Op Ed

8 Ways to Democratize Milwaukee

There never was a better time to think big for this city.

By - May 30th, 2020 02:30 pm
Homes on Keefe Avenue. Photo taken March 25th, 2019 by Carl Baehr.

Homes on Keefe Avenue. Photo taken March 25th, 2019 by Carl Baehr.

Last night, CNN had a former Commissioner in New York City on talking about things that democratize her city. So I began to think, what would democratize Milwaukee? If there was ever a time to reimagine our town, it’s during a once-in-a-life time event (hopefully). Anyone who reads this will thinks this idea of democratizing Milwaukee is utopian. Well, we’ve seen a glimpse of dystopian and it’s not pretty. The pandemic is not over and could get worse. Think Brazil.

Or think positive. Here are eight ways to democratize our city:

  1. We elected three young and energetic African American politicians to leadership positions in Milwaukee County and the city. I propose that they reach out to their counterparts in Waukesha County to see what issues they could work on as a way of ending the war between the city and its western suburbs. Let’s do small things as a way of building trust and go on from there. That would require new Common Council President Chevy Johnson to negotiate some of the details with the mayor and bureaucrats. Newly elected County Exec David Crowley said he wanted a new day. Pick two or three things with Waukesha Exec Paul Farrow and see if we can’t lay down our arms and get to work. Expanding bus routes to jobs might be something to start with.
  2. How about a Green New Deal for Milwaukee? Let’s build a green infrastructure plan with MMSD and the city to expand bike options, widen streets, convert dilapidated buildings for green space, grow healthy foods, plant more trees, clean up dirty environmental sites, and pick up trash all over the City.
  3. Let’s create a 21st Century transportation plan and include it as part of SWERPC’s 2050 Plan. Start with the 30th rail corridor. Expand the streetcar west to the County Grounds and maybe make it useful for the west suburbs. Maybe they’d ride it instead of driving downtown every day.
  4. Create a real plan for the central city of Milwaukee. I’d start with some limited form a self governance in 15 Aldermanic Districts. Appoint and elect district councils that include city officials, the police, planning people from UWM and Marquette, and let them and citizen representatives design a future for themselves. Fund them with CDBG Planning money from the city. We actually tried it before. It worked!
  5. Bring the education departments together from each four year college in the region together with WCTC and MATC, MTEA and outline a series of steps geared toward making Milwaukee Public Schools great again. The truth is that poverty is the great decider in public education so…
  6. Create a Marshall Plan with the private sector through the Greater Milwaukee Committee to address poverty by declaring war on it. Cynical about seeing companies, sports and media stars reaching out to their customers and first responders over COVID? Teachers are first responders, too. Let us come up with creative ways to reduce poverty by putting low income people to work. They will need to get to work (see Idea 3).
  7. A campaign for public health. Attack the pandemics of reckless driving and gun violence, and maybe we live through the next germ attack.
  8. The most segregated places on Sunday is church. I would propose to the faith community that they find at least one church, mosque or synagogue each weekend to open its doors to interfaith services.

I don’t want things to go back to normal. Normal is OK for me and my family, but not for poor people and our city. Milwaukee cannot hope to reach the greatness it deserves if one third continue to live in poverty, locked in by uncaring suburbs, and the majority of the state Legislature. Start small. I know most of my list will fail. But anyone with better ideas, I’m all ears. Perhaps together we can create a “We’re All in this Together Plan.”

Howard Snyder founder and former Executive Director of the NWSCDC.

Categories: Op-Ed

2 thoughts on “Op Ed: 8 Ways to Democratize Milwaukee”

  1. Barbara Richards says:

    The work of the Joint City County Task Force on Climate and Economic Equity is your “go to” for City County cooperation on many of the above points of change. Follow the work of this Task Force as it moves from its Preliminary Report: Here is the Conclusion:
    This report brings forth the need to evaluate, mitigate and adapt to ecosystem changes brought about by a changing climate and to address long standing racial and economic disparities. The impending environmental impacts to all of Milwaukee’s systems will be considerable if the community continues to depend on current practices that rely on external resources rather than local solutions. We can develop local employment if we build for a new local economy. We can create a resilient Milwaukee based on reimagined economic and social structures. The current system’s lack of capacity to meet these twin challenges (climate and equity) requires leadership for a secure and just Milwaukee by 2050.

    Therefore, this Task Force requests the community, from utilities to CEOs to NGOs; to City and County and State-wide elected officials; to neighborhood associations, BIDs to NIDs; to churches, small businesses, schools at all levels; to you and your neighbors; a commitment to meet and listen to one another’s ideas with open minds and hearts. What does a Milwaukee look like that is just and resilient? This is a community call to action for climate and economic equity.

    The Task Force wants to inform and listen to as many Milwaukeeans as possible. You can reference the work of the Task Force in the attachments to Common Council File Number 191039. The Task Force plans to reach out to the public, and asks that readers of this document reach out to it, as well. You are asked to join the conversation for a community-wide response to the twin challenges of climate and equity. The Task Force will also proceed with short-term strategies as it is able. Then, together with the community, the Task Force will publish a plan after a one to 2-year engagement of community representatives and experts from all the above groups to dig deeper into the path to the future. Answer the Call for Action!

  2. steenwyr says:

    Wait. “Widen streets”? Surely that’s a typo… Or if I’m reading it out of context in a paragraph about a “Green New Deal”, please enlighten me / us

    BTW, MMSD and the city are already doing many ‘green’ things

Leave a Reply

You must be an Urban Milwaukee member to leave a comment. Membership, which includes a host of perks, including an ad-free website, tickets to marquee events like Summerfest, the Wisconsin State Fair and the Florentine Opera, a better photo browser and access to members-only, behind-the-scenes tours, starts at $9/month. Learn more.

Join now and cancel anytime.

If you are an existing member, sign-in to leave a comment.

Have questions? Need to report an error? Contact Us