By Jennifer Curnes Special to OnMilwaukee Published Jan 23, 2020 at 5:01 PM Photography: Sarah Laux

A year and a half ago, we moved our family from Chicago to Milwaukee. We weren’t forced to move here for a job transfer or to be closer to family. We just really wanted to live in Milwaukee. "Why in the world did you choose Milwaukee?" is something we get asked regularly – even by people who live here.

But for us, it was a no-brainer: Milwaukee had it all. Not a consolation prize but rather a place we were genuinely giddy about moving to.

I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, and my husband is from Dallas, so we really have no business living in Milwaukee. We knew absolutely no one here and had no ties to the community. We were certain that Chicago was going to be our home, and that we would forever be "city people."

Our old neighborhood of Bucktown was wonderful in so many ways, but as pretty much everyone predicted, things started to change once we had school-aged children. We were both searching for a sense of community, but that was really hard to achieve because of how transient Chicago was. And like so many, we were forced into our kids attending private school. If you survive the excruciating interview process, you’re looking to pay more for kindergarten than you did for a year of college. Oofta! That, combined with the crime in our neighborhood getting worse each passing year, had us looking for a backup plan.

The Chicago suburbs are a natural progression for many city folks, but it just wasn’t the right fit for us. We saw so many of our friends make the pilgrimage to the burbs, and they always left promising us, "We’ll be back in the city all the time." Famous last words, for sure. Chicago traffic is so terrible that heading downtown for dinner becomes a whole production, and before you know it, you’re meeting halfway in Skokie to eat questionable sushi in a strip mall. You live so close to Chicago, but it might as well be in a different time zone.

We briefly considered Evanston just like everyone else who is scared to lose their city person street cred – but let’s be honest, Evanston is just a gateway drug to true Suburbia. 

Meanwhile, we had spent several super fun weekends in Milwaukee so it was always on our radar. 

We loved that the city of Milwaukee was having a bit of a renaissance. The energy was palpable, and there was always so much going on. Everyone we encountered was friendly and warm, and the vibe everywhere was so casual. The restaurants and bars were always stellar, and I still do a happy dance whenever the bill arrives. You never forget the first time you pay for a round of drinks in Milwaukee, that’s for sure. It’s the closest you’ll ever get to feeling like a beer baron.

This isn’t meant to be a hit-piece against Chicago or its suburbs. I love Chicago, and it will always be home to me. But it was time to really take a hard look at what we wanted our lives to look like in ten years – and Chicago just couldn’t compete with what Milwaukee had to offer.

Since moving here, our quality of life has gotten so much better. My husband and I both feel like we’ve gained so much more time in the day because there is no traffic trying to get anywhere. Our kids spend almost no time in the car now, so driving is a novelty. When we do drive to Chicago – which we do regularly – nobody complains. And there are actual parking spaces so you don’t have play Frogger with your kids after you’ve illegally parked on a busy street.

We love that our kids have an excellent (and free!) public school education and get to have such a throwback childhood, all while living so close to Downtown Milwaukee. A plethora of amazing restaurants, bars and museums are just 13 minutes away – 17 minutes away when the traffic is "bad." Going Downtown doesn’t seem like a pilgrimage, but rather an extension of our neighborhood. Everything is just so darn accessible.

I’ve been to more cultural events and book readings here than I ever did in Chicago thanks to places like Boswell Books. Getting places doesn’t feel like such a schlep, and it’s so easy to find out what events are happening around the city. Community focused events are everywhere, and it’s impossible not to fall in love with the history and tradition of it all.

I’m not saying it’s all roses and sunshine. Milwaukee isn’t perfect. I mean, the bagel situation here is dire. And it doesn’t help when everyone keeps telling you to go to a place called Jo-Cat's, and you finally go and find out it’s not even close to being a Jewish deli. Like, NOT EVEN CLOSE. And for a Chicago girl, the pizza situation wasn’t acceptable either. Thankfully, Lou Malnati’s just arrived and changed that. I’d like to think I had a little something to do with that. (Cue Ryan Gosling: "I wrote you every day for a year!") And then there’s the Nordstrom. Yes, I’m glad we finally have a Nordstrom – but come on. Our store has so little inventory it’s not even funny. Meanwhile, at the Whitefish Bay Sendik's, I’m playing bumper cars on carpet with my shopping cart. 

So yeah, the shopping could use an upgrade, and there are a few holes in the food department – and that's not even mentioning the serious issues in the city, both those universal across America and those particular to Milwaukee. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world. We are here to stay, and you’d have to kick us out to get us to leave. Times are changing, and Milwaukee isn’t just a city that people have to learn to love – it’s a city people are choosing. And for so much more than beer and cheese curds.

OK, fine, it’s a little bit about the cheese curds.

Jennifer Curnes Special to OnMilwaukee
Jennifer Curnes is a Chicago native who fell so hard for Milwaukee that she got up and moved here in 2018. After spending years working in the construction industry she switched to the lingerie industry and because a brablem solver. She stayed at home once her kids were born and uses her years of improv training to keep her kids on their toes. You can read about her shenanigans on her blog and on websites like Bump Club and Beyond. When she's not counting down the minutes before bedtime you can find her eating around Milwaukee and posting about it on Instagram at NoshMKE.