This past Thursday's Economic Development Commission meeting - a fairly frustrating experience; more on that later - featured a presentation by Tom Rave, executive Director of Gateway Milwaukee, on the AEROTROPOLIS concept. As the topic wasn't included on our agenda (i.e. we could do no advance research), I was taken by surprise as I heard described what is essentially a giant FedEx-based city plan that radiates outward from the airport.
John Kasarda [creator of the "aerotropolis" concept] obviously sees the aerotropolis as key to America's competitive agility, and a critical one at that. Implicit in his thinking is a coming world of exponential population increase and cutthroat competition for resources and profits. His vision may evoke everything Americans find terrifying about globalization--a civilization cast in quick-drying cement, packed with worker drones--but if you grant Kasarda's seemingly implacable logic, you have to ask: How willing or able are we to adapt?
wife and I own an apartment in the European city where her parents came
from. Almería's population is over 200,000, and it's been around for
hundreds of years.
a pedestrian, one is in constant negotiation with cars and scooters
because the streets are jagged in shape, cramped, sometimes lacking in
sidewalks - and teeming with life. Shop storefronts display dresses and
shoes that would star at the Oscars. The window of a hardware store
accommodates three centuries of door latches, from the rustic to the
ultra-high tech. Every step has my head craning in one direction or
another, even if it is to wave a car right through a stop sign as I
slip around behind - faster and friendlier for both of us.
home from Spain, we drove through Milwaukee from Mitchell International
Airport, and the eerie calm of sealing ourselves behind car windows
settled over us; the "carness" of our life here spread out like a gray
pall all around us.
of people, conversation, shopping, eating and attending to business on
the hoof, we were surrounded by access roads, parking lots, highways
and bridges until we eventually passed under the shadow of the hulking
three-story garage whose gloomy, and empty, cavern overshadows our
magnificent art museum.
We Americans are all infrastructure - and no people.
here are surprised that we don't own a car in Almería. There's no need,
even though life there is pretty regular and not some outlandish
eco-haven like Carmel, Calif., with its boutique clothing shops and
we bought for our apartment in Almería we bought on foot. Plumbers,
furniture stores, computer equipment and appliances are only a few
minutes away. When we bought our washing machine, the owner's brother
was waiting for us at our door, our washer on a handcart, even though
we lingered for only moments on the walk home.
the cost for living our American way? It's not just the thousands of
dollars for the second car, insurance and gas. We also have to support
a lake of concrete around us - and gas, electric and sewer lines to
stretch out past the near-vacant belts beyond the older suburbs.
Property taxes in Almería on our condo are one-twelfth our taxes in
Milwaukee, even though the value of the two homes is roughly the same.
One-twelfth. Oh, and they throw in free health insurance.
a lot of concrete, wire and pipes to keep up - and patrol. Milwaukee's
close suburbs have residential streets that have room for two lanes of
traffic going each way, plus both parking and turning lanes. Six lanes
was driving on a street like that recently - it's residential, so I was
the only car in sight, although several white lines directed me around
like I had a ring in my nose on the rare chance that a second car may
venture into sight. Not so long ago, people's eyes grew large when a
news announcer glowed about "six-lane super-highways" in Los Angeles.
Now we have them to serve blocks where only a few houses stand.
Where are the people? Nobody is coming; nobody is going.
we gained something for our money, I'd happily pay it. But I look south
out the window of my downtown office and see streets and highways, of
course. Plus parking garages, ramps, driveways, surface lots and street
parking - not to mention the gas stations, auto-part stores and car
cities (and Milwaukee still remains one of the most attractive) are
dead zones with small pods of life barricaded between the elements that
support the passage, storage and care of cars. In our most densely
trafficked sidewalks, it is a hundred feet between businesses whose
windows have a chance of being interesting to look in at while walking
past. Throw in a bank or two and one has to take a taxi to get between
shops where people congregate over a cup of coffee or buy a shirt.
