The latest Charles Franklin poll finds what I thought was obvious, Wisconsin residents in general like Milwaukee and understand its importance to the state. A majority of poll respondents, 51%, indicate they have a “favorable…opinion of the Milwaukee area.” A higher percentage, 64%, agree that the Milwaukee economy is important to the rest of the state.
Again, I think the value Milwaukee brings to Wisconsin as the state’s lone major urban area is obvious. Consider, a Wisconsin without Milwaukee would be a Wisconsin without:
- A major public urban university;
- Summerfest and the other ethnic festivals;
- The Art Museum, Symphony Orchestra, Marcus Amphitheater and other top-line cultural attractions;
- Mitchell field;
- Port of Milwaukee;
- Professional baseball and basketball;
- A major urban daily newspaper;
- The ethnic and racial diversity of a city that is 55% non-white; and
- Johnson Controls, Manpower, Rockwell Automation, Northwestern Mutual, Harley-Davidson, and the many other corporate citizens big and small.
All of things on this list contribute to the quality-of-life in this state, and all exist because of a unique confluence of size, density, and diversity in southeast Wisconsin. The state has other great places, but none offer the urban amenities of Milwaukee.
Madison, for example, is a growing and intrinsically interesting place due to the presence of state government and a world-class research university. It however, cannot supplant Milwaukee.
Take the issue of diversity. Milwaukee is 55% non-white, Madison is 21% non-white. 15% of Madison residents are foreign language speakers compared to 19% in Milwaukee. Only 5.3% of Madison businesses are Black or Hispanic owned. In Milwaukee that number is 26.3%. Milwaukee also has a higher percentage of female owned businesses, and wider income distribution than Madison, especially at the high-end.
The type of diversity present in Milwaukee is essential for a thriving urban area. It is the extremes and contradictions of great cities that yield energy, creativity, and productivity. The rich and poor, foreign and native, and young and old are all universally attracted to the economic opportunities, social mobility, and amenities present in dense urban places like Milwaukee (Milwaukee has over twice as many residents per square mile as Madison or Green Bay).
None of this is a knock against Madison – it too is an irreplaceable asset to Wisconsin for an entirely different set of reasons. It is however, a reminder that despite Milwaukee’s problems it is far from a drag on the rest of the state. The city is already a dynamic place and has much potential that remains untapped. It is reassuring to see, via the Franklin poll, that the majority of Wisconsin residents recognize the importance of their largest city.