Milwaukee OnLine Journal Of Social Enterprise

Howard Snyder Interview

February, 2005

Godsil: What is your greatest contribution to the area in 20–30 years?

Howard Snyder: Community development corporations in Milwaukee and around the country have been mostly concerned with real estate development, most of that, affordable housing---and with good reason. In the Riverwest neighborhood, ESHAC stood as a model of how changing real estate patterns to fit a particular philosophy, had an impact on the neighborhood. Unfortunately, it also went the way of the dinosaur because it failed to adapt to new trends in the industry and the economy. The Northwest Side CDC mixed real estate development, mostly putting old factories and storefronts back into productive use, with old fashion community organizing. The innovation was that we organized business large and small, and added the interests of resident constituents into our advocacy and public policy agenda. I think my most important contribution was to give the Northwest Side a face, an organizational presence, the sense that the area was a benefit and a threat to the overall growth of the city, and we have contributed to building the political power of the community.

Godsil: What has been your biggest challenge?
Snyder: We could have done more with more resources, but thatís an easy copout. We have had years of sufficient resources to do what we planned. My frustration has been to sustain what we built. That was hard. Some of our work, such as the NOVA School is in its 11th school year. The MetroWorks small business incubator lasted 16 years, and Villard Ave has done well despite violence on the street and three Wal-Marts in the retail area. Other things havenít lasted or had the intended impact. I regret that. My biggest frustration, I guess is that from the community development point of view and the long range Northwest Side point of view, John Norquist neglected us for almost sixteen years. Thatís sixteen years we canít get back. The ďnew urbanismĒ or whatever it was called was cool for Brewers Hill, but didnít answer many questions for the area north of Capitol Drive where one-third of Milwaukeeís population lives. I think young people living in Riverwest and those buying condos in Brewers Hill is cool, if those people send their kids to MPS. If not, weíre looking at another flight to the suburbs of new residents within ten years, maybe less.

Godsil: Whatís your biggest surprise?
Snyder: My biggest surprise is that my parents were right along, mostly. In other words, the guys who I thought ran the country and were villains would do the right thing in urban America if advocates are persistent, credible, make business sense, are reasonably predictable in their behavior (not nuts), are not out to harm them and listen and respect both points of view. For the most part, these business guys that I work with donít live in the city or send their kids to MPS. You can feel morally superior (we are) or you can negotiate and compromise. Play the long game. It doesnít feel as good and some of us lose some sleep, but our communities gain in the long run from their involvement and investment. You might think they’re pigs, but keep it to yourself, negotiate, and organize, organize, organize. It works!

Godsil: Who have been your best allies?
Snyder: Surprisingly, local elected officials, the police and business people. They put their careers, lives and investment on the line every day. I respect that. I donít have to agree or support them on every issue. But I understand what their up against. The infantile left and the bizarre right wingers donít impress me anymore. They have no dog in the fight, but like to have opinions about everything to which they have not earned.

Godsil: Who was your nemesis?
Snyder: I didnít care for John Norquist and Tommy Thompson much. I actually liked Norquist personally. I think he was a little misunderstood, but he was OK. But what he left us is going to be hard to fix. Some of the people around him, at the top, have done a great deal of damage. Tommy, I met once. I thought he was a putz. George Bush hasnít done much for urban America, but we didnít vote for him or his father.

Last edited by TeganDowling.   Page last modified on May 09, 2005

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