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This Sucks: Milwaukee's inferiority complex with Chicago


Face it, we all have things we love and hate about Milwaukee. But, complaining and focusing on the negative leads nowhere. So, in the latest edition of this column we highlight an issue that we think needs to be addressed, discussed and solved. Every "This Sucks" feature tells you why we think something sucks, offers commentary, opinions, solutions and, of course, gives you the chance to weigh in through our exclusive talkback feature.

What sucks: Regional squabbles are nothing new. Plenty of states and cities share a border with animosity: Ohio and Michigan, New York and New Jersey. For us, it's the raging battle between Wisconsin and Illinois.

Really, it's more of a Wisconsin versus Chicago matter, since just about all of Northern Illinois is either Chicago or a suburb of Chicago.

This rivalry, and all the anger that comes with it, derives from several factors -- the most perplexing of which is Milwaukee's unnecessary inferiority complex to our neighbors to the south.

Why it sucks: It's pointless to even compare the two cities, and the only reason anyone would is because of their proximity.

Put Chicago and Milwaukee into perspective. According to the 2005 U.S. Census, more than 2.8 million people live in Chicago. About 580,000 people live in City of Milwaukee -- a five to one ratio. If you include metro areas, both numbers are much higher. Geographically, Chicago covers more than twice the area of Milwaukee.

Plenty of people say that the Brew City needs to act more like the Windy City. But why? Instead, can't we celebrate our differences?

Milwaukee's Fourth District Ald. Robert Bauman, who was born on the North Side of Chicago, says that he hasn't experienced the rivalry to the extent of others and has never quite understood it.

"I don't think there is a rivalry. I would like to see a strong alliance, to be honest. The cities are so different in size and I think Milwaukee, to think we're in competition with Chicago, would be unwise," says Bauman. "We should be looking toward building bridges with cities like Chicago."

Doug Neilson, president and CEO of Visit Milwaukee, says Milwaukee shouldn't try to be something it's not.

"We have a uniqueness that Chicago doesn't have. We are a large city with a small town feel," says Neilson. "(You) get amenities without the hassles of a big city. The Riverwalk, the art museum, Discovery World, the arts and cultural scene here, all of those things. Those are a lot of things people used to go to Chicago for and don't have to."

Stacie Callies, executive director of the Westown Association, says that the competition between Chicago and Milwaukee dates back to when the cities were first growing. Chicago developed faster than Milwaukee and the animosity spawned from that competition. However, she agrees that the rivalry is more inferiority complex than animosity.

"I think Milwaukeeans tend to think Chicago has more to offer. I don't think it's the case," says Callies. "We have our own points of interest that we can promote. I think we're unique in our history and our development and we have a lot of things to promote that we don't."

Residents of both states joke back and forth, but a few specific issues really get people riled up: driving, football and Chicagoans' attitude toward vacationing in Wisconsin (or Wisconsinites' attitude toward Chicagoans vacationing in Wisconsin).

"The perception is that Illinois drivers in Wisconsin drive fast, aggressively and reckless; I have seen many examples of this, but I realize it is not true of most people," says Nick Mischo, a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee student and Fond du Lac native.

"(Also), Wisconsin residents feel as if Illinois people are infringing upon their 'space.' Many people from Illinois have summer cabins in Northern Wisconsin, and people feel that they don't belong there."

Marquette University student and St. Charles, Ill. resident, Amanda Sheaffer agrees with Mischo on the driving issue, but also points to sports rivalries.

"I think a lot of animosity stems from two things, football and driving," Sheaffer says. "Packers and Bears fans hate each other. Illinoisans hate Wisconsin drivers because they drive slow; Wisconsinites hate Illinoisans because we drive fast and have toll roads."

According to Dean Amhaus, president of the Spirit of Milwaukee, the rivalry has been around forever, but he doesn't think there's much behind it.

"It could be a sports thing, a loyalty between fans and a pride that exists."

But maybe this animosity is more focused one-way toward Illinois. The Chicago Office of Tourism doesn't seem to think there is a rivalry, except on a sports level.

"We are not aware of a rivalry between Chicago and Milwaukee... perhaps you are referring to a rivalry between the Milwaukee Brewers and the Chicago Cubs," says Elizabeth Walasin Lulla, of the Chicago Office of Tourism Public Relations.

But, look at the nicknames being tossed back and forth.

According to Wisconsinites, Illinoisans are "F.I.B.s" and "F.I.S.H."

