Twenty-sixteen was something of a banner year for Milwaukee. Hardly a day went by without some exciting new shit being built, some boring old shit being turned into exciting new shit, and 8,000 Bublr Bike stations appearing as if by magic. The words “renaissance” and “reinvention” were tossed around as liberally as “schlemiel” and “schlimazel” were in the city’s fictional blue-collar heyday. But 2016 was also a year in which the gulf between the so-called “two Milwaukees” grew even wider. Milwaukee continued to make national news as one of the most segregated cities in the United States. Homicide numbers matched the deadly numbers of 2015. An entire neighborhood erupted.
So what can Milwaukee do to become more whole, more harmonious, more just? As in years past, we reached out to a handful of local notables—city and community leaders, musicians, longtime Milwaukee backers—and asked them what they believe the city needs to accomplish in 2017.
Chris Abele — Milwaukee County Executive
In 2017 we need to come together as a community and truly prioritize the reduction and elimination of Milwaukee’s racial inequities. Now more than ever, it’s important that we stand united and push a set of realistic priorities as a community. The County’s Office on African American Affairs will be seeking the community’s help on crafting a legislative agenda that can get the ball rolling.
Milwaukee’s racial issues, sadly, are not new. Although, several generations of leaders in Milwaukee have fought to improve the conditions of African Americans in Milwaukee, the situation today is inexcusable when compared to our peers elsewhere in the country. To achieve levels of lasting progress that have escaped Milwaukee in the past, we need to be committed to a long-term commitment to addressing disparities that retains an enduring emphasis on measurable outcomes.
Milwaukee County has made great progress in spurring economic development, ending chronic homelessness, and reforming the mental health system. It is time to focus our energy on one of Milwaukee’s most enduring challenges. The Office on African American Affairs’ current initiatives are designed to build a foundation for action and change in areas like workforce development and criminal justice reform that can lead to long-term measurable, meaningful, sustainable change at the community level. We’re deeply committed to this mission and look forward to working with the community to move Milwaukee forward.
Jay Anderson — musician
I think in 2017 our city’s industries need to find creative solutions for generating income for the arts. I want to see all artists (performing, visual, culinary, botanical, martial) be successful in their crafts and confident in their own abilities and knowing what their art, skills, and talents are worth.
I’d like to extend the invitation to venues and art spaces around the city to collaborate with each other in finding happy mediums of eliminating competition completely and creating mutual success.
I’d also like venues, audiences, and performers specifically to step it up. Artists need to stop selling themselves short. There doesn’t need to be any more covers less than $10 on a weekend. Venues shouldn’t be confused about what their priorities are while operating with artists (local or national). People need to get used to paying a cover, showing up on time, and being PROUD to stand in line to see their favorite band.
Artists, do better, market yourselves, brand yourselves, perfect your craft, know your worth, seek knowledge, go outside of circles, work with each other.
My last request for Milwaukee in 2017 is a super simple one:
Stop trying me.
B~Free — musician
I think that Milwaukee needs to experience full immersion in the diverse array of talent displayed throughout the city. It’s no secret that our town is heavily segregated, but what pains me the most is the fact that people in different “musical jurisdictions” don’t know about each other. While great strides have been made, artists who are heavily involved in the artistic renaissance of Riverwest are not fully aware of all of the awesome musicians, singers, producers, etc. that live on the North Side and beyond (and vice versa). Twenty-seventeen must give way to as many events, forums, workshops, and opportunities as possible to build a collective relationship among all of the artistic beings throughout the city. Once we strengthen that within ourselves, the rest of the world will finally begin to understand how much talent and potential we hold here.
Adam Carr — Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service
In 1967, outrage around disparities in our city boiled over. Milwaukee experienced a summer of unrest, part of a nationwide groundswell of frustration aimed at the power of racism. Later that year, Milwaukee’s national civil rights moment began, as the NAACP Youth Commandos, Father Groppi, Vel Phillips, and many others marched under the banner of Fair Housing. Going from the north side of the 16th Street Viaduct to the south, the predominantly black marchers were met by virulent and sometimes-violent racism from white Milwaukeeans. Showing astounding courage and determination, they continued the marches for 200 consecutive nights until a federal fair housing bill was passed.
As we approach the 50th anniversary of those events, it’s spooky how similar we find the shape of our moment. Milwaukee is fraught with permutations of the same ingredients—the unrest in Sherman Park, the Black Lives Matter movement, the impending Trump presidency, and Milwaukee’s particular brand of abject disparity. That said, today’s Milwaukee is also equipped with incredible community leadership, as well as far more abundance and power than we often realize. In 2017, I believe it is incumbent upon us as Milwaukeeans to embrace the seriousness of our time and start questioning our tendency to prioritize personal comfort and convenience above all else. Many of the young Milwaukeeans who marched in 1967 are now elders, and this year will be a unique opportunity to learn from them, honor them, and continue their legacy.
Jeremy Fojut — Chief Idea Officer, co-founder, NEWaukee
Milwaukee’s focus in 2017 needs to be on our biggest weakness as a community: the lack of connectivity and the abundance of risk aversion.
The lack of connectivity (physically, socially, and civically) leads to many other challenges that set Milwaukee back. The lack of physical connection in our city planning and design leaves us with physical barriers between neighborhoods. It’s one of the reasons you see two completely different neighborhoods on opposite sides of streets, parks, freeways, and our natural boundaries. This lack of connectivity leads to lack of access and opportunity, and segregates class and race. I wish for more investment in connectivity zones. These could be place-based real estate developments, trails, or public spaces.
