A walk through Milwaukee’s history via the Grand Avenue mall

Having worked downtown and explored much of the area between Water Street, 794, and Marquette, I know that West Wisconsin Avenue, the street formerly known as Grand Avenue, has a great amount of potential as a new place for people to shop and enjoy life. The fine blog UrbanMilwaukee.com has taken a good hard look at the Shops of Grand Avenue and dares to imagine what that mall may look like.

Prior to moving back to Milwaukee, the last time I was in Grand Avenue was the spring of 1988. The whole center of the mall was open then, not walled off as it is now, and the first floor shops had not been expanded to fill much of the first floor as the now do. It had more life to it then. From what I understand, a bad sort of life once inhabited the mall, necessitating the changes to the structure and flow, but I fear they may have only further dampened it. (Right-wing talk radio also did its share, convincing all the suburbanite listeners not to go somewhere they probably wouldn’t have anyway.)

Labelscar: The Retail History Blog has an interesting account of the mall’s history, a welcomely different take from what I had to say. While I would not think that I would find a blog about retail stores interesting, Labelscar is actually a really good read.  And it turns out that one of the blog’s authors is both University of Wisconsin-Madison graduate andan employee of the State of Wisconsin. (Hi from Milwaukee, Ross!)

Looking back in history, the area once was a part of the Alexander Mitchell estate.  He’s not the Mitchell who General Mitchell International Airport is named after — that’s his grandson, Gen. Wm. “Billy” Mitchell, a hero of the First World War, and also the man considered in many regards to be the father of the concept of the modern air force, and the very same Billy Mitchell who was court-martialed and found guilty of insubordination in 1926.

Alexander Mitchell was one of Milwaukee’s original big boys, a railroad tycoon with a sense for grandeur of the highest form, building a lush horticultural conservatory, which existed a full century before the Mitchell Park Domes existed. (They are named for Alexander, not Bobby Mitchell.) The magnificent but now under-appreciated Mitchell Building that Alexander Mitchell built still stands on the corner of East Michigan Street in downtown Milwaukee, on the spot that once was the site of Milwaukee co-founder Solomon Juneau’s second home. (Credit for that last detail and the history of teh Mitchell Family must go to Milwaukee’s fine historian John Gurda, and his treasure of a book The Making of Milwaukee.)

I give a final tip of the hat to UrbanMilwaukee.com for inspiring this post. With the help of people such as the folks at UrbanMilwaukee.com, we’ll have lot a more interesting history to write about in the decades to come.

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“Have you watched ‘The End of Suburbia’?” No, I haven’t, and here’s why.

An acquaintance recently asked me that very question.

“Jason, have you watched ‘The End of Suburbia‘? The focus is on Oil Depletion and the impact it will have on suburbs and ex-burbs.”

“No,” I replied. “I’ve heard of it, but my interest in seeing it is minimal, despite being a biodiesel activist. I know that makes me a Bad Liberal, but I hardly have time to watch non-depressing movies as it is.”
That got an adequate chuckle, so I continued.
“Though I support and agree with most everything that they’re saying, I’m not actually all that on board with the Peak Oil crowd. I feel we need to be more concerned with rebuilding our cities (right now!) to handle the future waves of suburban immigration. It’s already starting to some extent here in Milwaukee, and a very far-flung exurban development is actually probably the first sign that the ‘End of Suburbia’ is neigh.”
What should I do? How much more can I do? I already drive a Volkswagen Jetta TDi, which is one of the most fuel efficient vehicles available to consumers. During the spring summer and fall, I bike as much as possible. Although my attempt at starting a biodiesel co-op fell through in the end, I’m very busy with local gardening and urban farming groups. I take the bus more than I used to, and sometimes, I have to drive. Or I just want to. I know damn well what can happen while on the road, but I take that risk into account each time, often subconsciously more than not. And I know I’m using valuable resources that cannot be replenished blah blah blah. But really. How much can one guy do? Yes, a lot. So I do what I can. And then some. No, I haven’t seen everything that’s out there, and I don’t want to. End of rant.

