Milwaukee Biz Blog: A Tale of Two Cities

Simultaneous growth and decline

Have you seen it? The city is abuzz with new construction – multi-unit housing, retail, restaurants, and community centers. When driving the streets in our area it certainly does not go unnoticed that cranes are reaching toward the sky and streets are being reconfigured to accommodate new traffic flows. City managers are touting the prosperity of their tax bases and applauding the hordes of people that will no doubt converge to support these exciting projects.

I’m excited, too. The city and surrounding suburbs have not seen this kind of progress and excitement in many years. Out-of-town visitors will be impressed by the size of the developments while the enthusiastic community dwellers soak it all in.

Juxtapositioned to the impressive skyline and shopping districts are an equal number of – if not more –abandoned and/or condemned businesses and entire dilapidated neighborhoods. Sure, every community across our great country has those areas that have been forgotten through the ages and neglected during city planning meetings. I’ve seen them during nearly every out-of-town business journey. The problem with Milwaukee’s rundown communities is that I don’t see signs of relief on the horizon.

Even Chicago, one of the nation’s largest cities, is revitalizing its downtrodden areas. New green areas, emerging artisan centers, and even Whole Foods and Mariano’s are opening grocery stores in some of the city’s underserved and less-than-ideal neighborhoods. But what is the plan for Milwaukee? If there is a plan, I’m surely not alone in asking to hear it.

How can we be so outwardly excited about the sparkling new structures spotting our landscape while driving right past some of the most discouraging examples of deterioration on the way to see them? If you don’t believe me, go for a drive and begin to truly take notice of what were once vibrant neighborhoods are now marred by buildings and residences with boarded-up doorways, broken glass, graffiti, burned out frames, or otherwise scarred carcasses.

We can’t continue to forsake these areas and simply shrug and suggest that they are no longer inhabitable. I don’t buy that. I want to do something about it. Who’s with me?

Dave Wendland is vice president of strategic relations for Waukesha-based Hamacher Resource Group Inc.

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