No wonder we all drive.
is modern enough to need cars. For the most part, cars brought into the
city are routed to underground parking. As expensive as that might
sound, what otherwise would be dead space at street level goes instead
to businesses with apartments above, as well as an interesting
collection of squares, parks and kiosks that are a part of every day's
Read this again: one-twelfth our property taxes.
it's not about the money. It's about life. We stood on the street one
night in one of America's few cities that are dense and walkable: New
York City. A local television station was hosting a karaoke event.
Tough-looking teenagers in floppy pants were singing along with suited
Japanese businessmen, middle-aged housewives in sensible shoes,
Orthodox Jews in yarmulkes, students in backpacks and a couple of
tourists from Milwaukee. An older businessman waited at a crosswalk
with me the next day, giving directions to a pair of young guys who
would raise hair at the back of my neck if I ran into them on a lonely
stretch. They thanked the older man and headed off. The businessman
explained, "When you're on the street, everyone knows you have to deal
with people. We're all in this together."
more ominous view about our expansively concreted lives came from a
Bulgarian programmer who has just moved here. Commenting about our
infrastructure, America's glory and disaster, he said, "People who are
separate are easier to control."
are about the only public place in America where people aren't
separate. Look around a mall, though - teenagers hang with their
high-school friends, parents keep toddlers in the firm grip of their
hands, bums sag alone on a bench, while walkers stride by in the world
of their headphones. We're as sealed off from each other as first-class
is from economy on a long and monotonous flight.
non-American cities, you see grandparents sitting with teenagers or
elegantly dressed women mixing it up in a café with workmen taking a
lunchtime coffee or beer. I've often seen fathers reading to their
young children. Right out in public - an act that would rank as
deprivation here, when the tykes could be mesmerized instead by a video
in the back seat of their Escalade or Tundra.
is seven hours ahead of Milwaukee, and my wife happened to call me at
what was 3 in the morning her time. She'd just gotten in from dinner
and a concert (whole families are out at midnight; nothing about their
crazy schedule surprises me anymore). She had walked home alone, though
of course she was not actually alone on the street. I was just leaving
for a friend's who lived some blocks away, past several alleys, garages
and shuttered stores flanked by asphalt pads.
Richard L. Birch of Milwaukee is a business writer.
The national library study,
funded in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, found local
libraries to be important technology centers for people needing
computers with Internet access as well as training and job search
According to the study:
90% of public libraries provide technology training, such as how to seek jobs online.
71% - and 79% of rural libraries - say they're the only place in their communities for free computer and Internet access.
66% of libraries rank services for job seekers as a top online feature they offer, up from 44% in 2007.
From a member of the Franklin "community," posting on another blog:
According to an Agriculture Department employee familiar with the guidelines, the agency issued internal travel guidelines in the spring that encourage employees to hold meetings in cities that display three key attributes: a travel hub; low in cost; and "a non-resort location." The employee said cities on the list with those three attributes included Chicago; Denver; Portland, Ore.; St. Louis; Washington, D.C.; Milwaukee; Phoenix and Fort Collins, Colo.
who are raising their grandchildren - often because the parents are in
prison, have drug addictions or other problems - would have apartments
designed especially for their needs through a development proposed for
Milwaukee's north side.
The $10 million project, Villard Square,
would create 47 apartments in the 3400 block of W. Villard Ave. It
would be among a small but growing group of U.S. apartment developments
that combine senior housing with kid-friendly features. The idea is to
put children from broken homes into a stable environment, said Chris
Laurent, of the development firm Gorman & Co.
Wis.-based Gorman, which has built several apartment complexes in the
Milwaukee area, and Northwest Side Community Development Corp., a
neighborhood nonprofit group, would develop Villard Square.
would be the first Milwaukee apartment building specifically marketed
to grandparents who are the main caretakers for their grandchildren,
said Laurent, Gorman's Wisconsin market president. Similar apartments
have been built in Chicago, Boston, New York and other cities.
a strong demand for such housing in Milwaukee, Laurent said. According
to the 2000 census, there were 7,052 grandparents in Milwaukee who were
responsible for their grandchildren.
