Executive Director Howard Snyder’s editorial was featured in the August 17 Journal Sentinel.
“During the contentious debate over the reappointment of Rocky Marcoux as commissioner of the Department of City Development, the public got a glimpse into the conversation about whether we should continue to focus our economic energies on downtown Milwaukee or put greater focus and resources on impoverished inner city neighborhoods. Well, why not both? Some cities can do both. Milwaukee has not been able to do this successfully. Why not?
The economic development strategy of this city is rooted in the late 1980s. When John Norquist was elected mayor, he had a plan. A bold plan, at that. Fix downtown. Develop the Menomonee Valley, which is attached to downtown. Tear down freeways. Increase the real estate tax base. In other words, a vibrant downtown as the centerpiece of development. Boost property taxes, pay for police and fire protection and especially employment of police officers and firefighters. The bonus, of course, is they have powerful unions, and they vote.
In April 2016, Tom Barrett was elected mayor for the fourth time. We effectively entered the eighth term of John Norquist. To some, it feels a lot like we’re still executing his policies and his strategies.
I believe the current administration works hard and means well, but it may be time for a new, bold plan for our city. Aside from Century City, not much has happened to move the economic needle on the North Side in decades. The city has acted to address the housing and board-up crisis. But the longer-term issue is one that only jobs can solve. Addressing unemployment will go a long way toward fixing the housing crisis. Now is the time for bold action and a central organizing principle that seems to be lacking.
What about the eastern edge of Walker’s Point or the south end of MLK Drive? Both are emerging hotspots, but realistically, they are attached to downtown. They attract a younger demographic. The initiatives that jazz up people have virtually no impact in Milwaukee’s North Side. How about the new Northwestern Mutual buildings? To me, they block the view of the lake. The new Milwaukee Bucks arena? Make the playoffs, then we’ll talk. Jobs for North Side residents in both? I hope Justice for Janitors makes a Milwaukee reappearance.
Divided government has not helped. Suburban legislators out to defund Milwaukee as a punishment is about the stupidest thing I ever witnessed.
But we, as city leaders, have a lot to be held accountable for. Youth “acting a fool” is deplorable and these images harden divisions. We are being asked to choose whose lives matter more: Black? Blue? All? Civil unrest vs. civil uprising? I understand the strong opinions and debates, but would love to see all this energy, on both sides of the debate, align to support the one thing that will make a difference — developing a bold employment plan for our community.
A friend of mine from the East Coast emailed me and said, “Trouble in your city this weekend? Why does this same thing repeat itself in city after city?” Good question. Do we have an answer, Milwaukee? More police military equipment or decent jobs, education and futures? To me, Saturday night provided an answer as to what we need to do.