East Town, Features, People

“We could do better, we just need more cooperation”

Philip Chinn stands with his pedicab near the corner of Jackson and Kilbourn during Jazz in the Park waiting for riders.

Chinn grew up on the north side of Milwaukee near 55th and Mill Road before his family moved to Columbus, Ohio, when he was 8 years old. What does he remember from his time there? “Mostly, it was pretty chill. Our neighborhood was ‘bad’ but there wasn’t too many drugs, there, and there wasn’t a lot of shootings and stuff like that,” said Chinn. “It wasn’t the worst part of the north side, by any means.”

So, when Chinn’s dad was transferred for his job, the family packed it in for Ohio. Right around that same time, his parents got divorced. “My mom just couldn’t handle leaving her family – all her family is all from here,” he said.

But he says the divorce wasn’t all because of the move and, looking back, Chinn thinks it was probably for the best. “I also think, now that I know my dad and mom as adults, I just, they would never be able to handle each other; they’re just completely different people.”

Chinn lived in Columbus until he was 18. Then, one day, Chinn’s cousin called and offered him space in his East Side apartment. “So, the next morning I packed one suitcase and I took the bus to the bus station and I showed up here. I didn’t tell my dad, my girlfriend, my job; I just said, ‘later,’ and I showed up at his door.”

“And, so, I show up at the door and I knock on the door and he’s like, ‘what are you doing here?’ and I was like, ‘dude, you said I could live here.’ He was like, ‘man, I was drunk. I was just joking.’ I was like, ‘dude, I’m here, man, come on.’ He’s like, ‘alright, let me ask my roommate.’ He closes the door and he comes back in five minutes, he’s like, ‘alright, you can live here,’” said Chinn. “So, that was it and then I just never moved back.”

“I have a 13-year-old daughter, too”

Chinn went to college for a year before dropping out. Then, soon after, his daughter was born. At the time, he was 21 – her mother, a couple years younger – and their relationship just didn’t end up working out. “We just ended up being different people but, you know, so far, so good. I have a healthy, beautiful child that’s intelligent and fun; she has two parents that are with her and it’s worked out pretty good so far.”

Like in any complicated parenting arrangement, Chinn says they “fight here and there.” He says most of their disagreements simply come down to parenting styles.

“I feel parenting has gone the opposite route now where they want to put children in a bubble and they don’t want children to make mistakes, they don’t want children to be in situations where they learn, and I am completely against that.”

Regardless, he’s proud of his daughter. “She hates cigarettes, she hates drinking, she’s just a really well-behaved kid,” said Chinn.

“I’m excited to graduate and go to grad school.”

So, Chinn put down roots in Milwaukee and decided to go back to school when he was 30. He’ll graduate from UWM in December with a Bachelor’s Degree in geography (more specifically, Geographic Information Systems).

He says the map-making software is used for anything that spatially represents data. “Everybody uses it…any Google Maps engine is a GIS program, any kind of data that county governments use for land use or cities use for land use, that’s all GIS,” said Chinn. “It’s the only bankable skill in geography anymore unless you want to teach.”

What inspired him to go back? Chinn said, when he started to see all his friends graduating and wasn’t satisfied with what he was doing, he knew it was time for a change.

Though he had nothing but praise for his former company, the job just wasn’t what he wanted to do, long term. “I just saw my career path with this company…I just didn’t like what I was doing. I want to do something a little more personally fulfilling.”

Though he said it was “a real adjustment” leaving a well-paying, stable job, he’s confident he made the right choice. A year after he left his job it was gone anyway; he’s also excited about the knowledge he’ll be able to pass on to his daughter.

“It was tough at first but now I’m really glad that I went through it because now I’m going to have the opportunity to go to grad school and, past that, you know, we’ll see.”

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“The line’s really drawn in the sand, in Milwaukee”

Chinn will be the first to tell you what he loves about Milwaukee. In fact, between the two places he’s spent most of his life, there’s no contest. “Columbus has got a few great neighborhoods; Milwaukee’s got like 20 or 30 great neighborhoods,” he said.

Still, Chinn wants to go to grad school for urban planning and he says it, most likely, won’t be here. “I’ll be here for at least another five years but then I’ll leave; I’ll go to some place with a little less dysfunctional government and some place a little more progressive, from an urban planning standpoint – some place that has a little more regional cooperation to, you know, do cool things instead of just fighting all the time and building highways like Wisconsin does.”

He blames much of the inaction on segregation, polarization and the current political climate, in general. “People are not gonna want to come to Milwaukee when they have this, you know, animosity from suburbs to city,” said Chinn. “Companies aren’t going to come here just because you give them a tax break.”

In his mind, Milwaukee needs a major change-of-focus from manufacturing to service sector jobs but Chinn says, right now, we have yet to find our niche and don’t quite have the brainpower. “We need to turn UWM into a premiere institution and not just be a shadow of Madison.”

What’s the solution? If anything will happen, Chinn says we’re going to have to work together. “There’s a lot of things that we could do but, like, the political economy to get it done just isn’t there. And there’s a lot of people here with great ideas doing great things but they’re not part of the ruling coalition. They’re always on the outskirts trying to get in and they’re getting little things done here and there but, you know, we need something major.”


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