During the symposium, panelists discussed the pros and cons of improving the public transportation system in Milwaukee. Featuring Rob Henken, president of the Public Policy Forum and Anita Connelly, CEO of the Milwaukee Co. Transit System, as panelists, the symposium is now available to you in full, exclusively on AmericanCity.org.
With all due sympathy for the circumstances of George Torres's exit from Franklin's Plan Commission (illness forced him to resign), a letter like the one he wrote to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel doesn't make me want to lead a rally for his return:
Walker's transit plan makes good sense
Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker supports a strong transit system. He told the Milwaukee County Transit System to submit a balanced budget for 2009 that did not cut routes or raise fees. The good news is that transit officials met that challenge.
Looking ahead, Walker has a plan to provide a long-term funding source for the transit system by pursuing a plan at our airport that is similar to the plan being approved by Chicago for Midway Airport. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley already has received $1.8 billion for the Skyway toll bridge and is anticipating
$3 billion for Midway through a long-term lease. Scott Walker is also seeking to use all of the $91.5 million in federal aid to improve and upgrade the bus system through Bus Rapid Transit. Mayor Tom Barrett's plan for a streetcar system in a three-mile radius of downtown Milwaukee would cut $3 million in state and federal aid from the bus system. BRT is the better plan for the future.
George A. Torres Milwaukee County, Director of Transportation & Public Works Milwaukee
In other news: Amy Winehouse's lifestyle should serve as a template for all others.
Readers of this blog may recall the name; George Torres was the sitting plan commissioner who felt comfortable writing a letter dated 1/2/07 to WISDOT in support of developer Mark Carstensen's Shoppes at Wyndham Village strip mall before seeing any definitive plans and before
Carstensen's development had appeared before him in his role as plan
commissioner - - a role in which Torres would and should be expected to
show no positive predisposition toward a project that has not yet
demonstrated compliance to the city's requirements.
Carstensen has also proven to be committed to ensuring his developments
meet all State and local requirements. He remains open and receptive to
ideas and suggestions that must be met in order to allow his projects
to move ahead.
You gotta hand it to Mark Carstensen, though. After hoodwinking both the the city of Franklin and a family into a situation where there is now a single family residence built right behind Target in "Franklin's City Civic Center District" (!!!), he had the brass coconuts to actually mention the debacle from the podium at the Sendik's opening!
It's been almost a week and my mind is still reeling from some of the things I heard from that podium; more later ...
Meanwhile, we have in County Executive Scott Walker a living example of willful obstinacy that is slowly and oh-so-surely killing Milwaukee and the surrounding region. This blind obstructionist is planning to proudly veto an advisory referendum on a (much-needed) 1-cent increase in the county sales tax!
Read that again: Scott Walker is vetoing a vote in which the people decide - - in a nonbinding vote - - whether it's worth a tax hike to fix the broken county.
He doesn't want to know how the citizens of his broken county feel about the current state of transit, parks, and other infrastructure?
Who does this sort of thing? A politician who is plotting a run for governor and who fears the likes of Mark Belling, that's who. Scott Walker is looking out for Scott Walker.
Once again, self-interest reigns, and Milwaukee's reputation as a non-starter that cowers under the clumsy brickbats of conservative radio talkers - - a cartoon-character breed that squeals in desperate search of attention and ratings and without regard to any larger truth - - spreads across the nation as surely as this poorly formed, run-on sentence spreads across your screen.
It's time to ignore the talk-radio narcissists and pandering politicians and do what needs to be done. And if a County Executive fears an advisory vote by the people that may hinder his political future, his time is up.
Dim light at the end of the tunnel
The region needs higher wattage ideas for transit
By MARC V. LEVINE
dismal failure of Milwaukee’s civic leaders to bring the region’s
public transit infrastructure up to 21st-century standards is more than
just another run-of-the-mill breakdown in leadership.
