Saturday, February 21, 2009

CNU Panel Urges Strategic Stimulus Spending In Milwaukee

Panelists at the Congress for the New Urbanism panel discussion Friday afternoon at UW-Milwaukee were in general agreement that stimulus funding should be focused on job and transit development in the City of Milwaukee, because that's where the bang for the buck would be the loudest.

New Urbanism promotes development in cities and neighborhoods where residential and retail uses are linked by a variety of transportation choices - - transit, sidewalks and bikepaths, as well as streets and roads for automobiles.

New Urbanism encourages density - - in other words, the 'old urbanism' clustering of people - - rather than their dispersal in hodge-podge subdivision and sprawl developments where there is little transit and more automobile-only commuting.

Some panel discussion highlights:

Peter McAvoy, Vice-President for Environmental Services at the 16th St. Community Health Clinic, said a key issue was job development, especially in water-related industries that were already here or that could take advantage of the region's water resources.

He also said that spending stimulus funding on energy retrofits to the city's older housing stock was a relatively low-cost way to achieve multiple goals - - conservation, cleaner air and reduction of global warming greenhouse gas pollutants.

Developer Bob Monnat said city infrastructure should be the focus, not highway spending far from Milwaukee.

Former 3rd District Alderman Michael D'Amato said there was a lack of political will to orient stimulus spending more heavily towards transit.

D'Amato said the City of Milwaukee did not create a large enough list of "shovel-ready" transit projects for stimulus spending consideration, and that a major continuing problem was that permission was needed for progress on transit from the leading obstacle to transit expansion in Milwaukee County - - Scott Walker.

The same Scott Waljer who will not make a deal with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett to split $91.5 million in existing federal transit funding already earmarked for Milwaukee, but losing value to inflation and inertia.

Panelists said poor stimulus spending and planning in a highway-hungry state could waste the potential leveraging of private sector dollars: a past example of leveraging cited by architect Mike Ernst was Milwaukee's Riverwalk, which triggered a building boom along the river downtown and through the Third Ward.

Developer Monnat bluntly said the stimulus could become a "travesty" if Milwaukee infrastructure got short shrift in the allocations at the expense of out-state road-building.

[My opinion: this possibility is already a partial reality, as one-third of the first $300 million in stimulus funding has been dedicated by the state for the rebuilding and widening of the north/south leg of I-94 between the airport and the Illinois state line, and first-round stimulus funding rules laid down by the state Transportation Department for urban projects so favored major road projects that Milwaukee street and bridge repairs were not eligible.

To his credit, Mayor Tom Barrett protested the state's rules, but the not-surprising but still embarrassing silence from Milwaukee's legislative delegation shows how widespread and deep-rooted is the power of the road-builders' lobby.]

The panel discussion, part of an ongoing lecture series at the School of Architecture and Urban Planning, drew about 100 people, and also served as an organizing meeting for the CNU and its nascent Wisconsin chapter.

The Chicago-based organization, run by former Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist since 2004, will hold its 2011 national convention in Madison.

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