20/30 Vision for Oshkosh, pt. 2


As we start this new year, many of us are likely thinking about what’s going to be different, how we can make life better, with an imagined clean slate. We have, of course, also entered a new decade. While we don’t actually have a clean slate (the world is carrying a lot of baggage into 2020), our shift into the ’20s does offer an opportunity to envision how life can be improved as we turn the page.

I asked a number of people from different stations to give me a brief take on what they would like to see happen in Oshkosh by 2030. Recurring themes include a desire for Oshkosh to come together in unity, have more affordable housing and workforce development resources, be more inclusive, just, and safe for all types of people, better protect and provide connections to the local watershed, and showcase the arts more extensively.

Since I got a strong response, I posted part 1 last week, and this is part 2. Each person and their response is presented below, in the order I received them.

Jon Doemel

I would love to see our services come together. I can envision a tiny house community near the Oshkosh Area Community Pantry. Walking distance to resources needed as well as jobs available in the nearby business park. Setting people up to gain independence is the way to go and very possible to obtain. We can’t keep rehashing failed processes of the past. We can lead the way in real solutions.

Jon Doemel is owner of Zaroni’s and founder of Heroes of Oshkosh.

Kris Larson

My vision and hopes for the next decade are that Oshkosh continues along a progressive and welcoming path. So many positive changes have occurred in the last decade, particularly in our Downtown (…it’s wonderful to see so many new and exciting restaurants and shops, as well as a focus on attracting folks to live and work Downtown).  We are very fortunate as a community to have a region like this one, and i cannot wait to see how we continue to make it a special place in the next 10 years.

Kris Larson is co-owner of Becket’s restaurant and Wagner Market.

Harry & Jenny van Burik

It’s all about people!

Creating career opportunities: Encourage people who are living on welfare to get back into the marketplace/workforce through innovative initiatives with incentives in close cooperation with businesses and (semi) governmental institutions.  Being productive increases one’s self-esteem and dignity.

Implementing a job bank while identifying the real challenges of getting the unemployed community those who have skills but not the motivation or mindset to see themselves as useful humans.  Give them job opportunities and regular evaluations with incentives to motivate them to see their valuable contribution thus creating self-esteem.

Identify those who need further education/skills to find suitable job opportunities.
Poverty alleviation: Breaking the cycle of poverty by igniting the potential of people through grassroots initiatives by the Oshkosh community, preferably without government funding. 
Creating a community platform: Bring community organizations together for better social planning on a regular basis to discuss and to coordinate the issues that concerns and matters to them, which will create a platform to brainstorm aiming practical solutions and reaching out one family at a time.  It could be neighbors or (Faith-based) communities coming together with a vision to assist people in need thus creating opportunities to change questionable lifestyles of target groups while tapping resources for those who are capable to help them overcome challenges.

Find measures and apply them among those who struggle with issues such as barriers people face or believe they are unable to function achieve simple common goals; finding regular jobs, getting to work on time; how to live independently; if unable to work how to manage the welfare support wisely.
Create a strong community that people will trust to voice their concerns and address issues with a helping hand that both kids and adults will embrace.  It is important that people in need can reach out to leaders and friends with the expectation that their struggles will be heard.
Reaching out to the kids who come from abusive and neglected family situations, kids who tend to themselves without basic living conditions with appropriate solutions.

Harry and Jenny van Burik have Dutch and Sri Lankan nationality, respectively. They have been serving marginalized people since 1994, including through Cherith International, a Wisconsin nonprofit that serves people in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and the U.S., including through a clothing and resource center on N. Main St. in Oshkosh, which provides free clothes and basic necessities to both refugees and local residents in need.

Michael Ford

Oshkosh’s next decade will be a story of opportunity. We have a once-in-a-generation chance to develop our gateways (Oshkosh Ave. and Jackson St.) and the Sawdust district, to address our achievement gaps, and to strengthen our neighborhoods. To make the most of this opportunity we must weave diversity and inclusion, proactive transparency, entrepreneurial thinking, and accountability for results into everything we do as a city. How do we do this? By taking the steps today. 1) Create a local government performance dashboard so we all know what is working and what is not. 2) Creating an intersectoral task force that ensures the public, nonprofit, and private sectors are working in alignment on common goals. 3) Adopt a local government accountability statement that puts our government, our neighborhoods, and our residents on the same page. Taking these steps will lead to a sustainable prosperity that benefits all Oshkosh residents for the next decade and beyond.

Michael Ford teaches Public Administration at UWO, and serves on the Oshkosh Plan Commission, Long-Range Finance Committee, and as president of the Millers Bay Neighborhood Association.

