Tuesday, July 29, 2008

New Berlin And Milwaukee Are In Two Different Worlds - - Is There The Will To Reconnect?

Milwaukee and New Berlin are neighbors, yet their demographic differences are so vast that they might as well be located on different planets.

A critical gap is job availability - - Milwaukee has tens of thousands of unemployed residents and New Berlin has the largest industrial park in the state.

But direct transit service to the industrial park from Milwaukee ended in 2004.

(You can still ride an express bus into Milwaukee from a more northern point in New Berlin, which doesn't do anything to get Milwaukeans to the industrial park, or a two-hour+ round-trip series of buses, transfers and charter coaches to get from Milwaukee to the industrial park, and back )

There has been talk of adding direct bus service to New Berlin from Milwaukee, but those discussions have not produced results, proving that too often around here, regionalism is more talk than action.

The relevancy of this?

Milwaukee aldermen meet Tuesday (it's a public hearing, so you can listen and speak in Room 301-B, City Hall, at 10:30 a.m.) to consider selling water to New Berlin - - to acreage where it says it could build 1,119 more homes, create another 5,668 jobs, and already has approved the construction of its a convention center, hotel and water park complex.

The water sale would be for a 20-year period.

Should Milwaukee help New Berlin expand its economy, when Milwaukeans have less direct access to employment in New Berlin, and little chance of finding affordable housing near jobs there?

Consider these facts from the 2000 census, and related updated estimates:

Milwaukee has 605,000 people, New Berlin, 39,234.

21.3% of Milwaukeans live below the poverty line, or about 125,000 people. In New Berlin, the figure is 2%, or about 780.

Milwaukee is 37.3% African-American. In New Berlin, 0.4%.

The average value of an owner-occupied housing unit in Milwaukee is $80,400. In New Berlin, the figure is $162,100, or about double.

The average per-household income in Milwaukee is $32,200. In New Berlin, $67,500, again double.

New Berlin would pay the city a projected $966,000 a year for the water - - helping the utility meet with its budget - - but lowering bills for existing Milwaukee Water Utility customers between $1.50 and $4.50, depending on variables in the calculations.

New Berlin would also pay Milwaukee $1.5 million upfront in a one-time so-called regional benefits payment.

Though it could buy more expensive water from other Lake Michigan communities, New Berlin's proposed payment to Milwaukee is not likely to make a dent in the regional housing and transit issues that historically have undermined Milwaukee - - land-locked by state law - - and have allowed suburban cities like New Berlin to flourish.

Milwaukee needs to reframe the discussion and get some experts to help it calculate the value of water and its relationship to nearby development.

And it needs to consider with its regional partners all of the important planning issues as a whole - - transit, housing, air quality, development, jobs - - and not have them considered separately, years apart, without coordination and common focus.

That's how the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission has been treating these issues for decades. The SEWRPC way does not serve Milwaukee or the region, and New Berlin and Milwaukee will only be imitating it if they sign a water deal that leaves housing and transit discussions for another day.

Milwaukee and New Berlin can set an important precedent by sitting down and making an agreement with a broader scope, thus making sense and adding more value to the region than what is on the table now.


Anonymous said...

Great post, these alderman are ignorant. Most of these guys are just morons with no intelligence who just want an easy job. I'm sorry but educate your damn self and realize what sort of impacts your moronic votes make. This water deal just makes New Berlin more attractive to businesses and people looking to move out of the city.

krshorewood said...

After reading the link below I have to wonder if the Journal regards McIlheran as a columnist or a marketing device for appealing to the west suburbanites, who think the MKE JS is liberal?

James Rowen said...

To Anon. I don't agree with what the aldermen will probably do with New Berlin and water.