Dave Reid

Imported from Detroit Reminds us that Milwaukee Matters

By - Feb 14th, 2011 05:22 pm
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“That’s our story. Now it’s probably not the one you have been reading in the papers, the one being written by folks who’ve never even been here.”

The Chrysler 200 Super Bowl commercial resonated with urbanists from Cinncinati to Chicago, no doubt an odd event for a car commercial.  But it was because it exhibited the pride, spirit, and toughness that Detroit and our cities have in common. The imagery from the commercial shows steam pouring through the vents on a cold winter evening, moments of ruin porn contrasted with upscale neighborhoods, stark imagery of Detroit’s industrial history, and all set to Eminem’s workman like march “Lose Yourself”.  These contrasts made the cold, hard, rough edge of Detroit look desirable, if not noble.  Clearly the commercial wasn’t as much about the Chrysler 200, as it was about the branding of Detroit as a tough, imperfect city with a rebellious attitude, and most importantly one that hasn’t given up. But more than just Detroit, this was a rallying call for our post-industrial cities, to push on because our place, our history, and our future matters.

(if the video doesn’t show in your browser it is available here)

It is not to say Detroit, or any Rust Belt city for that matter, doesn’t have its fair share of problems, they do. Further, this commercial isn’t the silver bullet that is going to bring Detroit back, and quite frankly the automobile industry both built and destroyed Detroit, but it should act as a reminder to those who’ve never even been here that our cities matter.

What does this say about Milwaukee? We know our roads aren’t great, our schools are in desperate need of improvement, and that we have a divided region.  But for those of us who’ve been here we know that we have amazing parks, diverse neighborhoods, a built environment prime for continued development, and even a little history in adventurous public policy. Unfortunately, in recent years all too often when an adventurous idea, such as the proposed streetcar system or commuter rail connecting our region together, is proposed we hear “we can’t do that, we’re not Chicago.”  So it is our turn to remind those who’ve never even been here that although we are not the Windy City, we are the Brew City and quite frankly Milwaukee matters.


30 thoughts on “Imported from Detroit Reminds us that Milwaukee Matters”

  1. Chris says:

    Well said. As you know, I’ve been using this phrase for a while now and would love to hear more people take up the cause. Milwaukee was founded by visionary people that dared to do what many couldn’t even imagine. Milwaukee was conceived to be Chicago before the railroads decided to take a different route (no lack of irony today).

    Milwaukee needs to embrace its rebellious CAN DO roots. The older generation that appears complacent, even resentful toward improvement needs to embrace change or get the hell out of the way. I for one have had enough of the old boy network that’s held this city back for years. There’s lots of young, creative, talented people in this city that can lead it toward a better tomorrow. Let’s keep them here, and attract like-minded folks committed to bettering this unique place.

  2. Juli says:

    And, can I get an “amen”. Let’s create our own Milwaukee Matters viral video. Who’s with me?

  3. Juli says:

    And might I add…to get this thing started, what are we? Why do we matter? If they are New York City, the Windy City, Sin City, Emerald City and the Motor City, what are we? Are we simply the Cream City? Or….

  4. Dave Reid says:

    @Juli Sounds like a plan….

  5. Chris says:

    I wondered the same thing. Cream City and Brew City come to mind right away. I kind of like the notion of flipping Brew City on its head. Sure, it’s still about the beer, but can “Brew” suggest something else (like “brewing” ideas, etc). Maybe that’s too corny and far fetched?

    I will add that is seems people wear Brew City with a certain sense of pride… and that fact can’t be overlooked when debating this.

  6. Barb Haig says:

    I like the “Brew City” approach. It takes a known commodity and doesn’t try to change that image — just enhance it: What we’re brewing now is hard work that integrates nature (hops & water) with smart manufacturing and results in good times.

  7. Dan Knauss says:

    Diverse neighborhoods? LA has them. Chicago does. Many cities do. Not Milwaukee. We rival Detroit for hypersegregation. Show me one of the few edge neighborhoods that is fairly diverse in Milwaukee, and tell me what anyone has done for it lately–starting with local gov.

    This Eminem commercial didn’t say anything to me. Luxury car driven by an interesting, misogynistic “musician” who typifies exactly the wrong kind of model for anyone who wants to get out of urban poverty and dysfunction. I figure putting a black rapper in the car would have been considered a total marketing failure. That’s America.

  8. Jesse Hagen says:

    Haha, Chicago as a model for integration?


    Anyway, what this commercial says to me about Detroit is despite their losses, they have something to be proud of. Also, they’re not looking to sugarcoat anything, but they won’t wallow in the negativity that some like to paint, deserved or not.

