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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Thursday, Nov. 27, 2014

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In Living Commentary

A French organization believes Chicago and Milwaukee should form a metroplex.

A Chicago/Milwaukee metroplex faces many obstacles


Consolidation is a word fraught with both immense potential and immense peril and it's about to become a big and ongoing part of our civic discussion.

The latest salvo that revolves around the word is the study conducted by a French think tank that says the Chicago-Milwaukee metropolis could be one of the top world class mega-cities if we could just figure out how to consolidate so much stuff. A recent event at Marquette also discussed the idea.

Politicians and academics and economists and experts from every field you can imagine are now being drawn into a discussion about how to go about building this megalopolis.

The funny thing about this whole issue is that there seems to be very little discussion about whether this would be a good thing. It's as if everyone has decided that big is better and now we just have to work out the details.

There's an old axiom that I believe in that says, "Just because you can do something doesn't necessarily mean you should do it."

That's being tested in this consolidation discussion.

Almost everything you hear or read seems indicate that this is fait accompli. If that's so, I've got some intimate experience in the idea and it provides a warning for all the eggheads who will work this out.

Back when I worked for Dr. Robert Peterkin, who was the Superintendent of Schools at MPS, we decided that consolidating schools into smaller zones would be a productive thing.

It would allow for better governance and more rapid response when problems developed. It would also allow for successful innovation to be shared and for students to benefit from greater attention from schools freed from the miasma fighting the central bureaucracy.

My God! What were we thinking?

Nobody, and I mean nobody, wanted to do this.

We were fought at every turn. Everybody had their own little kingdom and they didn't want to either give up or share any of their authority. We gave people more money, more authority and more time to get things done.

And none of it worked. People were pretty happy in their own little world and even it life would be better, they didn't want any changes.

That's what we are looking at here. Between Chicago and Milwaukee there are thousands of governments. They've all got mayors or councils or boards or something. And they love their local people.

The mayor and council of a town of 3,000 people are a very big deal in that town. They love being big dogs and the citizens in that town love having their own guys. From that standpoint, it's almost impossible to think of things like "the greater good."

Certainly there are a number of obstacles to overcome in order to create this huge megacity. The top of that heap is we have to stop raiding Illinois for its companies and we have to stop pretending we hate them.

We'd also have to decide about education and transportation and recreation and manufacturing and law enforcement and all kinds of things.

But we also need to recognize that there are over 2,000 different units of government between Milwaukee and Chicago. And they could well be the biggest obstacle of them all.

Talkbacks

Jeff | July 20, 2012 at 9:11 a.m. (report)

Milwaukee seems almost desperate to attach itself to Chicago, and the press here has made this a big deal. But there's been little coverage on this in Chicago, and then only half-hearted; Crain's Chicago, for example, included joking references about beer and cheese.

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CoolerKing | July 20, 2012 at 6:58 a.m. (report)

The biggest problem I have with the metroplex concept is that Illinois is in worse financial shape than Wisconsin is at the moment. Nobody wants to take that on. It would be like having your wife's loser brother moving in with you.

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