Pro-Sprawl Policies Help Make Milwaukee America's Most Segregated Metro

Among the myriad insights from the new Census is another blow to Milwaukee. The metro region was once again rated the most segregated in the country, beating out notoriously divided metros like Detroit, Cleveland, Chicago and LA.

We’ve written before about how metro Milwaukee’s development policies encourage sprawl, isolating people of color and the poor in the city (while degrading the environment in the suburbs). In its analysis, Salon takes another tack. Anti-transit policies, like the ones endorsed by former Milwaukee County executive and current governor Scott Walker, serve to further isolate the region’s disenfranchised populations. Salon elaborates on the local atmosphere:

Suburban whites are notably hostile to building any form of public transit to connect city people to suburban jobs, further exacerbating segregation’s ill effects. If you’re wondering if this can somehow, some way, be blamed on union-busting Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, the answer is yes. Walker took the lead in a campaign against public transit to connect the suburbs to the city during his time as county executive. He thought the funds would be better spent on highways.

James Rowen at Network blog The Political Environment points the finger squarely at local leadership:

As I’ve said before about our region’s appalling segregation, well done, Milwaukee suburbs, regional planners — and, as this new article quoting UW-M development specialist Marc Levine notes — Scott Walker, too.

Rowen adds that the region’s continuing segregation problem is another argument against allowing suburban Waukesha to build a pipeline to pump water from Lake Michigan, which would allow for further sprawling development. Waukesha County, incidentally, is facing charges of housing discrimination:

Why should the City of Milwaukee sell one teaspoon of water to the City of Waukesha – – largest community in Waukesha County – – when official policies throughout the county reinforce these regional population and economic disparities?

The situation in Milwaukee goes to show runaway sprawl and transit disinvestment don’t affect everyone equally. Scott Walker is aggravating the already egregious problem in Milwaukee by pushing through $1.7 billion in suburban highway expansions, while decimating transit budgets.

Elsewhere on the Network today: The Active Transportation Alliance looks at bike commuting as a form of workplace wellness. Let’s Go Ride a Bike comments on the “Mary Poppins effect,” wherein female cyclists who fit a certain stereotype are said to receive more favorable treatment from motorists. Google Maps Bike There says transit fare increases are tantamount to tax hikes, and regressive ones at that. And the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition asks local residents to get behind a planning process to help the city compete for Safe Routes to School funds.

  • The sad thing is that some of those “blue & red” blocks lie on either end of a bridge or on either side of an interstate highway….

  • Matt

    Really excellent piece from Salon highlighting the role of a settler mentality among suburban whites in the opposition to rail in Wisconsin. I grew up just south of Milwaukee and heard constant anxiety from whites about an imagined horde of poor blacks from Chicago moving to Dairyland on the Metra train. I understand that sentiment is considerably more pronounced in the western Milwaukee ‘burbs, where there is no train service.

  • To be honest, I don’t think it’s the sprawl. At least in terms of school segregation, the pattern is that the North is more segregated than the South – and here the North includes not-as-sprawling New York, which if I remember correctly ranks as the seventh most segregated city in America. In my area, you can pinpoint the color line between white and Asian Morningside Heights and black and Hispanic Harlem to within the block.

    The contribution of sprawl is really the fractionalization of municipalities and school districts. In the 1960s, the Supreme Court ruled that it’s okay to keep distinct school district boundaries if the division predated racial settlement patterns – as a result of which the suburbs became a refuge for every white family that didn’t want black people in their school. On the other hand, even within urban school districts, there’s heavy segregation between the few stable middle-class white neighborhoods and the rest.

