Milwaukee used to be a city stuck in the past, content to enjoy a few cold ones after work and shoot down any new or interesting ideas that threatened the status quo. That has changed in recent years, but not completely—there are plenty of big developments looming in Milwaukee’s future, but not all of them are being embraced as slam-dunk no-brainers. With a new year upon us, we think it’s a perfect time to gently nudge the city by rounding up five things it needs to do in the next 12 months.
1. Build the stupid streetcar already
If you think Milwaukee has been arguing about the proposed streetcar since the beginning of time, you’re not far off. For years, proponents have characterized the $124 million-and-growing project as a key—if not the key—to the future of Downtown Milwaukee, claiming it will spur more than $3 billion in new development, attract public-transportation-loving young people, cure cancer, and put the first human on Mars. Meanwhile, detractors like Ald. Bob “This Stall Is Taken, Mr. Donovan” Donovan have branded it a wasteful “boondoggle,” claiming it will burden future generations of Milwaukee taxpayers, cost more than advertised, and go unused by the many elderly suburbanites that currently hang out downtown on a Friday night. Strip away all the endless political theatrics, however, and it’s apparent this thing is going to be built. So let’s build the stupid thing already, use it or don’t, and move on.
2. Build the stupid arena already
Similar to the streetcar, it’s clear that, like it or not, there will soon be a new $400-$500 million Bucks arena plopped somewhere downtown. Oh, and that we’ll be paying for some of it. Yes, the thought of an ever-expanding group of billionaires insisting they need our money in order to build their personal playground is enough to make you puke in your soup, but life isn’t always fair, is it? Besides, there’s the promise of even more magic “development” ($1 billion in this case) springing up in the arena’s wake, and that always works out, right? But yeah, there’s too much money at stake for this thing not to happen, so let’s get on with it, and remember that everyone pooped themselves over Miller Park, too.
3. Do something with O’Donnell Park
Last month, the Milwaukee County Board voted 9-8 against selling downtown’s O’Donnell Park—the barren 6.8-acre plaza at the east end of Wisconsin Ave.—to Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. for a cool $14 million. There were many factors that went into the Board’s decision, but one that got a lot of play in the media was the somewhat icky idea of selling off a public park to a private company—never mind how much public use that company promised to keep, or how little the “park” is used by the public in its current state. So now that groups like Preserve Our Parks have gotten their way, it’s time to actually do something with their underused winnings. Taking a cue from the “social architects” at NEWaukee and erecting a giant Ferris wheel is obviously idiotic, but would it kill someone to just drop in some picnic tables? And not pay an outside group to come up with similarly obvious ideas?
4. Forget about the downtown Silk and just go to Art’s Performing Center
After years of trying, trying, and trying again to secure a downtown (or downtown-ish) location, it’s clear that “upscale gentlemen’s club” Silk Exotic just isn’t welcome in Downtown Milwaukee. Which is kind of dumb, considering there are already two strip clubs in the downtown area—Art’s Performing Center and Solid Gold—and the city has yet to devolve into a Midwest Sodom and Gomorrah. About the only thing more tiring than the Common Council continually rejecting a “Silk East” (like they did last month) is griping about it. So let’s face it, Milwaukee and Dave Begel: Silk isn’t coming to a downtown near you. Just suck it up, swallow your pride, and go to Art’s.
5. Get real about the city’s real problems
Isn’t it funny how local movers and shakers pay lip service to the big problems facing Milwaukee—segregation, racial inequality, education, jobs—but when it comes down to it, all their actions and money are tied up in bringing more happy young white people to town? Shit, look at the first four items in this list: all of them are aimed at attracting more happy young white people to Milwaukee. Which is weird, because attracting more happy young white people and giving them nice places to live and fun things to do is not a problem currently facing Milwaukee. As any happy young white person in town can tell you, there’s no shortage of happy young white person things to do on any given day in Milwaukee. Do we really need more?
Sure, there are oodles of well-meaning grassroots initiatives dedicated to healing Milwaukee’s racial wounds, but all of them pale in comparison to the billion-dollar projects dedicated to turning Milwaukee into the next Portland. Don’t get us wrong: we’re all for the items listed above (this list is called “5 things Milwaukee needs to do in 2015,” after all), but wouldn’t it be nice if the people with the power and money to get a streetcar or arena built—politicians, businesspeople—could figure out how to make a buck by fixing the broken Milwaukee that currently exists? Enough with the roundtable discussions, “neighborhood dialogues,” and quickly abandoned hashtag campaigns: can someone get real this year?