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Illusions of Grandeur
Some people think Milwaukee has a rough road ahead. I hope they're wrong.
Will the Calatrava have company?
The story goes that there was a little boy who happened to fall into a room full of horse manure. When his parents found him, he was wildly digging through the dung, laughing, singing and giggling. When they asked why he was so happy, he replied: “With all this horse manure, there’s got to be a pony in here somewhere!”

Now that’s an optimist.

In fact it’s easy to take an optimistic view of Milwaukee, because there is so much to like about this wonderful town, one of the reasons I’ve stayed here for 22 years. Milwaukee has great people, moderate traffic, a bountiful collection of top-notch restaurants, professional sports and the unparalleled lakefront featuring one of the country’s most beautiful buildings, the Milwaukee Art Museum, better known as the Calatrava. The list of the good things about Milwaukee is a long one.

But there is some manure to wade through if we’re to keep this up. 

Richard Thieme, in his op-ed in the Crossroads section of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel January 24th, wrote, “Milwaukee lags behind other cities in promoting growth in helpful ways.” He said that it’s “so quiet here we can U-turn in the middle of downtown.” He identified our leaders as the culprits, preferring to bask in the status quo instead of making needed changes to move us forward. That got a lot of optimists fired up, and rightly so. But I think we need to give Mr. Thieme credit for taking on the issue. 

The question is, how do you define growth, and what growth is important? While growth in size isn’t necessarily a barometer of success, progress is. And I think that’s what Mr. Thieme means and where Milwaukee is a bit lacking. 

There hasn’t been a building of substance constructed downtown in a long time. A move is afoot to replace the little-used Downtown Transit Center with the Couture high-rise, a 44-story building that would be, as Mary Louise Schumacher said in the Journal Sentinel in July, “the kind of project that could reshape Milwaukee’s sense of itself, not unlike the Milwaukee Art Museum’s expansion did more than a decade ago.” Yet it is being challenged because it is a private enterprise – some groups don’t like that idea so close to the lake – and Milwaukee County is now resorted to having to sue to get it built.

Northwestern Mutual recently announced that it would be replacing one of its current buildings with a new, grander design, as John Gurda opined in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel last week, but there is no design yet and not even an architect at this point. So this is a long way off.

While I do think it's safe to say things are looking up (pun), at least longer-term, there are some obstacles, or some things to be shoveled out of the way if we continue the optimist analogy.

There’s the Milwaukee County Board, a group of 18 "supervisors" who make a lot of money but who apparently don’t do much. Joe Sanfelippo, an alderman from West Allis and former County Board member, has proposed that the County Board be downsized and paid appropriately what they’re worth, and there are some other moves afoot to get the hierarchy here better balanced. We need to.

Then there’s Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, whom you all know as the official who encouraged citizens to arm themselves with guns rather than call 911 when they’re in trouble. Clarke would love it if someone found a pony; he could put on his cowboy hat and ride around with guns blazing. Someone needs to rein him in. If nothing else, this will help Milwaukee’s image.

And most importantly, there are issues facing Milwaukee’s inner city as well, where there are far too few jobs, all too frequent shootings, rampant teen pregnancy, fatherless households, co-sleeping infant deaths too numerous to mention, HIV on the rise and a staggering amount of unemployment ravaging the area with no end in sight. Who will tackle these problems?

Despite all this, Milwaukee is still a really good town. In fact Milwaukee makes some national lists that identify great cities all the time, like being ranked the 12th Most Romantic City in the US among others. I knew there was a reason I moved here..

So it shouldn’t be hard to find the pony, the only question is who is going to take the lead. Will it be Mayor Tom Barrett? Or County Exec Chris Abele? C’mon boys, grab a shovel. I’m certain there are a whole bunch of ponies in here somewhere.  


Follow me on Twitter: @jpalmer7890

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