The second and perhaps more grave issue is Milwaukee’s psychological issue with risk. I am not just referring to our startup scene or capital investments. Our risk-adverse mentality drives our motives to “check the box” and not try anything new. This sets back our large corporations and our small and mid-size businesses to try something different. It also sets back our public assets in regards to transportation, development, and public space. Anything viewed as too risky generally gets pushed aside, because people don’t want anything negative to happen. There is no quick win or silver bullet to solve decades of negligence. I hope we as a community can overcome our fear of the unknown and try to be the first to market, rather than the last.
Nik Kovac — alderman, 3rd District
Last year, in this space, I called on Milwaukee to expand the building boom beyond downtown and the lakeshore, and to shop and work more locally. 2016 took that advice. On the south side, a new library with apartments above is opening on Mitchell Street and Journey House is investing in multiple properties in the Clarke Square neighborhood. On the north side, the Innovation and Wellness Commons is open and expanding in Lindsay Heights, the Black Holocaust Museum with apartments above is finally returning to Bronzeville, and both King Drive and Good Hope Road are planning new libraries with apartments above. Two suburban companies (Hammes and Bader Rutter) are moving their headquarters to the city, and local retail is starting to make a comeback on many of our main streets (stop in at Waxwing on North or Roots on Downer). Still, the list of things to do is longer than what’s been done. Talgo’s return to the 30th Street corridor is huge news, but there is room for so many more companies there—and so many residents within walking distance still need jobs.
In 2017 Milwaukee needs to turn our focus to reforming the criminal justice system. The documentary Milwaukee 53206—about the nation’s most incarcerated zip code—premiered here last year and it has horrified and inspired us, along with the inhumane treatment at Lincoln Hills Correctional Facility, the inmate deaths at the Milwaukee County Jail, and the police shooting and subsequent arsons in Sherman Park. The necessary structural reforms will be difficult to achieve because so many layers of government are involved (the state does prisons, the county does jails, the city does police, and the D.A. does prosecutions) and because in the current political and media environment it is increasingly hard to communicate that a humane and rehabilitative justice system will actually make us all more safe.
But facts should matter (even though our recent voting patterns argue otherwise). Milwaukee has a chance to be a national leader in the kind of criminal justice reforms that every big city in this country needs.
Ted Perry — FOX 6 anchor/reporter
What Milwaukee needs to accomplish in 2017 is a commitment to stop caring what extremists on both political sides think and find strength in compromise. The far-left and far-right crowds will never be happy with the middle ground, yet I suspect that’s where the best answers are.
Q The Sun — musician
Milwaukee is like a teenager, newly coming to terms with what makes it great and unique, but also awkward and unsure of its identity. We know we have talent, and resources, and money, and creativity, and culture, and good intentions, but we don’t know how to make that all flow together to fully grow into what we want to be. We also want to be cool and sexy, and we want to be accepted by the larger world, so we make decisions and fall into waves and trends that might not be the best for us because they take our focus away from accepting ourselves and building our own greatness and uniqueness. We’re anxious and impatient and we want to grow up fast, and as a result we ignore certain things, the things that are hard to look at and hard to deal with.
In 2017, Milwaukee has to LEARN TO LISTEN and learn how to express itself authentically. The institutions need to listen to the local scene, and the local scene needs to listen to the institutions. The old need to listen to the young, and the young need to listen to the old. White people need to listen to black people, and black people need to listen to white people. I’m talking about deep, empathic listening, listening that only has one purpose, to understand and relate, with no further motive. We need to stop the constant rush for accomplishing the next big thing. We need to slow down, and communicate, and start to heal, and give our ideas, and emotions, and dreams, and efforts, and money time to interact and coagulate and build organically. We’re still going through puberty and we need some time to mature and come to terms with ourselves—otherwise what we build will lack a real foundation and spirit and we will pay for it years down the line.
Dennis Walton — Outreach Coordinator, Milwaukee Fatherhood Initiative
Milwaukee is a great city with a beautiful history. I believe that in 2017, we need to do more to embrace diversity and ethnicity and do a better job of investing and profiting from the value and wealth that lies within our human capital. There needs to be a restoration of principals and morality. If we can do a better job of restoring character, integrity, honesty, trust, respect, and humility, we can get back to a place where Milwaukee can be an example of growth and set the precedence for greatness.
We have to examine our past and not be afraid of our shortcomings, but allow for those experiences to be of value by acknowledging where we have made mistakes, and not allow our future generations to repeat them. We have to move beyond the era of civil rights and allow the focus of human rights to be our natural progression and priority. We must have respect and appreciation for life, regardless of gender, religion, race, ethnicity, political affiliation, sexual preference or orientation. We must see our differences as our strengths that give us depth and infinite potential. Understanding that we are a part of a world community that all share in and have the same basic needs is critical in establishing a global respect, that allows for human values to be our foundation in which we build our fortress.
It is time to eliminate jealousy, hate, envy, arrogance, laziness, unhealthy egos, and procrastination. It’s time to raise our collective consciousness and allow the beauty and gift of our intelligence and creativity to flourish unobstructed by ignorance and fear. I believe that if we step outside of our comfort zones, raise our standards, stop complaining and blaming, take personal responsibility, raise our awareness, and not allow ourselves to be victims, we will exceed our previous gains and continue to make the impossible possible.
Beth Weirick — CEO, Milwaukee Downtown Business Improvement District
The light and hope that Milwaukee provides will be key in moving our downtown, our city, and our region forward. We need to accomplish the ongoing connection of community in its truest sense in 2017.