the derailed plan to establish a passenger train-line from Kenosha to Milwaukee with a stop at the old Northwestern depot at the Corinne Reid Owens Transit Center on State Street.
Education and Youth
The education WAVE team is looking to encourage parental engagement in their children’s education.
The team has partnered with a publisher to create a book that encourages kindergartners (and parents of kindergartners) to read and to be committed to education. They already have templates printed, and are now working on creating Racine-specific art for the picture book.
“It will be a way for us to reach out to parents to work with their children on reading skills,” team member Eric Hopkins said.
VGR Executive Director Joan Roehre said that the social justice team has had the toughest going in the first 11 months.
This is because social justice is “not really a tangible,” Roehre said. “We couldn’t seem to get our feet underneath us.”
The new plan, according to Roehre, is for the social justice team to become part of as many charitable and influential events in Racine as possible. She believes that if Visioning A Greater Racine can become a part of as many projects as possible in the city, then use that knowledge and influence to slowly bring about real change in the community.
“It’s not an overnight thing,” she said. “We are not in a sprint. We are in a marathon.”
“Now it’s time to get to work. (The WAVE teams) are working on the vision you all asked for.” Joan Roehre, Visioning A Greater Racine executive director