John Hobbins

I would love to see Oshkosh be more intentional about valuing all of her residents. It’s about granting everyone dignity no matter how challenging their life circumstances. Dignity is not a handout. It is what we offer each other in relationships. Dignity comes with community. I would love to see the people of Oshkosh organize block parties in every neighborhood. It’s time we get to know our next-door neighbors, to laugh and shoot the breeze with them, and to help each other out as the need arises.

John Hobbins is a Lutheran pastor and the multicultural outreach coordinator of the Oshkosh Area School District.

Tony Oakley

I’d love to see more growth in the music/arts scene in Oshkosh. A new building that can double as both a professionally built music venue and an art gallery would be a wonderful addition to the city. I think this would strengthen our sense of community while helping foster involvement from local artists who don’t quite know where to display their work. A Shake Shack would be nice too.

Tony Oakley is frontman/songwriter for Oshkosh-based band Horace Greene.

Stephen McCabe

Because I have a nine-year-old son, I’ll focus my aspirations for Oshkosh’s next decade on our city striking a sustainable balance between its cultural and social needs, our preservation of local natural resources, and the development of a sustainable economic infrastructure. Our increasingly diverse population is a great strength and offers rich traditions, histories, languages. Building community through our many unique characteristics will make us stronger as a whole. This city’s slogan was previously “Oshkosh on the Water,” and indeed the water, flora, and fauna of this area are all central to our city’s long term survival. Finally, I hope we’ll allow our economic infrastructure to evolve and develop alongside the economy of the 21st Century. This means investing in our educational system to adequately prepare our kids for the challenges of world they’ll inherit. This also means offering incentives to attract innovation and entrepreneurs in the promising green economy. I know we’ll be pulled in various directions in the coming decade, and moving forward won’t always be easy, but in that time I believe my son will get to see the best of what we’re capable of.

Stephen McCabe is a writer, teacher, and musician who has lived in Oshkosh for much of the last 30 years.

Menna Garedew

My vision for Oshkosh is that it becomes more diverse not just in its citizens that live there but also it businesses that are open. I would also like to see more business grow around the lakeside as it is such a wonderful asset for Oshkosh.

Menna Garedew was born in Ethiopia, raised in The Netherlands, and moved to the states in 2010. She recently graduated from UWO with her Masters in Public Administration.

Heidi Nicholls

I would like to see Oshkosh be a space of cultural diversity that is not just accepted but celebrated… daily. A place where open dialogues of racial, ethnic and religious differences can be had openly and honestly. A space where students from all over are embraced and offered a home away from home. I would like Oshkosh to truly move towards being the change we all wish to see.

Dr. Heidi J Nicholls is a professor of Cultural Anthropology at UWO focusing on power dynamics, economic development and social justice.

Amechia Matthews

I am excited for the next decade! I picture a better Oshkosh than ever before. I can picture the community being more inclusive when it comes to people working and living in the community. For example, a diverse group of police officers, teachers, doctors, nurses who are all trained on cultural sensitivity and mental health. Oshkosh demographics are changing tremendously as each decade goes by. I have been here for one decade and I have seen the changes happening in our community. 

I am so excited to eventually see how the university and community come together as a whole to adjust to the new and exciting changes in Oshkosh. If this community is going to thrive in the next decade the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh has to be a part of the collaboration in making the community better. Many students come here for the university and begin their lives here. I am one of those students and I believe Oshkosh will continue to be a wonderful place for families to grow and live peacefully. I know we all want to live the best lives we can in a safe environment. 

Amechia Matthews works for the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh and recently graduated with a Masters in Professional Counseling.

Kelly Reyer

I love the positive changes I’ve seen in the City of Oshkosh over the years. The strengthening of our neighborhoods, the green infrastructure and stormwater projects, and, my favorite, the downtown Riverwalk. Looking forward, I would love to see the City and its citizens further our watershed knowledge and improve our overall stewardship of our land and waters. Can we be a leader in reducing our salt use on our roads, sidewalks, and driveways? Can we enact legislation that restricts the use of PAH-laden pavement sealers? I believe we can. We are situated on the largest freshwater system in the state, and I’d love to see a greater interaction between our residents and this amazing resource. I firmly believe that people need to develop a connection to our water in order to ensure a desire to care for it. Within the next decade, I’d like to see this happen and a great place to start would be with the beach at Menominee Park. I would love to see updates to the beach house and the actual beach itself. There could be a boardwalk, a kayak launch, boat rental, slides, and more. Oshkosh residents can weigh in on what they would like to see, and there are grants available for this kind of effort. Again, I’d love to see more area residents enjoying our lakes and rivers in all seasons, and there are projects that would make this feasible and more accessible for all those who call Oshkosh home.

