Jeramey Jannene

Regionalism is About Place Making

By - Nov 23rd, 2009 10:17 pm
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What is regionalism?  Judging by the way it’s often used in Milwaukee, regionalism would appear to be the notion that new projects should be built further and further away from the City of Milwaukee to serve Waukesha County residents.  Case in point?  The planned engineering school expansion by UW-Milwaukee to be built in western Wauwatosa in what can only be described as “suburban style”.  It’s also used as a way to reconcile the flight of businesses from the region’s urban center.

If the goal of regionalism is to create a stronger region, then moving items out of the urban core and building them in a car-only suburban style sprawled across Greater Milwaukee is a sure fire way to fall short.

But how will Milwaukee succeed at regionalism?  Place making.  Creating attractive, walkable nodes across the region that expand upon instead of undermining the existing core of the region in downtown Milwaukee.

How will the Milwaukee region create place in locations that are well-located, but poorly designed such as Innovation Drive near the Zoo Interchange?  By creating the regional governance units that regionally adopt solid land-use planning and deliver access to jobs and resources.  An example of a regional government units that could deliver on such a level, is the recently reformed Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Transit Authority.  SERTA is responsible for creating the KRM commuter rail line, a rail line that could spring nodes of transit-oriented development all the way to the Wisconsin-Illinois state line.  Transit-oriented development would not only create sustainable, both economically and environmentally, communities in Racine and Kenosha, but would also connect Milwaukee residents with jobs in Wisconsin and Illinois.  It would accomplish this all without hollowing out downtown Milwaukee and the surrounding neighborhoods like the construction of the freeway system did (along with a handful of other factors).

In the coming water debate with Waukesha, Mayor Tom Barrett and the Common Council will need to weigh the pros and cons of allowing Waukesha access to Lake Michigan water.  Can it be done in a way that is a win for the urban heart of the region as well the suburbs?  Will it grow the overall wealth of the region?  I would argue that without increased transportation and land-use planning concessions from Waukesha, it can not, but we’ll see what the elected officials think.

The notion that a rising tide lifts all boats is a key to regionalism.  We can’t simply relocate companies to shiny new facilities in other cities in the region and call that growth.  But we can attempt to attract new companies to the region, and have it as a win for the region provided we have a sound regional transit system to connect people and solid land-use planning that is focused on creating a sense of place.  Likewise, it’s good for the region as a whole not to attempt to block developments within an individual city that will better allow people movement (the Milwaukee Streetcar) or create a sense of place (Shorewood’s steady development of Oakland Avenue into a more urban street).

If Milwaukee is to win as a region, it’s going to have to attract smart people and retain the ones we have.  We’ll need the region as a whole to be working together on regional governance issues such as transit and water to achieve that.  And cities within the region will need to fight their own internal battles to make themselves a valuable part of the region, be it MPS failing in Milwaukee, or increased teenage drug consumption in the suburbs.  All the while working to create destinations that offer enough of a sense of place to attract people in the first place.

As CEO for Cities President Carol Colleta puts it, “if we’re going to promote regionalism—and we should—we need to go in with eyes wide open, knowing that we undermine regional strength when we fail to invest in making vibrant places. When in the name of regionalism the only politically correct meeting place is at an expressway off-ramp, we are consigning ourselves to ever more sprawl. For fear of putting a stake in the ground that any one place in the region matters more than others, we doom our regions to having no places of distinction.”

It’s no small task, but the people of the Milwaukee region can get this done, one issue at a time.

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5 thoughts on “Regionalism is About Place Making”

  1. Tim Carson says:

    Regionalism simply doesn’t work when part of the supposed “region” doesn’t want to be associated with the rest of the region. Milwaukee companies must stop trying to appease Waukesha and focus on the city. If refusing water makes that point, then I’m all for it. The Milwaukee metro area just isn’t as strong as other metro areas because of that.

