Milwaukee has hundreds of empty homes, a rising number of homicides, intractable joblessness, and questionable public and private school systems. Now, with the end of the residency requirement, city employees can flee the city for the suburbs. How will Milwaukee survive? Mayor Tom Barrett is wringing his hands at the city’s prospects.
Yet it is not the cities, but suburbs that are in trouble, says Leigh Gallagher, author of the new book, “The End of the Suburbs.”
Gallagher see cities growing because older suburbanites are trading in their large suburban homes for smaller city dwellings with less commuter traffic, more restaurants and cultural offerings, and greater ethnic and racial diversity. The luster has come off the suburban lifestyle that developed after World War II, says, Gallagher, and people are rediscovering their cities. Despite all its financial woes, the city of Detroit is now growing faster than its surrounding suburbs. The same is true in other cities across the country.
But what about Milwaukee? Is Barrett right to be worried?
Actually, Milwaukee is about to enter into a new renaissance says John Norquist, former Milwaukee mayor and now the president and CEO of the Chicago-based Congress for New Urbanism. Norquist agrees with many of Gallagher’s conclusions.
Worried about public employees moving to the suburbs? Let them go, says Norquist. “Milwaukee doesn’t have to be desperate about population,” he says. Baby Boomers moved to Brookfield and Pewaukee thirty years ago and built four bedroom homes with three car garages and oodles of space. Now they are empty nesters with their kids grown, and their homes have become echo chambers. They want to move to the Third Ward and the East Side with fine restaurants and entertainment all within walking distance or a short drive.
“Boomers are downsizing and who is going to buy their McMansions?” Norquist asks.
Moving to the suburbs for lower taxes? Think again, says Gallagher, who predicts property taxes in suburbs are about to skyrocket. Originally suburban taxes were lower because developers put in all the roads, sewer and water lines. But as suburban infrastructure needs replacing, each street may have only a half dozen homeowners to bear the costs. A city block may have two or three times the number of homeowners to spread the costs.