In case you didn't know, those stand for "f*cking Illinois bastards" and "f*cking Illinois sh*theads" -- harsh words, indeed. In return, Wisconsinites get off pretty easy with the lazy, harmless "cheesehead" tag.

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Talkbacks

Brandon B | Dec. 6, 2009 at 5:43 p.m. (report)

I happened to glance at the author's bio. So what makes a supposedly bright, young college student from Illinois choose to label an entire metro of 1.5 million people as suffering an inferiority complex? Sounds like she's projecting. I personally do not know anyone from Milwaukee who walks around saying "oh I wish we had (this or that thing) like Chicago" It's just not done. Milwaukee has just about everything it needs for a small city, and then some! We are a short hop to Chicago for a visit and we all enjoy that we are not a corrupt, congested mess like that city. Milwaukee has a world class art museum, symphony, great entertainment venues, fine dining, the list goes on. But we don't really toot our collective horn about it. We just enjoy our nice city.

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taj | Nov. 27, 2009 at 8:06 p.m. (report)

A student from Illinois does not get to speak for all of Milwaukee or Wisconsin. I have no inferioirty complex and the majority do not. We know we got it good. Perhaps she has some inferiority complex about NewYork or L.A? People who live in Milwaukee enjoy it-- the low traffic, the abundance of great eats, and all the things to do.Sorry. Just because you had a spat with your dorm room friends is no reason to lable an entire city as having a complex.

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mcdoogs | March 18, 2008 at 7:36 p.m. (report)

'One more talk back for you all: Mayor Daley has balls, big ideas and gets stuff done.' What is he accomplishing? Ripping off his own citizens? $25 to park in some areas of Chicago. Taxes so high that entire suburbs want to concede from Cook County. Residents fleeing in droves. Milwaukee is growing at the pace of a city of 500,000 people. Nothing wring with that. Actually, Milwaukee probabaly supports alot more than it should.

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illwauk | Aug. 3, 2007 at 9:00 a.m. (report)

The person the writer chose to speak on behalf of Milwaukee is a UWM student from upstate. That's all you need to know about the credibility of this article...

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ChicagoCarless | March 13, 2007 at 12:11 a.m. (report)

As a four-year Chicago transplant originally from New York City, I really appreciated this post. When I moved to Chicago from NYC, everyone in Gotham was aghast that I would do such a thing. Meanwhile, everyone in Chicago constantly asked me what I missed from New York (which is nothing--I love Chicago hands down, a far more livable and amiable metropolis than was my hometown). Point being, in any alleged "rivalry" between two cities of greatly differing sizes, it's never really a competition. Residents of the smaller city always seems to express a usually baseless inferiority complex, fearing that their city will always lose out in the eyes of outside observers when compared with their larger neighbor. Meanwhile, residents of the larger city rarely even have the smaller city on their radar screens or are woefully misinformed about out, much less ever even ponder the existence of some rivalrous relationship. Chicagoans always fear New York is better. Milwaukee residents resent the sparkle of Chicago. San Franciscans never miss a beat crowing about how much better their foodie scene and street life are versus L.A. And you know what? In return, New Yorkers never even think of Chicago, Chicagoans never consider Milwaukee, and Angelenos shake their heads at San Francisco. Maybe it's better that way. I always say if New Yorkers ever really clued into how great Chicago is, they'd (oh , Lord) actually come here and maybe even stay. And then we'd be the crowded, expensive, and rude city I left behind in 2003. If Milwaukee isn't usually at the front of the mind of most Chicagoans, so what? Maybe that helps keep Milwaukee more real. And there are plenty of us down here in Chicago who love visiting your town and respect it, too. (For one thing, do you have any idea how much Chicago idolizes the many fine, old downtown buildings you guys have still got, that for the most part Chicago tore down wholesale, decades ago?) Of course, you could stand to kick your politicians into gear and get your much-talked-about light rail system finally built (the whole idea that people wouldn't ride it in the winter is so laughable--hello, Mr. Mayor, Milwaukee doesn't stop riding the BUS in the winter), but I digress. I guess what Im trying to see, in as friendly a manner as possible, is the same thing I say to Chicagoans who always ask me if I like New York better (sure, that's why I'm living here), and that's: get over it! The rivalry is in your head. You have a wonderful, hard-working, fun-to-visit city that doesn't need comparison with anywhere else (well, except in the aforementioned transit department), least of all Chicago. You keep visiting down here, I'll keep visiting up there. Maybe once in a while we can meet in the middle at Mar's for a brat and a bag of squeakers.

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