Sunday, May 21, 2017

Governments have enabled Milwaukee region's biases

[Updated from 5/20/17] A couple of things from recent and nearly-ancient history to add to Marc Eisen's op-ed about the Milwaukee region's segregated housing:

*  Milwaukee County has been included in a suburban-and-exurban weighted regional planning commission which had to be forced by advocates and public pressure in 2009 to update by 2013 its 1975 regional housing plan.

Nearly 40 years between studies and recommendations.

*  Note also that the Legislature in 1955 froze the City of Milwaukee's borders, land-locking the city and making it easier for suburbs to expand independently and enforce discriminatory zoning, housing patterns and job development patterns.

More here and here:

I have long felt that descriptions of Milwaukee as 'the most segregated city in America' missed the fundamental reality that the Journal Sentinel story makes clear: it is the region that is segregated; wealth creation in that region is regularly sparked by politicians and power brokers more interested in diverting public resources to suburban  highway expansion and job growth than in providing equitable development, public transportation and equal opportunity to Milwaukee and its heavily-minority, lower-income central city. 
My point has long been this:
The "hypersegregation" label applied to Milwaukee is regional, tolerated for decades.
*  The State Legislature led by GOP Racine County State Rep. and now-Assembly Speaker Robin Vos legally barred the creation of service-sharing state regional transit authorities.
Picture of Representative Robin Vos

Waukesha County opinion makers also balked, Waukesha County government refused to join a transit authority with Milwaukee County and for good measure even eliminated a bus line connecting Milwaukee workers to Waukesha job opportunities.

Details, here.

One local expert, having studied these issues for years, wrote in an extensive, 2012 report:

..the political climate of Milwaukee’s suburbs has also played a role in maintaining this entrenched pattern of racial segregation. The historical legacy of housing discrimination and resistance to desegregation in Milwaukee and its environs has been well established in the literature.
* Referenced again, and again, on this blog, including this 2013 post, for example:
*  The Public Policy Forum noted many of these realities in a 2002 study: 
*  The Brookings Institution's John Austin took note of the penalties of legacy discrimination in a major 2007 study which I noted on my blog at the time: 
Themes repeated with data and links often on this blog, for example, here or here.
"The lack of housing diversity here suppresses the housing market, promises to accelerate the concentration of poverty, undercuts the local economy, segregates educational opportunities and undermines the wealth-building potential for thousands of families," said Jeffrey Browne, forum vice president and research director.
He also has data about racial separation in southeastern Wisconsin and across the Great Lakes region that is deeply disturbing, but, again, offers an opportunity for change that would be good for the entire region's economy - - if leaders here have the political will to break from the past.
*  And why did it require litigation by the ACLU of Wisconsin after years of struggle against entrenched government opposition to force the Wisconsin Department of Transportation to add temporary bus routes to the billion-dollar-plus Zoo Interchange construction project - - a brief respite from the concrete-heavy, pro-suburban, publicly-financed transportation planning and spending in the Milwaukee region that for years has been fought by the ACLU and other organizations:
Kudos to the civil libertarians who have doggedly pursued social and economic justice from the State of Wisconsin, the Department of Transportation and others in southeastern Wisconsin on behalf of minority, low-income and urban residents:
The state Department of Transportation did not follow federal civil rights rules for at least seven years, a yearlong investigation has found. 
An American Civil Liberties Union attorney applauded the decision by the Federal Highway Administration's Office of Civil Rights as a step toward holding state transportation officials accountable for how their actions affect minorities.
These matters and the struggle for rights and fairness by advocates have been tracked on this blog repeatedly.
From 2011:
Coalition Cites Discrimination In Zoo Interchange, Transportation Spending 
Several Milwaukee area groups have made available their detailed comments to state officials during the recent testimony phase of the Zoo Interchange project planning.
*  From 2010: 
SEWRPC Warned Against Possible Open Meeting Violation
*  And do not forget the hysteria in the region over the possibility that a light rail system principally serving Milwaukee would have one stop in New Berlin, the Waukesha community on Milwaukee County's southwestern border, where a major industrial park offered some job opportunities regionally.

George Watts, the anti-light rail movement's citizen leader at the time, articulated and amplified what is so often just below the surface across the region when he said the proposed rail system:
 "would bring in strangers who are not only a threat to your property, but to your children."
(Years later, New Berlin would be roiled by proposed affordable housing requiring civil rights and federal intervention.)

The light rail system was blocked by a solid wall of suburban opposition - - fascinating that the Twin Cities did the opposite, to their expanding success - -  right-wing talk radio and Republican politicians including then Gov. Tommy Thompson and Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen.

I can remember then-Waukesha County Executive and GOP rising star Daniel Finley calling into far-right 1130 WISN-AM talker Mark Belling's radio show to announce that the Waukesha County Board of Supervisors had just rejected a regional transportation study that would have moved the light rail plan ahead in tandem with I-94 expansion.

Bashing rail expansion has been a winning team effort among GOP politicians regionally and the area's ratings-driven/high-profile/high-wattage/right-wing talk show hosts- - Belling, 620 WTMJ-AM's Charlie Sykes - - now off the air locally but reconstituted as an anti-Trump 'moderate, New York public radio and MSNBC-TV contributor - - and former Sykes' second-banana Jeff Wagner, now moved into Sykes' WTMJ morning slot.

That same anti-urban coalition was used by GOP gubernatorial candidate Scott Walker years later to successfully block Amtrak expansion from Milwaukee through the region to Madison - - because opposing anything on a rail stirs up the suburbs, even Milwaukee's in-city-only streetcar system - - even though the Amtrak expansion included a train assembly and maintenance facility in an economically-depressed, heavily African-American, jobs'-desperate neighborhood.

Final thought:

*  Even a black man from Milwaukee fishing in exurban Waukesha County couldn't be tolerated by the local fire chief who ran the man off a public bridge over a public waterway with a friend, a gun and German Shepherd. 

The message to Milwaukee's heavily-minority working poor from the out-counties was and continues to be:

Your authentic access to housing, schools and job opportunities is not our priority. And we're fine with that.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the post.