Milwaukee is my hometown. I grew up there, lived in the city for 90% of my life, have seen a tremendous renaissance over the past 15-20 years, and will go to bat for her at almost every turn….but, there is an element in Milwaukee that is growing, and slowly but surely getting under my skin. Now this element has been there, probably since the city was founded, but because of the internet, blogs, and social media, the people who make up this element are becoming louder and louder, and more annoying as the years pass. They are a faction of politicians, activist groups, community “leaders”, pundits, and to a lesser extent, some residents that either look down their noses at those people who live in the suburbs, (be it, Waukesha, Franklin, Mequon, Wauwatosa, or Brookfield), or have such irrational animosity towards suburbanites that it boggles the mind. I refer to said element as The “City-gentsia”. Now I know this isn’t a revolutionary writing term here, but the people who make up this group need to be labeled as such.
It is a group that takes on this “we’re MILWAUKEE, and all the rest of you, out there in the ‘burbs, are a bunch of hicks!” Now, that may be a large umbrella that I am using, but the tone is nothing short of that. Here a couple of hypothetical conversations: “Hey Brookfield resident, we Milwaukee leaders think that to make MILWAUKEE a better city, we should build a light rail line, and we want you to help pay for it. Oh, we also want a trolley that goes 1.8 miles around the downtown (side note: don’t take a drink of anything while you’re looking at the route, you may just laugh it out your nose – but I digress). What? They have to re-route phone and data lines? Sure, make AT&T and WE Energies pay for it and raise their rates to the suburbs! Huh? You don’t want to pay for things that downtown Milwaukee people use? WHAT? You don’t want to pay 10’s of millions of dollars for a rail line in a community that has one of the shortest commute times in the country???? Why you guys out there in Waukesha County are a bunch of racist hicks!!!” I would like to say THAT is an exaggerated example, but after reading comments on JSOnline, local blogs, online articles from Pro-Milwaukee publications, and the like, it unfortunately, is not. These are the same people that look down their noses at Waukesha County when they get pricing for Lake Michigan water from both Milwaukee and Oak Creek, and surprise/surprise, Milwaukee rates are higher. What does Milwaukee do???? They choose to fight with Waukesha, while pulling out their City-gentsia persona.
The lecturing, the arrogance, and the inability (or unwillingness) to work with others outside their boundaries is staggering. It’s bad enough that they can’t play in the same sandbox as the suburbs, but their constant need to label those that don’t agree with their ideas and politics, as racists or hicks, just adds more fuel to the animosity Milwaukee has built up. This animosity doesn’t just reside in the local suburbs, it extends into most of the state of Wisconsin. That reputation is just plain sad. Is that because the rest of the state is wrong, or is Milwaukee THAT blind to its perception. I know the Eastside elitist’s will say “Ah, don’t worry about it, it’s just those rubes up in Antigo.” or “What does Three Rivers know about culture??? I bet they’ve never even step foot in Milwaukee!” Problem is, Milwaukee has been around for a long time and MANY Wisconsinites have visited and know exactly what Milwaukee is about. Is there a racial component to some of the opinions?!?!? Of course, there’s always a hint of that when a predominantly white, out-state populous visit a diverse large city, but that doesn’t detract from the poor perception Milwaukee has throughout this state. Now, that’s not saying this is a lost cause – it’s not! There are many people who realize that Milwaukee’s success is important on many levels. But to be successful and grow in the immediate and long-term future, Milwaukee AND the Suburbs have to work together. That means that the snarky little pundits in Milwaukee need to either go away, or the leaders and cooler heads need to be a more powerful force in this fight, and it also means the mayors of Waukesha, Mequon, Brookfield, Oak Creek, even Racine, West Bend, and Delafield need to realize that a strong, vibrant Milwaukee will help them and this region prosper with more jobs. More jobs means more people, more people mean more money flowing through the region, etc, etc, etc.
Milwaukee has proven they can get some development things done within the city, but they have shown a less than stellar resume on working with their neighbors. The owness truly falls on Milwaukee to start the positive discussions – it is their responsibility to create an environment that is a destination and not an island of crummudeons. If they honestly extend an olive branch of working together, I am confident the surrounding areas will respond positively. It will take a miracle, but it’s possible.