Elliot Hughes

Will Streetcar Gentrify Bronzeville?

Possible extension to that neighborhood offers benefits, raises concerns.

By , Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service - Nov 8th, 2017 09:47 am
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Officials presented this vacant lot along Dr. Martin Luther King Drive in Bronzeville as an example of an underutilized space that could be developed with the arrival of the streetcar. Photo by Elliot Hughes.

Officials presented this vacant lot along Dr. Martin Luther King Drive in Bronzeville as an example of an underutilized space that could be developed with the arrival of the streetcar. Photo by Elliot Hughes.

Walker’s Point and Bronzeville residents like the sound of the Milwaukee Streetcar one day extending into their neighborhoods, but it’s hard for some to ignore the threat of gentrification.

The city of Milwaukee held another round of public meetings Saturday to gather feedback from residents on how they want the streetcar to shape their neighborhoods. After construction for the initial two-and-a-half mile route connecting downtown and the lakefront is completed (the earliest segments will be finished in fall 2018), work and fundraising will turn south toward Walker’s Point and north toward Bronzeville.

A range of issues came up during four separate meetings, which attracted 120 people. Since city officials are hoping the streetcar — which is now being branded as The Hop — will not only deliver workers to jobs but spur new residential and commercial development along its tracks, some are worried about the rising cost of living that would bring and who might get pushed out.

Deshea Agee, executive director of the Historic King Drive Business Improvement District, said the streetcar provides an important opportunity for growth in Bronzeville. Photo by Elliot Hughes.

Deshea Agee, executive director of the Historic King Drive Business Improvement District, said the streetcar provides an important opportunity for growth in Bronzeville. Photo by Elliot Hughes.

“There are many people in [Bronzeville] who invest in tax properties, but I don’t see them engaging with a [streetcar],” said Mary Glass, the founder of the Milwaukee Professionals Association. “They see it as a displacement and gentrification.”

She argued that the vision of the streetcar taking workers from the north and south to jobs downtown is flawed because many opportunities downtown do not pay livable wages or offer full-time employment.

“I think the regular stakeholder does not see it as beneficial as those who are pushing it,” Glass said.

The initial downtown-lakefront streetcar routes will cost $128.1 million. Federal dollars supply $69.1 million, while three tax increment financing districts will cover the rest. Route extensions to Walker’s Point and Bronzeville are still in planning stages and funding mechanisms have not yet been identified.

Saturday’s meetings — held at Cielito Lindo739 S 2nd St., and On the Bayou, 2053 N. Martin Luther King Drive — were intended to capture resident’s concerns before the expected wave of development comes. The events’ presenters also had gentrification in mind. They said there are ways the city can help mitigate gentrification by setting aside vacant or underused properties for affordable housing.

“In Walker’s Point we heard a lot about maintaining affordability for commercial space and… in Bronzeville we’ve been hearing more about a site on Meinecke [Avenue] and Fourth [Street] that people really want to see either be a park or perhaps some kind of housing development,” said Monica Wauck Smith, a senior planner with the city.

Bronzeville residents said they wanted to have more family-oriented restaurants, retail options and more walkable streets. They also said it’s important to protect the area’s history and character.

Christopher Hall, an urban strategy leader at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, which is helping the city collect feedback, said preserving Bronzeville’s historic character would be a challenge, because the neighborhood has traditionally been low density. Bringing the streetcar and more businesses would appear to conflict with that, he said.

Increased foot traffic in Walker’s Point seems to be more of a welcome change. Attendees there said they wanted to see more late-night dining options, convenience stores, pharmacies and green space.

“I think if this is going to encourage someone to come to the neighborhood, that’s a good thing,” said Joel Van Haren, a filmmaker who lives and works in Walker’s Point.

The city held its first round of meetings for the two neighborhoods in September. Three more are planned, with the next set probably coming in January, Wauck Smith said. Feedback can also be submitted online.

This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on eighteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee.

More about the Milwaukee Streetcar

For more information on project details, how the operator will be selected, what the vehicles will be like, and possible extensions, see our extensive past coverage.

13 thoughts on “Will Streetcar Gentrify Bronzeville?”

  1. Curious Onlooker says:

    Don’t you mean re-gentrify?

