Op Ed

Milwaukee and Waukesha Can Work Together

Water agreement is just the beginning. There are many other opportunities for collaboration.

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Looking west from the roof of Milwaukee City Hall. Photo by Dave Reid.

Looking west from the roof of Milwaukee City Hall. Photo by Dave Reid.

When news broke late last fall that the City of Milwaukee had reached an agreement to sell water to Waukesha, one could almost hear a gasp of surprise heard across the region. How is it possible that the leaders in the two historically opposed communities were able to reach across the “divide” and agree on such a major deal?

The answer is surprising because it is so simple: Change.

We represent a generational change in perspective about how our region can and should be. We recognize our shared destiny and the vital need to close the door on a past that we cannot change, and to move forward embracing a future that we can build together.

We recognize that the change in how we think and act is more tangible and more impactful. We made a connection with each other during the water agreement process and began talking about how we can plan and act in cooperation to make our region as economically diverse and powerful as possible, and with the best amenities and systems that our citizens deserve.

It’s no secret that the journey to cooperation has seen ample drama and missed opportunities. The City of Waukesha had been working to obtain a long term sustainable water source for more than a decade. Lake Michigan water is the most sustainable source and the cheapest option. In June 2016 the Great Lakes Compact voted to approve the application. The intention for years was for Waukesha to purchase Lake Michigan water from the City of Oak Creek. Many in the City of Milwaukee had been opposed to the application, looking for a greater commitment from Waukesha on key issues such as affordable housing, public transit and transportation.

But then we started talking about the future and our shared belief in a region that exudes its best qualities and strives toward its full, amazing potential. It started with a shift in thinking, and with listening to each other with an open mind. The conversation opened additional channels and in May 2017 communications began between City of Milwaukee leaders and City of Waukesha leadership. Leaders in both communities worked together and did what was mutually beneficial, and in December 2017 we signed an historic 40-year water sale agreement.

The “win-win” agreement makes water cheaper than it would have been for Waukesha ratepayers and it assists Milwaukee in costs for needed upgrades for residents.

But we are not done working together, and in fact, we are just getting warmed up. We now have a new tradition of working in cooperation for our shared vision of a stronger region, and we are excited to start talking about the many possibilities – including going to Madison to meet with our lawmakers to foster better collaborative regional/community/city relationships.

Whether it’s the new Bucks arena and related development downtown, Foxconn, or the new Northwestern Mutual HQ building and residential tower, we are seeing a wave of excitingly diverse and extensive investment in the region. We believe this is just the beginning, and we are asking “What’s next? Who’s in?”

It is our strong belief that the more our leaders and our communities work together (and truly embrace regional cooperation) the better off we will be for the long run. We need to nurture and expand our regional communication and continue the positive progression. With Milwaukee and Waukesha as our prime cooperation example, we all need to be willing to change our thinking and start the conversation.

We recognize we have some difficult discussions coming next, ones that will require critical public input and a focus on what is truly best for the region.

For example, there’s no reason why we cannot have a regional approach to transportation needs. With the huge level of investment we are seeing (Foxconn, downtown, Bucks arena, etc.) in developments and infrastructure we must strategically adapt our transportation system appropriately or face new problems.

In that vein, we also hope to begin a serious discussion about a future rail system that can move workers and citizens efficiently throughout the region. Minneapolis, St. Louis, and Atlanta are just a few of the large cities and regions with commuter rail systems in place and working well. We are excited about our economic and job growth, but we have to be able to get to point A and to point B in an efficient way. Why not here?

So what’s next?

We have launched a tradition of working with a forward vision and shared goals, with the water agreement serving as a foundation for future successful collaboration. As a region we are in this together, and we invite our citizens and everyone to join us in building a collaborative future together.

By Milwaukee Common Council President Ashanti Hamilton and Waukesha Common Council President Aaron Perry.

More about the Waukesha Water Deal

Categories: Op-Ed, Politics

4 thoughts on “Op Ed: Milwaukee and Waukesha Can Work Together”

  1. Jeremy says:

    Sounds nice and everything except president Hamilton can’t even get his own jackass aldermen to refrain from throwing wrenches into projects on a Milwaukee County basis like the BRT ( https://urbanmilwaukee.com/2017/07/19/eyes-on-milwaukee-city-fighting-county-on-rapid-transit/ ) I love the sentiment. If we are going to start changing things…why not start with consolidating police and fire within Milwaukee County first?

  2. Matt says:

    Let’s just hold our horses a minute. Remember when we cared about integrating schools and Waukesha didn’t help? Remember when New Berlin wouldn’t build affordable housing and had to settle with the federal government for RACIAL DISCRIMINATION in 2011 (yes, 2011, not 1911). Remember how they then ran out of workers and wanted Milwaukee to pay to bus workers to their humble little burghs and then home before dark so that they could take advantage of people who were more desperate for jobs than the locals with the hedge fund investments?

    And then they got thirsty. And we sold them water. Fine, they deserve water. I mean some of my best friends live in Waukesha County. But lets not pretend they have proven anything. They proved they can’t live without water. Not exactly the inspirational collaboration claimed here. Milwaukee is better off dealing with Chicago, Racine, or Kenosha. Waukesha has long since proven what Waukesha is, a sunken place.

  3. Thomas says:

    Matt – The City of Waukesha and Waukesha County are two separate entities, just like the City of Milwaukee and Milwaukee and Milwaukee County are two separate entities. New Berlin and Waukesha are two separate Cities and the City of Waukehsa has no say on what New Berlin does. Also Waukesha has lots of affordable housing unlike Brookfield who has none and as you mentioned, have to bus in workers from Milwaukee.

  4. Mary says:

    Thank you Thomas for pointing that out! In my opinion, the City of Waukesha has more in common with the City of Milwaukee than it does with the rest of Waukesha County.

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