Friday, June 5, 2009

Apocalypse How?

The other day, Tom Still warned us that a group of Milwaukeeans who seemed to be just opposing the siting of a building were actually attempting to permanently demolish the economic future of southeastern Wisconsin.

Today we hear from Eric Schmidt at the Badger Herald about state senator Judy Robson. Robson probably thought she was addressing Wisconsin's nursing shortage when she added unrequested funding for a school of nursing building at the UW - Madison to the state budget. She probably thought it might be a tough sell with the state in such a tight budget situation but little did Robson know: She was DESTROYING DEMOCRACY!!!!!!!

If, by some bizarre miracle, these hyper-hysterical snits actually end up availing conservatives somehow, there's still a real danger for them here. If they say that President Obama's intent to return the top tax rate to something even approaching where it was during the Reagan Administration is socialism and that his attempts to address even some of the lawless abuses of the Bush Administration are akin to "surrender" to the terrorists. . . and if they say that State Democrats' little budget deals have instantaneously shredded, heaped and burned the fabric of Wisconsin democracy: What are they going to have left to say when someone does something actually progressive?

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

My Way . . .

I was reading this article by Tom Still of the Wisconsin Technology Council earlier today and I couldn't stop thinking about how much it illustrates one of the ways that the relationship between business and the community can break down.

Still is exorcised about public opposition to a plan to locate the UW - Milwaukee's new School of Freshwater Sciences facility on a parcel of land on Lake Michigan between the Milwaukee Art Museum and the Discovery World museum. The now-defunct Pieces of Eight restaurant formerly occupied the site and it does seem logical to locate a school of freshwater sciences on the shores of the largest freshwater system in the world. Add to that the largess of Milwaukee philanthropist Michael Cudahy, who has proposed to personally acquire the leasehold interest in the land, thus allowing the university to use it free and clear for the foreseeable future.

The difficulty comes from the fact that the art museum, with its new pavilion designed by Santiago Calatrava, has become Milwaukee's architectural signature. The new Discovery World facility, on a pier stretching into the lake, serves as refreshing proof that it's possible to compliment an architectural icon without an iconic budget. Residents are understandably underwhelmed by the idea of messing with this graceful pair of landmarks by plopping an office building between them.

My issue with Still is his characterization of these individuals. After belittling the possibility of public use of the land, he chides them for second-guessing Cudahy when they have "no financial stake in the deal" and proceeds to extol the virtues of the "freshwater silicon valley" Milwaukee could be if only they would stand aside.

This is disingenuous. First of all, whatever financial assistance Cudahy might be willing to provide the university, generous though it may be, is likely a pittance compared to the value to the City of Milwaukee (as represented by its citizens) of its signature view. Yes, there is the far greater value of Milwaukee's potential status as the world's moistened mecca but how exactly has that entire vision been so inextricably linked to this site?

Still doesn't really do anything to support his contention that Milwaukee's preeminance in the field of freshwater science will be rendered impossible if the school's office building isn't located on one particular stretch of Milwaukee's miles and miles of Lake Michigan shoreline. This may indeed be the best place for the building but to paint citizens opposed to this particular development as enemies of Milwaukee's economic future is hyperbolic at best.

You may find, in the annals of this very blog, a post I made deriding a group of Lake Kegonsa NIMBYists who helped torpedo (federal cronyism is probably what really did it in) a UW - Madison proposal for a $300 million national biothreat lab and think me a hypocrite. Allow me to point out the difference.

No matter what happens, the UW - Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences will get a new building. It will probably be a nice one and it will probably even be on the lake. The Governor has already promised the money. As much as Tom Still would like to portray public opposition to the Pieces of Eight site as jeopardizing a glorious technological future, the only things at stake here are the location of an office building and Milwaukee's signature view and those can be discussed. The shame is that they won't be.

People opposing the development will see Cudahy and company as hell-bent on carving up Milwaukee's lake shore. The development's proponents will see the opposition as a bunch of myopic yokels chaining themselves to bulldozers. A process that should have been a communal investment in the future of southeast Wisconsin will probably leave a lot of people with a bitter taste in their mouths.