Saturday, October 25, 2008

Thanks, I guess

I just had to comment on this article by Christian Schneider, largely because it's not the sort of thing one would expect to see coming from a conservative think-tank.  Milwaukee is apparently again feeling the slow creep or urban exodus and, as crime fears rise and condo projects falter, Schneider is admirably concerned for the future of our state's largest city.  He hits on an interesting solution for urban revitalization, namely "The Gays!"

As a card-carrying Madison homo, I'm pleased, if a bit bemused ("Gay" is only to be used as a noun ironically, Christian.) .  It's nice to see that some conservatives have stopped peaking into our bedroom windows long enough to realize that the rest of the house is rather well kept. That said, there's a little more to it than just inviting the friends of Dorothy to fix up a neighborhood or two.

Schneider is talking about the "creative class" ala Richard Florida and frets over Milwaukee's relative disadvantage in attracting creative bohemians (like gay people) who tend to have high incomes and foster a vibrant, tolerant atmosphere.  To his credit, he realizes the folly of the city trying some sort of clumsy pandering.  If Milwaukee is really interested in courting the creative class (gay and otherwise) she need look no further than her smaller sister.  

It wasn't long ago that the differences between Milwaukee and Madison were really striking.  Milwaukee was hemorrhaging population to the suburbs as crime rose and manufacturing jobs left by the thousands.  Madison was riding the swelling tide of the knowledge economy and saw the university's research prowess parlayed into billions of dollars in development.

Milwaukee has largely learned that lesson.  Its four large universities have taken the lead in trying to turn a city built on brawn and beer into a brain trust but there was a severe caution a couple of years ago.

Conservatives didn't consider Wisconsin's marriage ban to be an economic development issue but they should have.  It was not an issue of great internal contention in Madison.  The UW - Madison was unequivocal about the chilling effects of writing bigotry into the state Constitution and, effectively, hanging a not-welcome sign out to an entire group of people, not that most people here needed to be told.  The city rejected the ban three to one. 

Milwaukee did not.  The ban's passage was all but assured when the state's largest metropolitan center voted for it by a slim margin.  

It's hard to cover up that kind of intolerance.  Milwaukee has a thriving gay community but, to really become known as a city that values the creative class, it has to demonstrate that it shares their values.

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