It is a public policy debacle that threatens the very economic
viability of this city and region — and it comes at a time when we
already are struggling with stagnant growth, spreading poverty and
shockingly high rates of joblessness in the inner city.
Skyrocketing gas prices and awareness of climate change are
reshaping the way Americans live, work and play. Mass transit ridership
is surging in cities with rail transit systems, as commuters seek
alternatives to $4.50-a-gallon gasoline. Suburban and exurban
communities, whose growth was predicated on cars and cheap gas, are
facing bursting housing bubbles and an uncertain future.
In this new era, the economic winners will be cities and regions
that have invested in state-of-the-art mass transit. Unfortunately, few
metropolitan areas are less prepared for these changes than Milwaukee.
Unlike in virtually all other large U.S. cities, leaders here have
balked for two decades at building any form of regional rail transit.
By contrast, other cities, such as Baltimore, St. Louis and
Minneapolis have built light rail systems since the 1990s (and
ridership has soared by 15% this year in all three places). In 2004,
Denver voters approved a $4.7 billion bond issue, underwritten by a
sales tax, for a 119-mile expansion of their system, while Kansas City
recently approved financing of a $1 billion, 27-mile light rail line.
Even in conservative, historically anti-tax “red states,” civic
leaders and voters have understood the economic imperative of investing
in rail transit. Salt Lake City recently raised the sales tax to expand
regional rail. Phoenix is building a 20-mile, $1.3 billion light rail
line. And in Texas, that bastion of big-government liberalism, Dallas
is investing $4 billion to double the size of its regional light rail
system to 90 miles.
In an era of expensive gas and pressures to reduce carbon
footprints, it takes some magical thinking to believe that Milwaukee
can remain economically competitive as one of the nation’s only large
cities without such infrastructure.
The intransigence of Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker,
bolstered by know-nothing talk radio hosts, columnists and bloggers, is
obviously the biggest impediment to sensible transit policy.
Fortunately, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett supports rail transit.
Unfortunately, he has offered an inadequate plan: a streetcar Downtown
Circulator that would run in a three-mile loop around downtown, which
is too small and too slow to generate either of the two key economic
benefits of rail transit — linking workers to employment hubs in the
region or promoting development along rail corridors.
Barrett sees the Circulator as a “starter” investment toward a more
elaborate rail system, touting its links to the vastly oversold KRM
commuter rail proposal. But it’s likely that the mayor’s trolley to
nowhere would draw meager ridership, thus providing more ammunition to
the opponents of light rail, foreclosing future investments and leaving
us with an underutilized white elephant ringing downtown.
Barrett, properly concerned about fiscal responsibility, notes that
“advocates have failed to explain how to fund a more extensive system.”
Yes, public finances are tight everywhere. Yet leaders in places as
varied as Denver, Baltimore, Dallas, Minneapolis and Charlotte have
financed the construction or expansion of their systems in recent
years. Moreover, even in fiscally strapped Milwaukee, we’ve found a way
to spend billions in the past decade on a baseball stadium and a
convention center, mega-projects that nearly all economists agree
contribute precious little to regional economic growth.
Surely, then, given the existential importance of transit for metro
Milwaukee, a financially sensible, $1 billion regional fixed-rail plan
can be crafted:
• Using the $91.5 million in federal funds already allocated.
• Minimizing capital costs by extensively utilizing existing rail rights of way.
• Creatively deploying such tools as tax incremental financing.
• Selling station-area development rights.
• Receiving infrastructure support from the State of Wisconsin.
• And, yes, implementing a regional sales tax (with rebates to
low-income residents) to fund transit improvements and operations.
If Sen. Barack Obama is elected president, more federal funding
likely will be available for rail transit. Obama’s campaign platform
calls for a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank that could
provide an infusion of funds to cities like Milwaukee to invest in
transit (as well as in other infrastructure vital to economic
But the biggest problem is not fiscal but political.