Kelly Reyer is Outreach Coordinator for the Fox-Wolf Watershed Alliance.

Tracey Robertson

My hope for Oshkosh by the year 2030 is that Oshkosh is home to more BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color), just as the United States Census Bureau has predicted it will be. As a result, I hope that within the next ten years, Oshkosh has become the community it claims it aspires to be: a safe, equitable place for more BIPOC families. My 2030 vision for Oshkosh includes more BIPOC professionals–Black males in particular–employed in leadership positions by the City, County, Police, Fire, University, and Oshkosh Area school district. I desire that by the next decade, Oshkosh has many thriving BIPOC-owned businesses at which I can prioritize my spending. It would be great if, by that time, the “Event City” offered more multi-ethnic entertainment, including plays, theater, music, and art that appeals to the new majority so that our entertainment dollars stay within the community. Wouldn’t it also be great if Oshkosh had a multi-cultural center for BIPOC people to gather, collaborate, create, and network?

Tracey Robertson is the Cofounder and Executive Director of Fit Oshkosh, Inc., a grassroots social justice organization whose To promote social transformation through Color-Brave conversations, education, advocacy, and research to achieve race equity and justice within our community.

Mashebe Mushe Subulwa

My hopes for Oshkosh 2030 are enormous. Like many of those who participated in Part 1 of this series, I would love to see affordable and safe housing of ALL citizens of Oshkosh, leadership in our city, our schools, and our businesses that reflects the growing diversity of voices in Oshkosh, and development that is inclusive, connected, and sustainable.

Most critically, I need Oshkosh to move beyond notions of celebrating diversity to actually doing the hard work to dismantle racism and systems that maintain and uphold inequity. These obstacles to success are very real and dismiss the voices, perspectives, and experiences of people of color in this city. For myself, my sons, my friends, & my community, I need the leadership in the city to make space for us – as equal partners in building a better community with valued contributions to make to our collective conversations (and not as the unempowered subjects in need of “help”). I think this only happens by embracing a spirit of ubuntu (I am because we are) which recognizes our shared humanity, our interdependence, and the ways in which choices we make as individuals (and the impact of those choices) are never made in isolation from our community. If we recognize our shared histories, our shared challenges, and our shared future as a community of humans, Oshkosh can become a city that becomes a real home for everyone.

Mushe is the director and co-founder of SEPO Zambia, Inc., a non-profit that is dedicated to sustainability, education, and progress in western Zambia. Through this work, Mushe partners with local schools to provide global literacy training to Oshkosh youth and advocates on behalf of the African immigrant community in Oshkosh.

Jennifer Skolaski

In the next ten years, I want Oshkosh to become a community of choice. It could be people choosing Oshkosh for jobs, for social services, for economic opportunities, for family, or because it’s such a great place to live and work that everyone wants to be here. We have a great opportunity to collaborate with the university and local businesses to welcome a generation of students and young people who could stay here to work, raise families, and contribute to our society. Let’s create a supportive environment and build those relationships so that we can recruit and retain young people who can keep our community thriving.
I want to see Oshkosh become a more diverse and inclusive place for all community members, no matter what age, race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, disability, or other minority group is represented. That means we are welcoming to people who grew up here and those that didn’t, as well as creating systems that are equitable to all who seek to call Oshkosh home.
Through my work with different nonprofits and government organizations, I meet amazing people that do incredible work. I want to replicate their efforts and see more people and organizations taking care of one another. Whether that’s through formal institutions or grassroot efforts, I want us to remember that we’re all neighbors. Let’s look at how we can become socially connected, creating a web of support for all in this community. If we take care of one another, we can ALL succeed and become a community of choice that thrives for all.
I look forward to raising my kids in Oshkosh and to all that we can achieve by working together.

Jennifer Skolaski owns Community & Nonprofit Leadership Consulting LLC working with nonprofits throughout the state, is a board member for the Oshkosh Area United Way, and is passionate about making an impact in the community.


About Author

Paul Van Auken

Paul Van Auken has been a member of the sociology and environmental studies faculty at University of Wisconsin Oshkosh since 2007, after completing a Ph.D. in sociology from UW-Madison. A native of Iowa but resident of Wisconsin since 1999, Paul conducts research on issues related to neighborhood, community, land use planning and access to public space, sustainability, and teaching and learning. He also practices public sociology, regularly writing a column called “Shortening the Distance” for Oshkosh Independent. He lives with his wife and two daughters on the historic, walkable, and interesting east side of Oshkosh, near the shores of Lake Winnebago.

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