Thursday, December 10, 2009


Plowed my way through the impenetrable, dial-up era website maintained by the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SEWRPC), and find that the Dec. 9th meeting of the advisory committee on housing was cancelled.

Given the depth and breadth of the housing crisis, and all its ramifications, why would this meeting be called off?

No explanation, of course, on the website, though the housing committee meeting link you can eventually discover does say there are no further meetings scheduled. Maybe that housing crisis is over, and the rest of us missed that wonderful news.

Or perhaps having met three times in 2009 is deemed sufficient progress towards writing the first housing study for the SEWRPC seven-county region...since 1975.

Or perhaps assigning only one planner with some hours contributed here and there by a few others to produce draft study chapters - - there's no consulting budget, a la the hundreds of thousands thrown at outside contractors for the water supply study, something the agency really wanted to work on - - helps explain the stalled pace on the housing front.

Bottom line: SEWRPC is a 100%-publicly financed, $8-million-a-year operation, and has a lot to say about transportation, housing, water and a host of other basic planning and development issues in a seven-county region that is battered by poverty and some of the worst economic and racial segregation in America - - but there is a complete absence of urgency at SEWRPC in the face of these issues.

Its work drones on without spark because the agency lacks leadership accountable through elections.

It often meets in inaccessible locations (the agency headquarters in Pewaukee is not on a transit line) and communicates in even more inaccessible plannerspeak and engineerjargon.

Some years ago, a former veteran Wisconsin politician came through Milwaukee for a conference, and we chatted afterwards.

I will not mention his name because that wouldn't be fair, but trust me, he is well-known to governments, media and voters.

Anyway, we were talking about the inability of the region to solve many of its basic problems, or to change its ways and embrace new thinking, and he asked "why is it so constipated around here?"

It was a funny and unexpected turn of a phrase, and I tell this story because it sums up SEWRPC's style, for lack of a better word.

Why do we put up with it?

Why does the always-broke Milwaukee County Board every year throw more than $800,000 into the agency's operating budget without a word of debate, or a request for a set of goals and outcomes that would be routine for any other contractor?

Answers, anyone?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Certainly the lack of progress in the region is depressing. I believe the dysfunction is systemic and has developed into a way of life. The Milwaukee County Board and the Milwaukee Public School Board are two examples of why necessary reforms cannot take place. We tried to create the world many people envision back in the 1970s. Forced busing within MPS was implemented based on the noble social cause of integration. However, the results were devastating to the city of Milwaukee, MPS and drastically increased the segregation and the subsequent concentration of poverty within the city limits. Middle-class non-minorities fled the city for the suburbs and suburban schools. So, the very program meant to solve the social problem of segregation has failed and exasperated the problems. MPS is 88% minority students with 77% qualifying for the free or reduced lunch program. Liberal policies with excellent intentions back in the 70s have helped create the very suburbs that have developed a hatred for Milwaukee.
The dichotomy is represented well within the divisive politics of the region and state. People in Wisconsin have long memories and are very stubborn. (James, I do sense some stubbornness in you as well!) That stubbornness can be a good thing at times. However, when it comes to moving this region forward stubbornness is deadly. Fragmented local governments clamoring for their piece of the shrinking Southeastern Wisconsin pie are selfish and put themselves before the region. West Allis should not compete with New Berlin for landing a new company. Milwaukee should not compete with Brookfield for an office tenant. The Milwaukee area should compete with Minneapolis, Denver, Indianapolis or Columbus.
How do we do this? A massive shift in the way we think is necessary. If Oconomowoc gets a company with a 1,000 jobs, that’s great for Oconomowoc and good for the region. If we could get transit from the city center to access those jobs – now we’re getting somewhere. Affordable housing near the new job center in Oconomowoc that would be epically amazing! Having the government force these policies on people is not the right way to solve the problems – it has a proven track record of causing more problems. People like us advocating and educating people about the needs in Southeastern Wisconsin so they can make their own informed decision at the polls is the correct way to bring about positive change. I lived in Milwaukee all my life, my family helped build this city and I love this city but you don’t want to drop a watermelon to pick up a poppy seed. We could build something great here but we need to let go of but not forget the past to move forward.
Best Regards,
A Concerned Milwaukeean