Plans for a new Church’s Chicken on North Ave. scuttled

As discussed on this blog in late July, the Journal Sentinel’s resident grump Patrick McIlheran went on about how a local community activist had the gall to stand up and object to yet another fast food restaurant being planned for the center of the poorest part of Milwaukee’s African-American neighborhood.

As it turns out, plans to put in a grease-filled fast food joint have been withdrawn. As Tom Daykin wrote for the Journal Sentinel, “It’s the end of a high-profile battle between activists promoting better eating habits in a community with high rates of obesity-related illnesses, such as diabetes and heart disease, vs. a business hoping to fatten its bottom line. Neighborhood residents and others said Church’s would have fed unhealthy eating habits and discouraged other types of businesses from investing in an area that has seen new homes and other developments in recent years.”

There is a real question and a genuine debate that can be had as to the value of having yet another fast food joint in a very poor area, as it would be a place that would provide some jobs, but at the same time, they would be very low-paying jobs with high turnover and minimal worker satisfaction. And it would do absolutely nothing to help deal with the effects of a poor diet that is based in eating such foods. And the vast majority of the money made at the fried chicken place would go to the company’s coffers, not the pockets of its workers, leaving little real value in the end.

I for one think that a large set of community gardens would help in many ways: the local resident could grow some of their own food, thereby saving them money, and it would be infinitely healthier than even the most low-fat product to make its way down a fast food assembly line. The gardens would give people a piece of pride in their neighborhood, and beautify it in ways that few restaurants can dream of. Get enough gardens going, and soon you’d have the basis for a small fresh food market, or even a shared food growing program that would directly benefit the people in the neighborhood.

So far, Paddy Mac has little to say on this. But if he does muster the courage to do so, remember that it came down to the city council’s decision to attach a condition to the zoing permit that would require Midwest Hospitality, the company seeking to open the fast food joint, “to seek a permit renewal after one year.” [jsonline.] The people, speaking through their city representatives, were listened to, and the city council made it unsavory enough for Midwest Hospitality to open there. In my opinion, in having to decide between having the few lousy jobs the fast food stand would create, or giving the people another false choice of bad food, no great moral or strategic victory was accomplished the city council had to decide between whether or not it would be viable to make a few lousy jobs through the fast food stand, which would also give the people another (false) choice of bad food options.

UWM’s double message: “Live and learn in the city” and its Wauwatosa expansion plans

Ah, my fair university, how fickle thou art.

UW-Milwaukee is preparing for its annual open house. A theme of the event is “Live and Learn in the City!” In the promotional image shown below, a diverse group of young students are standing in front of some buildings in downtown Milwaukee as a Milwaukee County Transit System bus whizzes by.

"Live an Learn in the City!"

That’s a laudable goal. It makes a lot of sense to restock downtown Milwaukee with people and businesses.

But if Chancellor Santiago has his way, the university will not be expanding in Milwaukee. but building a sprawling new engineering campus in the Milwaukee suburb of Wauwatosa. Despite the urging of the City of Milwaukee to stay in town and the persistent work of Dave Reid at UWM Downtown, the winds have blown away from having a downtown engineering campus, as the County panel working on the matter has spoken in favor of the suburban expansion.

It’s amazing that despite the recent spike in gas prices and the steady flow into the city, the push to spread out presses on. But it’s also not too surprising given the county executive’s will for everyone to have a car and for the suburbs to thrive (despite persistnet traffic jams) while the city… well, we don’t need to talk about that place. Right, Scott? Never mind that it’s the state’s economic engine, that it’s held up better in the decades of deindustrialization than Detroit or many Ohio and Pennsylvania cities and towns.

UWM should devote itself to making it possible for people to live, work, and learn in the city. It’s impossible to learn much while stuck in your car on I-94. But that exactly is what UWM’s Wauwatosa expansion plans call for.

Tear down the Hoan Bridge?

