Plenty of potholes in the road to an economically strong Milwaukee

Commentary, By David Niles, SBT Editor

Those who want to see redevelopment in Milwaukee to help restore the city’s economic viability and national stature must be shaking their heads at recent development-related announcements.
One was called a "major victory." The other was termed an effort to help the less fortunate.
Neither will help the city but, rather, would provide additional incentives for people and businesses to move out to the suburbs and stay there.
The "major victory" was the recommendation of a Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission study committee that no new lanes be added to I-94 within the city or to I-43 in the city and Glendale.
The other stifling recommendation is that development in the Park Freeway corridor be required to incorporate low-income housing and that any development provide "living wage" pay scales and health insurance.
They may be noble recommendations, but they are ill advised and would only serve to further impoverish the city.
Let’s talk about the freeway first. No community can thrive without a good transportation system; these days that means a good Interstate expressway system. While this paper supported the shortening of the Park Freeway in downtown Milwaukee, we at the same time support expansion of the main expressways that feed the community – I-94 and I-43.
Opponents of widening the expressways within the city argue that an expanded capacity would require that too many homes and business buildings be razed, would encourage more sprawl and would lead to greater air pollution.
The loss of homes and business properties is an incredibly real issue to those who occupy those properties, and a real issue to the city which garners tax income from the land. But any development involves a cost; we believe the cost in this case is worth the gain that an expanded freeway system would return to the city.
On the issue of sprawl, there is no doubt that suburban development accelerated with the development of the Interstate system in Milwaukee many years ago. Opponents of expansion say more lanes would just make it easier for people to leave the city. In other words, they believe artificial barriers should remain to prevent people from living and working where they want to. By not expanding the freeway, their logic goes, it’s more difficult to leave the city — never mind what people want to do.
Tragically, failure to widen the freeway in the city will not only make it difficult to head west and north, it will also make it more difficult for those who live outside the city to drive in for work, entertainment or any other reason.
The "New Berlin Wall" separating the city from the suburbs would only be reinforced.
On the air pollution issue, yes, more driving leads to more pollution. But there are ways to stem that – greater use of carpooling and intercommunity buses, among other conservation methods.
Ironically, Milwaukee was settled by both Native American peoples and by Europeans because of the great transportation afforded by its rivers and Lake Michigan. One has to wonder how the city might have developed had the anti-development forces defeated development of the St. Lawrence Seaway, the dredging of Milwaukee’s rivers and harbor, and the very creation of the harbor.
But what of greater mass transit now? Sure, work on rubber-tired systems. But leave rail out of the picture – it’s simply not realistic at this time in Milwaukee.
So now let’s look at the Park Freeway land. A group known as Good Jobs and Livable Neighborhoods wants development on the land to be burdened with costly regulations, including a requirement that at least 75% of jobs created by the developments provide a "living wage" and health insurance. Residential development should also include affordable housing.
Let’s say you’re considering the development of a new facility for your business. Would you welcome the additional regulatory and financial burdens? Or would you say "Forget it" and develop elsewhere? Probably elsewhere. And that elsewhere could well be the suburbs, leaving the Park Freeway land idle, generating little property tax income for the city and no jobs for anyone.
Then there would be an even greater need for affordable housing, and an even greater need for tax dollars to fund such housing.
On the other hand, how about just letting market forces determine what’s best for Milwaukee? We’d have a stronger, more prosperous community for everyone.

April 4, 2003 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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