The other day, I pulled up next to an old muscle car at a stoplight. Shiny and polished, I thought to myself that it's a shame that America's best cars are now more than 30 years old. Except for the new Ford Mustang (which is a throwback to the classic) and maybe the Pontiac Solstice (cool, but not too practical), most of the American cars these days look more or less like a Ford Taurus. Functional, but without a soul.
Which got me wondering: How come people assume that new is always better? Take those musicians of old who made great songs -- but still linger around, turning out one crappy ballad after another. The list goes on and on, but off the top of my head I think about guys like Eric Clapton, Elton John and Billy Joel. At what point did Elton sit in the studio during the recording of "Candle in the Wind," and say, "You know, 'This is just as good as 'Tiny Dancer' or Saturday Night's Alright (For Fighting)!'" Not that Elton was ever particularly awesome, but you get my point.
But I digress. New can be good, too. I'd never trade my Blackberry in for the old brick of a cell phone I had in 1997. Nor would I give back my new MacBook with wi-fi, in exchange for my ancient G3 Powerbook with its 56k modem.
Locally, how does Milwaukee stack up, new vs. old? I picked a few landmarks around town and asked myself that very question.
Miller Park vs. Milwaukee County Stadium: Emotionally, I miss County Stadium so much. It represented a more simple time in the Brewers' history -- namely, when they were good (present season excluded). The old, run-down park felt like home. I knew every nook and cranny, and "County" felt every bit as working-class as the fans themselves. Miller Park, on the other hand, has a corporate and sanitized feel. Gone is Bernie's Chalet. Inserted are luxury suites and great facilities throughout. With so many distractions, it's easy to forget there's baseball being played on the field. But without Miller Park and its buggy retractable roof, there'd be no Milwaukee Brewers (or they'd be playing in Charlotte). Baseball is a business, but at least this business enables grown men to play (and watch) this sublime sport for six months every year. Edge: Miller Park.
Shops of Grand Ave. and Mayfair Mall now vs. the '80s: The Mayfair Mall of my childhood was, as I remember it, the coolest mall ever built. With a stream running down the middle and bridges above it (perfect for kids like me to run around at full speed), the mall felt like an indoor amusement park with a Hot Sam serving pretzels. And the ice-skating rink with the McDonald's didn't hurt, either. The Grand Avenue Mall, when it first opened and had lots of stores in it, was a crown jewel of Downtown shopping. Now, Mayfair has gone upscale, trading kitsch for Coach. The Shops of Grand Avenue made the only move it could to avoid losing all its stores, replacing half of the facility with a T.J. Maxx and Linens 'N Things. I don't blame either mall for doing what it needed to do to survive. But the old versions were far more fun. Edge: Malls of the '80s.
Milwaukee FM radio now vs. 10 years ago: For years, we all joked about how bad Milwaukee's FM radio was. And it was true. With the exception of New Rock 102.1 in the late '90s, the adage was that you could hear Supertramp on at least four stations at any given time. Lately, though, local radio has taken some chances, and the results are encouraging. 88.9 Radio Milwaukee replaced the cookie-cutter jazz station it once was. FM 102.1 pulled the plug on the "dude rock" format and started playing new, alternative rock. 89.7 WUWM began "Café Tonight," a locally-produced show in the style of "World Café." And 91.7 WMSE keeps on keeping on, playing the most eclectic and diverse music in Milwaukee. (Note: I'd include a blurb about print media of old vs. new online media, but that would be too self-serving even for me.) Edge: New Milwaukee FM radio.
Marquette Interchange, before reconstruction project vs. after: This is an easy one. Though the last few years have made the Milwaukee commute almost as grueling as that of any other city, the end is near. The old Interchange was literally falling apart, not nearly capable enough for modern (and future) traffic patterns. The new Interchange, as far as I can tell, even looks classy. With blue supports, wrought-iron fencing and bridge names embossed into the tan concrete, the project is starting to shape up. And tearing down that ugly parking garage with the ridiculously dated whale mural opened up a view of the courthouse that hadn't been seen in years. Edge: New Interchange.
Downtown skyline now vs. a century ago: Whenever I see photos of Downtown from 100 years ago, I'm struck my how much the city looked like Manhattan. Tall and ornate buildings packed the landscape, with beautiful turn-of-the-century architecture everywhere. Then, at some point, someone must have decided that Milwaukee needed more surface parking lots. With seemingly reckless abandon, these classic buildings were torn down and replaced by either ugly "modern" buildings or just a bunch of asphalt. A friend of mine visiting once described it to a tee: "Milwaukee looks like a city that was hit by an A-bomb, with the buildings just picked up and scattered all over the place." Unfortunate, but true. Edge: Streets of old Milwaukee.
Henry Maier Festival Grounds now vs. a decade ago: Remember the days when Summerfest felt totally packed, rundown stages blaring music on top of each other? Naysayers will say that I am, in fact, talking about 2007, but in actuality, numerous improvement and expansions on the grounds have aired out the experience, making it more pleasant for everyone. The gradual rebuilding of the grounds means better acoustics, more room to roam, and a less claustrophobic experience at every ethnic festival. Edge: Fest grounds now.
Park East Freeway now vs. pre-demolition: I know all the arguments for tearing down the Park East Freeway. I know that it created an artificial border to the northern edge of Downtown. I know that city streets spur on development and make people stop and look, and not just drive past Downtown. I also know, however, that tearing down this highway removed the most direct and convenient route from I-43 to the East Side. Until I actually see some development in this corridor (IKEA, Target, soccer stadium -- anything), I'll remain annoyed that they demolished my favorite Milwaukee highway. Edge: Old Park East Freeway.
Bradley Center vs. MECCA: This one should be cut and dried, right? The old Arena was woefully inadequate for an NBA team. But is the Bradley Center all that much better? It wasn't even that great when it was completed in 1988. It lacks most of the amenities of its peers, including even a single restaurant (except for the "Courtside Club" for season ticket holders). Now, it's the third oldest active arena used in the NBA, and for some reason, the Arena wasn't torn down, instead being renovated so Milwaukee can have two sub-par arenas next to each other. Edge: Tie.
Andy is the founder and co-owner of OnMilwaukee.com. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.
Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.
Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.