Baltimore’s Fires Expose Milwaukee’s Folly

By Robert Miranda, Editor, Wisconsin Spanish Journal

May 6, 2015

Since the early 1980s, Milwaukee has witnessed a deteriorated manufacturing industry leading to decaying neighborhoods. While this deterioration of neighborhoods progressed, Milwaukee was fast working on reliving the glory days by focusing its efforts to build up the downtown area in the mid-1990s.

This brings me to a parallel I found most interesting after watching news coverage of the Baltimore riots, and studying the causes for the explosion of human emotions that took place after the death of Freddie Grey.

Closely examining Baltimore’s problems as brought forth by many of the youth who participated in the chaos, Baltimore has much of the same social and economic problems the Black community faces in Milwaukee. Unemployment, poverty, crime, and racial inequality are some of the same social problems both cities face.

The social problems that exist in both cities, combined with the economic problems, create a perfect storm for social upheaval, especially in the central city of Milwaukee.

Prof. Marc Levine of the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee addressed these social and economic problems when he wrote about Baltimore’s major investment efforts to bring itself out of the shadows of deterioration and into the light of renaissance in a book entitled: “The Social Sustainability of Cities.” In this book, Prof. Levine published the chapter: “A Third World City in the First World: Social Exclusion, Racial Inequality, and Sustainable Development in Baltimore.” Now the parallels I see that Prof. Levine address in that chapter about Baltimore seeking to improve its brand can easily be compared to Milwaukee’s efforts to create its own Camelot.

Prof. Levine points out that Baltimore set out to recreate its image from that of a manufacturing Blue collar utopia that is falling apart, to a more modern festive-like city with a carnival atmosphere. To achieve, this Baltimore put most of the city’s political gambling chips on rehabilitating the inner harbor. Sort of their version on betting on their future.

Baltimore city leaders told city residents that creating such a tourist hotspot would benefit the city as a whole, but as Prof. Levine points out, Baltimore neglected some of its other social problems while pursuing this “carnival city” strategy.

Focusing on building Baltimore’s inner harbor, tourist hot spots and carnival city strategy in order to attract tourists to the city’s downtown area—sounds a bit like Milwaukee’s rebranding strategey, doesn’t it?

Prof. Levine points out that Baltimore spent over $2 Billion dollars since the 1970s to the present during its renaissance effort. That’s $500 million dollars every ten year for the last four decades. To put that in another perspective, Baltimore spent over $50 million dollars a year to achieve what? It certainly did not improve conditions for Baltimore’s Black citizens.

According to the leaders of Baltimore’s Black community, they have not seen any progress in their neighborhood and things for Black people in that city have gotten economically worse every decade since the 1970s. It’s no wonder why the city’s people exploded the way they did.

Milwaukee’s mayor Tom Barret is headed in the same direction. His renaissance Fresh Water Coast development ideas coupled with his festive streetcar initiative is moving tens of millions of dollars into developing the City’s fresh water coast and downtown area.

So as Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett builds his Camelot, Milwaukee neighborhoods of the Central City will mimic Baltimore’s deterioration, and Milwaukee’s underclass neighborhoods will see increased social problems and police misuse of force.

If there is political will to avoid the mistakes of Baltimore, city leaders must open access to black entrepreneurs into those areas now being developed in order to reshape and renew Milwaukee’s brand as a truly diverse city.

The mayor must initiate policies and programs that provide education to Milwaukee’s struggling minority entrepreneur class that helps guide business competitors though the city procurement process and contract competing procedures.

Above all, the mayor and city leaders must commit to the federal standards for hiring people of color and women and stop ignoring its failure for not doing so.

Indeed, it is much easier to find the social and economic flaws of the city, but the solutions are there. It just takes political will to follow the standards already in place and to implement accountability when those standards have not been achieved.

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Last edited by Tyler Schuster.   Page last modified on May 07, 2015

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