    At a certain point you can’ t listen to the defeatists. Thankfully they’re literally moving out and on, having spent their entire lives telling everyone what collectively Milwaukee CAN’T do. I’m seeing another generation flood into this and other cities. They bring their optomism and more importantly ask the question “why not?” instead of “why?”.

  9. Dan Knauss says:

    Chicago is not a model for integration, but the level of cultural diversity they have is night and day compared to Milwaukee. I sure wouldn’t want to live there though.

    I don’t think that Chrysler commercial identifies anything for Detroit to be proud of, apart from still having Chrysler. And Eminem, yay.

    Who are the defeatists you’re referring to? Pointing out the real problems and misplaced idealism isn’t defeatism. The most negative people about Milwaukee I’ve ever run into are the ones who grew up here and never left, never intend to. I think it’s a kind of psychological game, where they have their “grass is greener” idea and thought that they might have missed out, but they know where they fit in. To a good extent this is the old rustbelt culture that doesn’t seem to know how to make a way forward that isn’t based on taverns and dwindling union jobs. It’s not really their obligation to change that. The leadership, public and private, really has not been there to do it.

    So I’ve been thinking about this and wondering what Dave thinks a pro-Milwaukee commercial might look like from a large employer in the metro area. Who would do that? What would they say? How would it help?

  10. Jesse Hagen says:

    Dan, I think the debate you want to have here, can be summed up in the comments for this article.


  11. joe shmo says:

    “Unfortunately, in recent years all too often when an adventurous idea, such as the proposed streetcar system or commuter rail connecting our region together, is proposed we hear “we can’t do that, we’re not Chicago.”

    That’s a pretty selfish thing to say. To use eveveryone’s money just to make the city look “cooler.” our country has very minimal money we can spend. You’re right, we aren’t CHicago or NY or LA. Commuting in our city is easy and very convenient. It’s one thing to spend money when you have it. Just to spend someone’s money because it was offered to you is selfish and inconsiderate.

  12. Dan Knauss says:

    Wow, Cleveland is worse and better than I thought. Yes, she’s got the right attitude. I admire that.

    Boosterism isn’t all bad through. Not when it’s coming from ass busting people like Cory Booker.

  13. Peter says:

    That Chrysler commercial is so powerful, good for them for championing Detroit like that. When I first saw that, it really struck a chord with me. It’s hard to make a commercial that is that moving. It absolutely should provide motivation for every Rust Belt city who is struggling to reinvent themselves, and there’s no question that Milwaukee is doing just that. Especially within the past 10 years, there has been so much visible improvement. I can’t wait to see what we look like in another 10 years–and people really start to take notice and want to be a part of it. Once the younger, creative class starts taking over, I think Milwaukee is really poised for a boom, if we do it right. On the other hand, a lack of trendy transportation certainly won’t be a deal breaker for our city.

  14. Dave Reid says:

    @joe shmo I’m not sure how building a better city is selfish. Streetcar systems encourage density, and economic development, as well as improve connectivity. All desirable options for Milwaukee.

  15. Joel says:

    @joe shmo, you forgot in your quote about commuting being easy and very convenient to put in “BY AUTOMOBILE,” ya of course commuting by auto is easy here….but not everyone owns one and/or can afford one.

  16. Chris says:

    joe shmo’s comment reflects the common misperception by the masses that street cars somehow are only there to make a city “look cool.” It’s a woefully shortsighted, uniformed position propagated by Milwaukee’s talk-radio blowhards (talk about an institution holding this City back).

    I’m not going to even bother going into the why’s of how they work and improve a city in many ways. You can find all sorts of that info on the internets, including this very site. Better yet, travel the world and see for yourself.

  17. CJ says:

    The “joe shmo’s” are the people holding Milwaukee back from progress.

    What is the latest news on the Milwaukee Street car?

  18. ktkof08 says:

    Unfortunately, in recent years all too often when an adventurous idea, such as the proposed streetcar system or commuter rail connecting our region together, is proposed we hear “we can’t do that, we’re not Chicago.”

    Unfortunately, in recent years all too often when an adventurous idea, such as creating Innovation Park that would link key education and business leaders in our region together, is proposed we hear “you can’t do that, you’re not in Milwaukee.”

    Yeah sorry, the divisions in this area run down a two way street. If this region wants to move forward going into the future the region as a whole is going to have to work together. Even just running down the comment list here shows you that plenty of people on here do just as much to divide the region as those living in suburbia.

  19. Dan Knauss says:

    I don’t know if those are really the key divisions, but you’re always going to have some division. Is that really what holds Milwaukee back? In the absence of good leadership, maybe so. It’s the job of political leaders and coalitions to plow over divisions and other obstacles to impose their will. Lacking effective players, you can’t get what you want by asking nicely and waiting for someone to give it to you. I see that as the main problem.