  2. iced tea says:

    Perhaps relax a bit people, the bazillions of dollars in investment expectation was always a poorly supported streetcar propaganda line. Now that it’s actually being built, I’m a bit embarrassed that anybody really believed it.
    The existing “pilot” had a really hard time getting approved, I feel it’s going to be years before fares will be collected, and there seems to be no more “free” money on the horizon. If one takes the two funding sources out of the “dream”, all you’re ultimately left to pay for it with is firing more cops/firefighters/teachers.
    Really, if you’re still worried, just get out a calculator in a while. If they suddenly stop recording ridership after six months of free service, expansion is a non-discussion.

    Looking at the photo- the caption presents a provided example of an “underutilized space”, which looks like someones home. Perhaps the “provider” could provide some examples of what a properly utilized space is? Perhaps share some pointers as to what qualities we’re shooting for? Tax revenue, foot traffic, parking, more residential/commercial, less of “this”, more of “that”- what?

  3. Eric S says:

    Isn’t that a photo of a vacant lot and the backside of the building on the next block?

  4. TransitRider says:

    Eric, that building at the rear of the vacant lot is not on the next street (2nd Street). It is on the N-S alley that runs between and parallel to 2nd and MLK (fka 3rd St).

  5. Eric S says:

    @TransitRider – thanks. That’s interesting. Any idea how that building interacted with the street-fronting building that presumably once filled that spot? (Just curious)

  6. Jerry says:

    Didn’t Potawatomi just give the streetcar project something like 10 million dollars?

  7. Karen Coy-Romano says:

    I think people are forgetting about the need to have more public transportation at affordable rates for those who cannot afford a car. In addition, it will bring more traffic to the community for businesses that may want to open in Bronzeville. Right now, there is very little to draw people in or even keep residents in Bronzeville. New businesses/services are planned for this area to serve not only Bronzeville residents but customers who can shop in this community.

  8. robert bauman says:

    Gentrification is certainly a legitimate concern although the term is somewhat difficult to define. Nevertheless it is interesting that this concern is being expressed since gentrification would presuppose that the streetcar will be successful in attracting residents and businesses to a neighborhood and would be a successful catalyst for commercial and residential real estate development. That is a far cry from the usual negative commentary that “no one will ride”, that any development would occur anyway, and that it is the “trolley to nowhere”.

  9. TransitRider says:

    Iced Tea, development triggered by the streetcar isn’t “propaganda”; it’s real and happening in downtown today.

    I’m sure you’ll claim the streetcar isn’t at all responsible for the current construction boom—that the streetcar’s approval coinciding with a spurt in real estate investment is just a “coincidence”.

    But if it’s a coincidence, it’s one that’s been repeated in almost every city that’s opened a similar streetcar since 2000 (Portland, Seattle, Tucson, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Washington DC).

    Portland, who opened America’s first modern* streetcar in 2001, found that not only had there been a boom in downtown construction, but that most of that construction was right along the tracks. Specifically, they discovered that, between 1997 (when the streetcar route was set) and 2007 (when the study was done), 55% of all new downtown Portland construction occurred within 1 block of the streetcar tracks!

    Portland also found that new construction size declined markedly the farther you got from the tracks. New construction within 1 block of the tracks averaged 90% of the maximum building size (maximum allowed by zoning), and that those ratios dropped to 70%, 60%, and 43% at 2 blocks, 3 blocks and 4+ blocks, respectively, from the tracks.

    You can see their whole report here:

    http://www.portlandfacts.com/docs/development

    *Portland called its 2001 streetcar line “modern” because it was unlike any previous North American streetcar; the name stuck, and similar 21st Century streetcar lines, including Milwaukee’s, are also called “modern”.

    In general, modern streetcars have some light rail characteristics (faster boarding through many doors with just one or no steps and smooth, quiet, continuous welded rail imbedded in concrete) but with much shorter routes (typically under 2.5 miles when they first open) without exclusive lanes, smaller vehicles, and less distance between stops.