Barrett and his allies should boldly confront the anti-rail
demagogues, advocating a comprehensive fixed-rail plan for Milwaukee’s
future that would link key hubs (downtown, the University of
Wisconsin-Milwaukee, the County Grounds and the airport) and stretch
from the North Shore suburbs through the central city, perhaps to
The region’s corporate leaders, represented by the Metropolitan
Milwaukee Association of Commerce and the Greater Milwaukee Committee,
supposedly support regional rail transit. If that’s true, they should
make it the centerpiece of the Milwaukee 7 initiative, turning it into
a more muscular regionalism that could underpin an economic
revitalization of the city and region.
Rail is not a panacea for Milwaukee’s economic woes: It will not
single-handedly solve the crisis of inner city joblessness, end poverty
or create a culture of economic innovation here (although it will help
in all of those areas).
But imagine a future of $8-a-gallon gas, in which Milwaukee is one
of the few large cities in the United States without rail transit.
Businesses increasingly will locate in transit-friendly regions that
offer the efficient and economical flow of people, goods and services.
A Milwaukee without rail transit runs the risk of becoming economically
obsolete, a city whose leaders failed to invest in its economic future.
Investing in rail is not like flipping a switch; the lead time is
substantial. We already are way behind other cities, and our economic
viability is slipping away.
The time for action is now.
Marc V. Levine is a professor of history, economic development and urban studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
Though this blog is more concerned with improving present suburban communities than it is in seeing them wiped out, a story in today's New York Times paints a pretty dismal picture for those suburbs that are even more far-flung - - the so-called "exurbs"; collections of subdivisions that are utterly and completely dependent upon automobiles for their very existence.
Sure, people like having their space and their 5-car garages, but ...
... life on the edges of suburbia is beginning to feel untenable.
Mr. Boyle and his wife must drive nearly an hour to their jobs in the
high-tech corridor of southern Denver. With gasoline at more than $4 a
gallon, Mr. Boyle recently paid $121 to fill his pickup truck with
diesel fuel. In March, the last time he filled his propane tank to heat
his spacious house, he paid $566, more than twice the price of 5 years
Though Mr. Boyle finds city life unappealing, it is now up for reconsideration. ....
In Atlanta, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Minneapolis, homes beyond
the urban core have been falling in value faster than those within,
according to an analysis by Moody’sEconomy.com.
Car-worshippers (and Bush-Cheney-Big Oil apologists) who constantly confound Milwaukee's efforts to get a sane light rail system built would do well to observe Denver, Colorado's experience:
A $6.1 billion commuter rail system has been in the works over the
last four years, drawing people downtown without cars, while
stimulating swift sales of densely clustered condos near stations.
Field, the intimate, brick-fronted baseball stadium for the Colorado
Rockies, has transformed the surrounding area from a desolate skid row
into fashionable Lower Downtown, a neighborhood of restaurants and
microbreweries in restored warehouses. Along the Platte River, new
condos set on a park strip offer an arresting tableau of glass, steel,
and futuristic geometry, attracting throngs of buyers at rising prices.
“This is a city where it’s fun to be in the center,” said Tim
Burleigh, 56, who sold his house in the suburbs and now walks to
Rockies games from his downtown condo.
But, alas, you gotta spend some real money and change the one-person-per-car paradigm to get out from under the thumb of Big Oil. The same "conservative" attitudes (and a few liberal ones as well) that have led to the current crumbling state of our national infrastructure and dismal community standards (optional sidewalks?) are raising the stakes of the upcoming crisis by obstinately denying the fact that we desperately need a mass transit re-fit program at the level of 1956's Federal Aid Highway Act.
And, what the heck, put the word "defense" in the name of whatever act we come up with (ala the Highway Act's alternate name, National Interstate and Highways Defense Act). Imagine a foreign policy scenario wherein OPEC-member nations observe an entire nation gearing up to drastically reduce consumption of their cash cow. Imagine NOT spending lives and money in Iraq (because that's an oil war, pure and simple).