Monday, February 12, 2007

Milwaukee's Discussion Void

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 In St. Lous, outdated zoning laws mean that every last bit urbanism must be fought for, tooth and claw.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.


Dave said...

Actually there are a few messageboards that I read (in addition to your blog). And I hope to get my blog going soon! Please join the discussion.

Dave said...

Ooops I didn't mean to post the bigsoccer one (though you can read the latest on MLS coming to Milwaukee) the link I meant to post was:

DrBear said...

(from Green Bay) part of it is that your blog is new - I pay pretty close attention to these things and today - through somebody linking to the St. Louis photo site - was the first I'd heard of it. It's good to see and I hope it starts drawing more attention as this is an important topic!

Yance said...

Whitney Gould isn't much of a supporter. I have to say she detracts from any useful dialogue. The crap she spews is... k, I'll keep the 4-letter words out of your blog.

The best community I've seen is actually in Detroit. I spent about a year in the area and even though the city continues to be a shit hole there is a great deal of discussion on what it could be if the corruption and apathy and scummy developers were not there. I still enjoy going over to the several sites discussing the urban situation in Detroit. I have to say because of that I love that city.

The Milwaukee scene is under represented, sure. It could use some bright stars to discuss something more than crass commercialism and development. There seems to be a core audience as can be seen by the number of people on social sites such as Flickr and I see a decent core of people with good things to say on Somethingawful forums. It definitely could use some driven soul to start a site with a good moderated forum with good discussions about a variety of topics. I'm hoping to get a good history site off the ground this year. That is still in the development and coding process but I'd like to draw a community around it.

Robert Powers said...

Thanks for the links and comments, folks! That's great news about the Urban Milwaukee forum -- it's exactly what the city needs.

Of course, I can't really think of a *bad* project that's happened here in years, from an urbanist point of view. Like I said, we're reeeeeeally lucky in this town.

The Arch-Nemesis's Arch-Nemesis said...

I think the manner in which I found your blog demonstrates your point - from James Lileks linking to your tour of East St. Louis. What about the same sort of thing for Milwaukee?

I think a lot of the recent development around downtown has been positive, but there are still plenty of dead spots and vacant areas in the heart of the city. If you go down Highland you'll see areas where there are alleys, but no houses. Some of the newer projects are also not terribly exciting (the new Cathedral Square building, the University Club condos and its partner). I also think some of the Beerline condos are going to look fantastically ugly in 20 years time, thanks to their color schemes.

Anyways, keep up the good work!

Phil Manwcih said...

You're right that a group of people starting with John Norquist and including Peter Park, Mike D'Amato and Whitney Gould helped gt Milwaukee on the right track urbanistically. Milwaukee got a head start on St. Louis, Detroit and a lot of other cities -- all before the age of blogging -- so it is a shame there's a sense of complacency to these issues, online or otherwise. Remember that Tom Bamberger is still sharing interesting thoughts at Milwaukee Magazine.

There certainly are plenty of issues that should be generating more discussion. There's the major infill project on Downer Avenue. And a few months ago the vascillation of the County Board between the architecturally exciting proposal from Ruvin to incorporate the Sidney Hih in a new, mixed-use development and the competing proposal featuring a low-grade gas station and motel? That would have been a no-brainer, if not for political considerations and a lack of vision among too many on the County Board.

Gov. Jim Doyle deserves credit for investing in Amtrak service and for other aspects of his leadership but I've been disappointed in the public's quiet compliance with his plans to jack auto registration rates and certainly gas prices too (through taxes on the oil industry) in order to plunge ahead with vast unjustified freeway expansions. Our elected leaders starting with Jim Doyle have accepted it on blind faith that practically every stretch of freeway in Southeast Wisconsin needs additional lanes -- a staggering $6 billion expenditure that will come out of the pockets of Wisconsin taxpayers (since the Federal highway account is going bankrupt) and worsen the state's image as a big taxer. Has anyone traveling to another city seen a project as huge, twisting and expensive as the Marquette Interchange? There's nothing like it in Los Angeles or Chicago, for starters. And the next stretch up is the widening of I-94 from Milwaukee to the state line. I drive this stretch regularly during what is normally considered rush hour and can tell you there is no rush hour on this road. The roadway is already overcapacity, yet the state will spend $1 billion to widen it since the population there is growing at a moderate rate and the state apparently wants to direct all conceivable traffic onto this freeway.

With this comment turning into a broadside, it looks like I should start my own blog and link to this one.

I found you and now the reminders about the skyscrapercity forums -- randomly -- through an outside/in RSS feed that suggests postings pertaining to zip code 53212. In any case, glad I did.

Anonymous said...

check out a new student led street newspaper in the near west side. I got hooked in there after they posted a pretty informative article on N. 27th Street developments before the journal sentinel did anything.

they employ the homeless too from what I've read kind of like in chicago

It seems like a great source of discussion -- especially on the near west side, where there has been little appearing online for some time unless you count Marquette University's newspaper, which really doesn't go into the community much at all.

They are new, so not many links to milwaukee bloggers yet.

Karl said...

I think there's not much discussion, because there's not much information. The Journal-Sentinel only mentions things that are almost done, and the developers don't release a lot of information very often, either.

One example is the new Alterra coffee shop in Riverwest, which is right around the block from me. There weren't any graphic renderings released until just a month or two ago, and Alterra didn't mention what was going on except in one JS article with sparse details.

I think that's unfortunate with regard to getting excited about what's coming in Milwaukee, but on the other hand, there are so many vocal conservative voices that don't want any changes in the city, so it's probably in the developer's best interest to not discuss plans so they don't get opposed.

I just found this blog today, I'm adding you to my feeds :-)