Thursday, July 31, 2008

Change At SEWRPC: Actual And Imagined

While the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission plods away with its stale, suburban expansionist model, a regional commission out east is aggressively promoting community revivals in some tired Philadelphia neighborhoods and older, beaten-down suburbs.

Can you imagine SEWRPC, at its isolated Pewaukee headquarters in western Waukesha County doing something like that in the seven-county region from which it absorbs about $2.3 million in local property taxes every year - - with the largest share, about 35%, coming from Milwaukee County.

The very place in the region where there are indeed older suburbs and city neighborhoods that could use a regional planning shot in the arm.

Expecially in an era of rising gasoline prices that make closer-in suburbs and city neighborhoods more attractive than sprawled-out subdivisions - - like Pabst Farms, where housing starts have been suspended, but also where SEWRPC is promoting a new Interstate highway interchange to serve a planned shopping mall whose construction has already been postponed once.

Remember, SEWRPC is the agency that has not done a regional housing study since 1975, but has been promising to begin one since 2005, yet will not release the proposed scope of the study because it considers it an internal planning document.

The study, if and when it begins, is supposed to make recommendations to the more than 140 municipalities in its region about meeting housing needs, especially in so-called affordable housing, which often means housing for low-income and/or minority residents and families.

With those time lines, and recommendations to be offered into a regional environment that prefers to see affordable housing clustered in the City of Milwaukee, I won't expect to see SEWRPC as it is now structured - - no commissioners from the City of Milwaukee, and a majority representing still-rural counties - - jump into something as revolutionary as marketing older suburbs and city neighborhoods anytime soon.

But there is news on the SEWRPC affirmative action front:

The agency reported at yesterday's Environmental Justice Task Force meeting that it has increased the number of minorities on its professional (as opposed to clerical and technical) staff from last year.

Last year's total: one among 42.
This year, it's up - - to three of 49.

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