As I skim back over my just-posted take on a St. Louis development proposal, I'm struck by how many links I ended up putting in it. It's amazing how many people in St. Louis are already discussing it, just days after its announcement.
The contrast is stark: I challenge you to find any comparable discussion among the residents of Milwaukee. Apart from this blog, and one or two other bloggers who occasionally touch on issues of urbanism, architecture and development, there's nothing. Silence. A void. There simply is no online community discussing the physical form of Milwaukee or its future. There's Whitney Gould at the Journal-Sentinel, and then nothing.
Granted, Milwaukee can afford to rest on its laurels a bit -- our last Mayor went on to become president of the Congress for the New Urbanism. When Norquist first came to town, he saw a new Walgreens on Brady Street with a ghastly parking lot in front of it. "Why'd you build it like that??" he asked the developer. "'Cause that's what the code says we had to do!" was the answer. So he promptly set about changing the code. Then he tore down the Park East freeway; we're just starting to fill in the 16 acres of downtown land that it opened up. It's Milwaukee's poor fortune that he was unable to tear down the 794 approach to the lake and the Hoan Bridge; replacing it with a surface boulevard would have connected downtown to the 3rd Ward, to the benefit of both.
Now we see the results of all that, as urban buildings are popping up like weeds all over downtown and the East Side.
Milwaukee's damn lucky that way. In St. Lous, outdated zoning laws mean that every last bit urbanism must be fought for, tooth and claw. It's a case-by-case battle, never-ending and often lost. In Milwaukee, people complain because our neighborhood density is increasing. But we don't know how good we've got it.