Holy landmark teardowns, Batman! To remove the Hoan Bridge, named in honor of Milwaukee’s last great Socialist Mayor Daniel W. Hoan, would be quite a feat. But it does bear consideration. The sheer cost of maintaining the bridge is one factor. I honestly don’t know what it costs or what it takes. I’m grateful that it is there and it seems to hold up all right, but like any human-made work, it will eventually have to come down. But, does it need to come down? Seems like the darn thing just got finished. Long-time Milwaukeeans will remember when it was the “bridge to nowhere” for seven years. (Mayor Hoan must have been spinning in his grave the whole time!)

We need a lot more documentation of the costs and benefits of demolishing the bridge. Also, it’s part of a federal highway, so we need to make sure los federales are good with it. Also consider the potential benefits of removing it. If more land was opened up, that could be good for development as commercial space or greenspace. It could be a way to get a much-needed bike and pedestrian path. And if it can make way for more shipments to and from the Port of Milwauke, that sounds all right too. Just don’t let any more zebra mussels in, eh?

Update: Links help, eh? In case you missed it, here’s a link to the Business Journal article (published by American City Business Journals, Inc).

Also: James Rowen has written some commentary on this as well.

Recalls About Wal-Mart, Round 2.5: Muskego Revisited

As Greg at MMT wrote about earlier today, the effort to recall Muskego Ald. Noah Fiedler has fizzled. This happened because our friends at CRG did not get someone who lives in the district that Ald. Fiedler represents. (See the story at JS.)

To be clear, this alder voted for having a Sprawl-Mart. Meanwhile a similar effort is being attempted against Cudahy Mayor Ryan McCue for his vote against having one in Cudahy. (The latter has been previously discussed on this blog.)

Despite the failure of this effort, the sycophants in question will be attempting to mount another recall against Ald. Fiedler.

Scott Walker still wants to privatize Mitchell Field

Bad ideas die hard. Proof of this is the persistence of the idea that privatizing General Mitchell International Airport would somehow be of benefit to Milwaukee County. The idea persists among Milwaukee County’s right-wing believers, chief among them County Executive Scott Walker. By his thinking, through leasing operation of the airport to a third party, thereby removing it from the County’s (read: the people’s) control, the county might make money from the deal. That this would happen under the federal Airport Privatization Pilot Program seems like good reason to pause for consideration. Who, exactly, would benefit? Investors, perhaps. But not us.

This isn’t the first time the idea has come up. The board has been fighting this since at least 2006. That’s when 4th District Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic wrote a short piece opposing privatization for the Bay View Compass. The opportunity to publicly stand up against airport privatization was one reason I ran in the 2008 county board race. The 14th county district includes Mitchell Field, and hundreds of the people who work there. Three of the four candidates in the primary, myself included, were opposed to it. That stance got me a good number of votes in the primary and helped freshman Supervisor Chris Larson to win the general. (Note the airport control tower in the graphic on his County web site.)

Selling the airport to a third party would take all that money out of our hands, and could leave the local taxpayers with an even bigger bill to pay when the newly privatized institution runs aground. “All one need do is trace the recent history of the Public Museum in Milwaukee moving from a financially sound public entity to a near-bankrupt privatized one,” as Ed Garvey eloquently wrote in late 2007. Furthermore, he said, “Not mentioned… is the obvious fact that no one will purchase the airport unless he can see a profit that would come from indirect taxes on airlines and passengers.” Given the soaring costs of jet fuel, that need to stretch the buck will only hurt us in the end.

And according to Steve Schultze’s article on JSOnline, Milwaukee County Board Chairman Lee Holloway has come out against airport privatization. Say, Chairman Holloway, work to get SEWRPC to come out against this. As the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission is supposed to be working in the economic interests of the region, and keeping the airport publicly owned would definitely be in all of our best interests, opposing the privatization of Mitchell Field is a logical position for that board to take.

Also: James Rowen and Mobile’s Take points out some major problems in the numbers that would result from this mistake-in-waiting.