  2. Andrew says:

    You cant just build your way to a better city. A strong urban environment needs PEOPLE. The city of Milwaukee needs to tackle the exodus of the young professionals and their employers away from the high taxes, high crime and failing schools of the city. Empty condo developments and unused office space is not the formula to help build taxpayer funded perks like trains and trolleys. The city needs to decide what its priorities are. Building a strong, vibrant, educated, active city and citizenry with jobs, parking and maybe even a Target. Or building a model train set where the people magically live and work where their told; walk to shop at the non existent specialty stores that line the empty, car devoid, tree lined streets; and pay whatever taxes/fees/rate the city see fit to asses. There is a fundamental lack of acceptance that Milwaukee is not Chicago, Portland or San Francisco. We have neither the number of people, weather, or the tax base to support public transportation like in those cities. Whom, might I add are struggling themselves to pay for the continued “unforeseen” costs.

  3. Jeramey Jannene says:

    @Andrew Milwaukee and Portland are about the same size (at least for a while, Portland is expected to add a million residents over the next 30-50 years). Is Portland adding those residents as a result of low-taxes? Or as a result of a concerted effort to govern regionally and implement a transportation system that connects people with jobs? Portland has built their way to a better city, through policies like the urban growth boundary.

    The population of Milwaukee recently went up, crossing the 600,000 threshold. The universities in town are expanding. Developments like the North End continue to house more of Milwaukee’s graduates and import graduates from other cities who have jobs in the region.

    The streetcar is designed to use federally designated dollars to enhance a “strong, vibrant, educated, active city”. It won’t tell anyone where to live or shop, but it will better connect everyone in that corridor, and further encourage more people to move along the routes (or businesses to locate). To top it off, it’s designed from day one to work well with other systems such as existing cars in the road, as well as the KRM, and Amtrak Hiawatha (as well as anything else at the Intermodal Station).

    You certainly can build your way to a better city. One building at a time. They don’t have to be empty, you can continue to build well-planned projects like the North End, badly needed dorms like Cambridge Commons, or high-end condos like the Breakwater.

  4. Fernando says:

    Andrew could not be more backwards in his thinking. Chicago, San Francisco, and Portland did not become the places they are, by timidly waiting for the rest of the world to figure everything out first. Speaking as a young, educated professional, I have seen dozens of my better-educated friends move out of Wisconsin to those specific cities BECAUSE they invested in the future, instead of whining about its “costs”. I think time has shown that Milwaukee paid FAR more than those cities, by doing nothing. We need light rail, a BRT system, and a radically enhanced bicycle commuter infrastructure YESTERDAY. It will save us countless dollars in the long run, re-establish Milwaukee as a progressive center of human civilization, revitalize our economy, and give our people reasons to be proud of our fair city again. Our park system, sewer infrastructure, and socialist health care system were once the best in the world. We didn’t get there by waiting, and hoping that some other city’s ideas would fall into our laps for free. You get what you pay for. Chicago, San Francisco, and Portland paid a LOT, to GET a lot. If we can find money for an unoriginal, barely-improved Marquette interchange, and a privately financed baseball stadium for MillerCoors executives profit sheets, we can pay for PUBLIC modernization too.

  5. Darrin Engel says:

    Regionalism is great way to unite all of us under one hat with all our different opinions, choices and reasons to be where we are. But here we are talking about a university that prides itself on an “Urban Campus” and uses it for promoting the quality of education one will get there. It is U.W.M.’s greatest asset. People are able to attend a variety of classes from different schools and be able to get everywhere on campus by walking within minutes.

    The current Chancellor at UWM, Santiago (I believe), was runner up for the top position at Florida Atlantic (F.A.U.) and was upset when he didn’t get it. It’s a shame because it seems that is what he wants U.W.M. to become. F.A.U. is a terribly un-centralized campus that spans three large counties and it can take well over an hour to commute between schools. I know, I lived in Palm Beach County and considered taking additional Architecture and Urban Planning coursework. I made and assumption that the Architecture School was in Boca Raton (the main campus) but discovered it was in downtown Fort Lauderdale*! From the City of West Palm Beach (center of the metro area) and considering traffic congestion at the time I would drive, the commute would be 1.5 hours.

    I have e-mailed Bob Greenstreet, Mayor Barrett and a few Alderpersons about my opposition to this Wauwatosa location. Apparently not enough other people were able to convince them to fight harder.

    If the Chancellor wants to do this and succumbs to political pressure than I say we all should give him the boot. There are plenty of de-centralized campuses in the U.S. and he can live the dream that he almost got. Please don’t ruin our urban campus.

    *Fort Lauderdale is technically a different metropolitan region. Although due to suburban sprawl there is little differentiation on the current maps.

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