    Modern streetcars are designed to move people within downtown. City-wide bus systems, like MCTS, are optimized for longer travel and just don’t work well for shorter trips. As a result, it’s often faster to walk than use the bus within downtown. While there will still be times when it’s faster to walk than use the streetcar, that will occur less frequently and will almost never happen unexpectedly—every streetcar stop will display the next streetcar’s arrival time using current GPS data.

  10. iced tea says:

    @TransitRider- You know I love you, and not in a restraining order kind of way.
    We went back-and-forth quite a bit on JS back in the day, and I always appreciated your lengthy perspective on this topic.

    The development expectations made of the streetcar would require a population influx of biblical proportions, the “chicken or egg” first thing-we’ve been over this and the Portland report in past. You’re not a moron.
    The idea that this is merely to move people -within- a downtown area, and not as a city-wide system is not what was being presented here ever. The Mayor proudly stated that this system IS a “Trojan Horse” to be deployed across a larger area. If it was never really intended to be expanded, than it just really was what it is.
    The streetcar is now being built, and there is no shortage of folks who “thought that stupid thing was forgotten about”, and my favorites are “If the city has enough money for a streetcar, why are they talking about cutting bus routes, and why are we closing fire stations/firing cops?”
    As much as I hate it, and you love it, it’s here, and Moses better start delivering some folks through the Red Sea quick, or we’re gonna end up with Mayor Donovan.

  11. Franz says:

    Are you suggesting that the federal funds allocated for most of the street car costs could be redirected for existing bus service or police and fire stations? I don’t think that’s accurate. The federal government put up the money for new modes of transportation. You may think that’s a waste of federal money, but that’s a different argument. Locally, either we use it or lose it. You can’t apply it where ever you think the city needs it the most. It was granted for a specific purpose. It’s like the high speed train to Madison. Maybe you thought that was a waste of federal money, but are you glad that “waste” of federal money went to building a high speed train in California instead of Wisconsin?

  12. TransitRider says:

    iced tea, I don’t expect The Hop (I’m not yet used to the name) to trigger a development wave anywhere near as large as Portland’s, but even a much smaller boom would still justify the streetcar. For example, a single $100 million development (like 7Seventy7) pays about $1.1 million in city property taxes plus another $1.8 million in additional non-city (school, county, MATC, etc) property taxes. That $2.9 million total exceeds the annual streetcar operating subsidy.

    What’s being built today is a downtown-only (not city-wide) system. That is indeed all that was contained in the project’s official “Environmental Assessment” document. While the City would love to extend the streetcar north of West Juneau, that is, at best, many years away. What’s important right now is to build and operate the first phase to dispel the many streetcar myths (like the false claim that streetcars shut down in ice and snow).

    The streetcar will not cost any cop or firefighter jobs in 2018; between Potawatomi and the federal government, the streetcar operating subsidy is separately funded into at least 2020. And, of course, the streetcar funding has nothing whatsoever to do with possible MCTS bus cutbacks, since MCTS involves a different unit of government (County, not City).

  13. iced tea says:

    TransitRider, I feel as if our differences here at their core are that I don’t think this is a gamble we need/ed to take, and you dispute it as a “gamble” and/or feel it is totally worth it. We don’t seem to argue about facts -too much-, but have big differences w/ causation/correlation.
    If you have a rough figure you are comfortable w/ as to how much the city has put into this BEFORE operating costs, I’ll be glad to know you’ve even acknowledged the concept. The article suggests something north of 55 million in “not free” locally sourced funds, help us out here? Is much of this is “skims” from BIDs, TIFs? Perhaps you can explain the acrobatics of the streetcar having priority access for funds to a constituency wondering about the future for cops/firefighters/teachers? TIFs/development assistance, in particular are regularly sold to residents as an -eventual- tax-base enhancement for something…

    As relates to this article about gentrification; we -seem- to agree that the streetcar was not really intended to service low-density neighborhoods. Perhaps I do go on needlessly/sarcastically about how the initial presentation differs from the final product, but perhaps relatedly as to how many future expansions might face a challenge.
    The humor in comments where people have mixed different units of govt. is where the future might have to dance a bit explaining who is at fault for what. Good luck coming out on top of that!

    As relates to this article: I’m kinda wondering if there’s more movement afoot toward dozing Hillside Terrace on 6th than any new dev. on 3rd st. north of Vliet? Comments?

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