  20. Dave Reid says:

    @ktkof08 Ummm…. UWM’s expansion in Wauwatosa is not an idea that reminds us that Milwaukee matters.

  21. Jason says:

    Thank you Dave for that thoughtful article. It’s too bad that the string veered from your positive message.

    I’m fortunate to have visited 49 states, 27 of the 30 largest cities (haven’t taken the time to count those I’ve been to in the top 100), and 26 countries. I did that all before I was 39. I’m still only 40 so my travel resume isn’t dated.

    I would say that Milwaukee is as fine a city as any I’ve been to and I’m proud to have been born there, raised there, and plan to raise my children there. The bottom line is that there are pros and cons of every major city. No, Milwaukee doesn’t have the arts offerings Chicago has, but I’ll sure enjoy my 20-minute commutes. No, Milwaukee doesn’t have the sports scene Boston does, but I’ll ensure enjoy the more reasonable cost of living. I love living in San Diego during the winter months, but as a transient metropolitan area, it offers nothing in the sense of community like Milwaukee does.

    What a great town…I consider it a hidden gem. Why do I love it? It’s the perfect size. Any bigger and we’d get big city problems to go along with; any smaller and we wouldn’t have the great arts offerings we do have, the great restaurants, and our beloved Bucks and Brewers. I love that lake… and you know what, I love the people.

    Thank you Dave, and thanks to you great people that understood what Dave was trying to say. Most of all, thanks to all of you that contribute in sweat equity like those that were recently highlighted in the Journal for their efforts at composting in Bay View.

    There will always be the Dan Knauss’ of the world that can’t find the good things to say (I have a brother that constantly complains about taxes and “lefties” so I’m familiar with the sort) but for the rest of you, embrace that wonderful city of yours, concentrate on what is great about it, and make it better yet. Where we don’t agree on a topic (i.e., the rail car) let the lovers of our beloved city call a truce, meet in the middle, and share what we love about the cream city.

  22. Jeff Jordan says:

    Dave, This may be one the most significant observation and commentary you’ve made in the history of your website. Keep up the good work.

  23. Dan Knauss says:

    Dave has made many significant observations and commentaries, many more than this.

    @Jason, if you just want to dispense compliments, I don’t see the point. I also don’t see why it’s assumed that making critical points = saying there’s nothing good in the city. I just don’t see Eminem driving a luxury car around Detroit with his permanent scowl on as a statement of anything, positive or otherwise. It’s completely vacuous.

    I agree with you, the lack of traffic problems and lower cost of living compared to bigger cities are qualities that can be enjoyed in Milwaukee. However I’d point to other things as local strengths that aren’t just a consequence of a depleted population that’s taken people and jobs to the ‘burbs. The price of reversing that economic and demographic shift would be higher living costs and congestion, and it would be worth it–especially if it was managed sensibly with smart design and transit options, including rail.

  24. Robert says:

    i’d have to agree with Dan regarding the eminem car commercial. the last thing america needs is more cars, especially sold by that clown. GM could be advocating for a major return to rail and buses across the US. GM could be manufacturing light rail train carriages, trolleys, buses, and all of the maintenance parts and infrastructure required to run these systems. it would also create jobs for people to drive, repair, and coordinate a growing public transportation system. it would green our country by getting more cars off of the road thereby reducing carbon emissions. and lastly, it would use our dwindling global supply of oil much more efficiently. peak oil is real. detroit is seriously kidding themselves that people who do actually have money to buy new cars in this country are going to waste it on an overpriced chevy volt that is going to sky rocket their home electric bill and also overload the nations power grid.

  25. Juli says:

    Maybe our Milwaukee matters video should feature Aaron Rodgers. Sure, we can showcase our world champion appeal, but also send the message about the critical nature of community-owned assets combined with the subtext of being overshadowed, but working harder to overcome. While I think I would go with @Chris to just claim Brew City, Aaron Rodgers makes me think long and hard about turning around stereo-types and embracing our Rust Belt.

  26. Dave Reid says:

    @Robert If anything the fact that it struck me as it did, despite being an auto ad, made it that much strong to me. I agree, as someone who lives a car-lite life, I 100% agree with you’re points about car usage, but to me that commercial is more of an advertisement for Detroit, than it is for Chrysler.

  27. Dan Knauss says:

    Rodgers and Driver or as many of the rest as possible, emphasis on diversified skills, teamwork, and depth.

  28. Juli says:

    Milwaukee Matters – Brew City – here is your funding opportunity. Anybody want to try something? http://creativealliancemke.org/2011/04/reveal-milwaukee-project-50000-up-for-grabs/

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