  • LazyReader

    You can try to blame sprawl for anything………But the idea to use Smart Growth to fight segregation; someones been drinking spiked kool-aid. Smart growth hurts. You can look up the word smart in the dictionary; the original definition had nothing to do with wisdom or intelligence, it describes a sharp stinging pain. So the opposite of smart growth isn’t dumb growth, it would be painless growth. Your talking about policies disfavor minorities and the poor by driving up housing prices several times it normal price. Steep increases in property values are often attributed to a robust real estate market or it’s appeal. Smart growth can even create the sprawl it is intended to prevent because people will just move away. One example:

    Development restrictions in Richland County, South Carolina prevent much of the county’s prime farmland – owned for generations by descendents of black sharecroppers – from being subdivided. County planners and environmentalists say they wanted to prevent the rapid commercial growth in nearby Columbia from spreading to the farmland, ruining the county’s traditionally rural character. In reality, their policy kept black property owners from having the right sell their land to small business developers or giving property to their children. Smart growth has a woeful record of pricing-out affordable housing for many middle income Americans.

    Land costs in Portland have soared, and by the mid 1990s home prices in Portland had surged ahead of the national average. Home ownership rates in Portland bucked national trends, falling during a period of time that saw the national home ownership rate rise to record levels. Portland was once one of the most affordable communities for housing at the beginning of the 90’s but by late 2000 it had become one of the least affordable. Its affordability index plunged by 60 percent in roughly a decade. While affordability nationwide increased, Portland’s affordability index fell fast.

  • Ronsta

    While Walker’s policies haven’t done much to ease segregation, this didn’t all happen in his term. Milwaukee’s looked that way for at least the last 30 years and you can blame the freeway development of the 50’s and 60’s for the picture we have today.

    Next, the CITY of Waukesha is not a suburb of Milwaukee. It’s located a good 5+ miles west of the true suburbs. Waukesha(City, not county) does have a water issue and fixing it would not lead to more sprawl, but would make living in the City of Waukesha more attractive(read- DENSITY). By the way, getting water from Milwaukee is a slim chance and a long process if possible. Plus, not everyone wants to deal with Milwaukee. Milwaukee’s high taxes and anti-business policies are the real contributors to sprawl.

    This article merely makes a failed attempt to link two unrelated issues in an effort to slant an already controversial governor. Is the author even from this region?

  • Allan

    That’s right, LazyReader. More and more suburban sprawl; that’s what we should be promoting.

  • LazyReader

    You can owe it all to sprawl…….less expensive land in outlying areas around cities, people are able to afford larger houses on larger lots. Growing families tired of shoving themselves into tiny urban closets. Also, it’s no secret that homes closer to most urban areas are more expensive than homes farther out in the suburbs. Simply put, it’s easier to own a home in suburbia. Better school systems in the suburbs. In fact a study showed that 73 percent of suburban New Jersey students scored “at or above” the basic reading level, whereas only 27 percent of urban students in New Jersey achieved the same goal. Less than 5 percent of the nation’s land is actually developed and three-quarters of the population lives on just 3.5 percent of the land . Urbanization is only responsible for one-fourth of the farmland thats been lost since 1945. We’ve made significant increases in agricultural output since then, American farmers are producing almost 50 percent more food since the 1970’s, while using less actual land. One environmental hypocrisy, the potential loss of open space. When you limit development, you often expand the loss of open space inside the very urban areas you had. In Portland they’ve rezoned many golf courses and parks to build high density apartments or built homes on weirdly shaped parcels and other lands that would ordinarily have remained vacant lots much to the objection of local residents who used it for gardens or makeshift play areas for children. Government’s hire planners…….with these outrageous 30, 50, 100 year plans for the future of their community.using government control of land to achieve any state policy goals. There is not much evidence that governments are better suited than markets and private conservation efforts.

    You know, China tried something like this on a grand scale. Attempting to transform from an agrarian economy into a modern society through the process of agriculturalization, industrialization, and collectivization. It was called the Great Leap Forward. Don’t let the phrase make you smile, it didn’t go so well. Similar accounts can be said for the Soviets land reform policy, especially farm failures which led to many deaths. I’m not trying to compare Andres Duany to Lysenko but I could.