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Milwaukee County 2050 Plan: Build infrastructure for diverse, technology-driven future

By: Ethan Duran//April 21, 2023//

Milwaukee County 2050 Plan: Build infrastructure for diverse, technology-driven future

By: Ethan Duran//April 21, 2023//

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County Executive David Crowley, Hispanic Collaborative President Nancy Hernandez, gener8tor partner Abby Kursel and JCP Construction President James Phelps spoke at a panel about what it would take for Milwaukee to thrive in the next several decades. Op2mize President Geoffrey Kassel said technology would change exponentially in the coming decades and the city would need to rethink its infrastructure to not get left behind. (Staff photo by Ethan Duran.)

The city of Milwaukee and Milwaukee County will have to address their shortcomings to keep up with ever-changing technology and reimagining of cities, speakers on Thursday said at the Milwaukee County 2050 event at the Italian Community Center.

Speaking to hundreds of technology and business leaders, Op2mize Energy CEO Geoffrey Kasselman urged them to plan for data-driven building projects, use federal money to invest in infrastructure and incorporate technological advances like artificial intelligence to reshape cities in the next several decades. Citing computer scientist Ray Kurzweil, Kasselman agreed with the projection that technology will advance exponentially over the next century, forcing cities like Milwaukee to plan ahead.

“We have Infrastructure Investment Jobs Act, we have the Inflation Reduction Act, we have never had access to more money, programs and grants to build infrastructure than we have today. This is a fact. The time is now to lay infrastructure groundwork for 2050. If you don’t, you’re going to be surpassed by a city or community who has the vision to do it,” Kasselman, whose company specializes in energy and real estate, said at the meeting.

Kasselman said developers and business leaders will have to strategize ways to make workplaces and cities open to diversity as the population grows and changes. In the 2030s, Generation Alpha will be the next decision makers and data and user experience will drive planning and building in urban centers, he added.

“I’m not making political statements, but diversity, equity and inclusion is not a political statement. Diverse voices at the table make the table stronger,” Kasselman added. He also talked about the incoming, widespread electrification of transportation and personal vehicles and how climate change will drive more people to the freshwater resources of the Great Lakes.

For Southeast Wisconsin to achieve these goals, developers will have to consider new sources of income like dynamic pricing models, recurring revenue streams, outcome pricing and the expanded use of tax increment financing, Kasselman added. Developers and elected officials will have to expand public and private partnerships to ensure technological advances move forward, he added.

The city and the county have both used money from the American Rescue Plan Act and other federal programs to widen its infrastructure for housing and transportation. However, the region is not without hardship as Milwaukee County’s population fell by 20,000 since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley said in Thursday’s panel discussion that the county should become a region of choice, it will have to invest in diversity, equity and inclusion. In 2019, the county was the first in the U.S. to declare racism through direct and indirect policy over the years as a public health crisis.

“When we think about 2050, this is about, ‘how do we make sure we continue to be a region of choice, making sure we’re investing in diversity, equity and inclusion?’ This is about making sure no matter your background, no matter your zip code, no matter where you come from, you feel comfortable living, working in this community. We want to make sure we invest in affordable housing. With prices right now, many people can’t afford to live in the communities they work in,” Crowley said at the meeting.

Crowley spoke in a panel with JCP Construction President James Phelps, Hispanic Collaborative President Nancy Hernandez and gener8tor partner Abby Kursel. The four covered topics such as affordable housing, diversity and education in southeast Wisconsin and how they would tie into the region’s future.

JCP Construction President James Phelps said Milwaukee and surrounding areas will have to get rid of the “not in my backyard” mentality if they want to tackle problems with affordable housing.

“Let’s just cut to the chase here. Once it starts jumping into the first-rate suburbs, where (residents) say, ‘Yeah we need it!’ When they find it’s two blocks from them, they show up at the next (city) meeting protesting. It’s needed by all. It’s, ‘Yes, we need it, but over there.’ It’s a ping-pong effect and it’s the reason we don’t have traction county-wide with affordable housing,” Phelps said.

The attitude from residents who didn’t want housing wasn’t a density issue, but one more about race and the perceptions within suburban communities held towards those who need affordable housing, Phelps noted.

“This is not a density issue. This comes down to wanting the perceived people who would be using those (houses.) People always looking at affordable housing as, ‘Oh, those are all low-income people,’ not knowing it’s the same people who are wait staff and whatnot else,” he added. The same problems turn up in transportation and goes back to the time of redlining and segregation, he added.

Crowley said there has always been perceptions around who is taking advantage of affordable housing and who uses it, and there would need to be continued conversations about what people who use it look like.

“There has always been a historical perception of who is taking advantage of affordable housing and who lives in affordable housing. At this moment, when we think about affordable housing, we don’t see a lot of it happening in non-urban areas, suburban areas and rural areas. We have to go through the town or village or city’s process, and many people don’t want it. I think we can go back and think about comments we’ve heard from city officials in Brookfield who didn’t want affordable housing happening in their own backyard. Those perceptions are out there and we have to still have conversations about what affordable or workforce housing looks like and who it serves,” Crowley said.

To divert the looming county fiscal cliff and ensure quality of life increases in the region, Crowley said municipalities will continue looking for partnerships with the state.

“We want to be able to make the investments, quality of life and things to attract more people and retain folks who are currently here as well. But that’s going to take more resources. That’s the reason why the city and other municipalities across the state are looking for a strong partnership with the state to help us increase our revenues or give us the tools we need to make sure we can make these targeted investments and quality of life issues,” Crowley said.

BizTimes hosted the event. They were joined by sponsor Johnson Financial Group and supported by United Way of Greater Milwaukee and Waukesha County.


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