Crystal Ball • Tie Vote • Common Good

by Vince Bushell

I have peered into my crystal ball to see what 2007 will bring for our neighborhood.

The view ahead gets a little blurry after a couple months, but my eyes will strain to see. As I peer into the future here is what I can discern.

Property values will stabilize. Crime will ebb but still be our most serious issue, (along with poverty, education and employment).

More people will walk and bike to their destinations.

Riverwest will be as Bohemian as ever, but more wealthy.

The East Side will become more upscale.

There will be more condos.

Greenspace, although growing in area, will be threatened and attempts will be made to compromise long held public space and wild space.

The Riverwest Follies, (new and improved version), will again demonstrate how common folk have skills and talents far beyond our expectations. Here I am using my special La vie en rose crystal.


Here is a challenge right out of the gate. In Riverwest, the neighborhood association known as RNA, (Riverwest Neighborhood Association), will hold a special election to elect a leader of the board. It seems that 141 people came out of their homes, abandoning their couches and televisions to vote for this position in December. Seventy of these souls voted for a male person named Dan and 70 of them voted for a female person named Sura. One abstained from voting for a chairperson. If I do the math that score is a tie. Now what?

I do not need a crystal ball to see that these two candidates, who hold different perspectives on the best method of directing this neighborhood group, do not hold a democratic definition of a consensus to lead. Since there will be another vote at the January meeting, this leadership post will be decided one way or another. Whatever that vote tally is, will not be important. What happens after the vote will be.

The RNA’s best hope is to try to bring the two factions together. These leaders and the neighbors they represent need to learn to get along if we hope to have a consensus to bring to neighborhood issues. We can agree to disagree, but that will diminish our impact on elected officials. The challenge will be to find areas where there is agreement and work on those issues.

Common Good

Elected leaders in our city are fond of using the phrase, “the highest and best use,” for their decisions on development and land use in our city. The city is now embarked on a process called the North East Side Comprehensive Plan. This is a two-year planning process that it is hoped will develop a template or guide to direct development decisions.

I urge you to participate in the process if you want a say in development of the greater eastside. This plan covers the entire north east side of Milwaukee from the freeway to the lake.

Take the city survey by going to www. or call 414- 286-5605 for a paper survey. Hopefully this will expand the concept of “highest use” to include the “common good” perspective of city residents.

The danger here is that this “highest use” doctrine can be defined narrowly and used as a bludgeon to thwart citizen efforts to bring forward values based upon the “common good.”

For example Garden Park and Market grew out of a community effort to create a public meeting space, recreation space and commerce space, that was not owned by a for-profit concern. But the city says that this is not its “highest use.”

Highest use here refers to tax base.

It is interesting that even after making public gestures toward preserving Garden Park and Market, city officials are now moving toward a request for development proposal process that will make it difficult if not impossible to preserve this community asset.

The “highest use” determination uses loaded dice. It does not easily consider common good values that cannot be measured by highest property value. It gives for-profit developers with the power of money unfair advantage.

There are other examples. The Milwaukee River Valley has been the target of development pressure for years.

I am not saying this is all bad. I am suggesting that you can have development and preserve public space that adds value to the adjoining property on the dollar scale and on the natural and aesthetic scale.

We have a chance to create a unique central park in Milwaukee along the Milwaukee River. Most of the land is in public ownership.

If you do not believe that preserving open space adds value, look to Central Park in New York. The adjacent properties have some of the highest values of any property in the world.

Our future looks bright when the highest and best use also includes the common good of the common people.

The crystal fogs and I cannot see more.

Riverwest Currents online edition – January, 2007