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.
“We have our own niche here; we have our own strengths that we can be proud of,” Neilson says. “Chicago is a major destination, an international destination. Milwaukee is one city that is trying to compete as a destination. There’s rivalry in tourism dollars, and in our business, there are numerous times where we do compete with each other. We’re trying to attract as many people here as Chicago.”
It’s true that Milwaukee and Wisconsin can appear lacking in some areas in an unbalanced comparison with Chicago, but the nuances and little things make a city unique and worth visiting.
Amhaus believes that Milwaukee’s level of appreciation should grow because of what it does have.
“Chicago has a lot of other things that Milwaukee doesn’t have, and Milwaukee has things that Chicago doesn’t have,” he says. “In the past, Chicago has had it all and there’s been a realization that we have it here in Milwaukee. We have great restaurants, great arts, living and working Downtown. We have an easy time getting around, no traffic problem.”
People come from all over and are surprised by what Milwaukee has to offer, Callies says.
“A lot of the civic leaders are trying to promote Milwaukee for its own merits,” she says. “For most people, summers in Milwaukee can’t be compared to anything in the world. I don’t think, necessarily, Chicago can say the same.”
Bauman says that rather than fostering animosity, Milwaukee should look to build bridges with cities like Chicago.
“Chicago has become an international city in the last 20 to 25 years,” he says. “It’s the center for economic activity in the Midwest, and we should tap into that growth as much as possible.”
And a lot of people living in Milwaukee come from northern Illinois, too.
“We certainly have a lot to offer here but not the huge expense of a large city. This is why you are finding a lot of people from Chicago are coming to Milwaukee,” Neilson says. “You are finding people from Chicago buying condominiums here. They don’t have to sacrifice rich cultural experience they can get it here.”
Of course, Milwaukee colleges are teeming with Chicago students, too. Marquette University reports that a third of the student body is from Illinois, which averages out to more than 2,000 students. Seven percent of students at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee are from out-of-state, including Illinois.
“I honestly believe the two communities -- Chicago and Milwaukee -- we need each other. We actually benefit from each other,” says Amhaus. “We need Chicago and Chicago needs Milwaukee. Will there be a rival when the Cubs come into Milwaukee? That’s healthy, that’s OK.”
What you can do to make it not suck: Be proud of your city, but appreciate what you can gain by understanding the world around you. That means actually going to Chicago, visiting its museums, dining in its restaurants and taking in its culture. You're not a traitor for enjoying another city.
Hey, competition is healthy, but taking it to extremes isn’t.
So keep the sports rivalries clean. You don’t have to like the Bears, just don’t take the ribbing too far -- it just makes you look ignorant and, frankly, like a cheesehead. If you must call someone a F.I.B., make sure it's tongue-in-cheek.
As for the Brewers and Cubs, ticket prices already get bumped up for those games at Miller Park, so getting the Illinoisans to pay more is good enough. Get tickets early if you want to get into the stadium. The Brewers shouldn't need to stage a "Take Back Miller Park" campaign anymore.
Driving skills, of course, depend on the driver. Get mellow when you get behind the wheel and enjoy the politeness of the Wisconsin driver. Also, enjoy your license to speed south of the border (but don’t blame us if you get stopped!).
As for the Illinois tolls, it’s something that people in Illinois have to deal with, too, and on a daily basis. Wisconsinites who don’t work in Illinois only have to deal with it once in a while. Feel sorry for those that deal with rush hours that make the Marquette Interchange look like the Milwaukee Mile.
“Encroaching” on space is something that can’t -- and shouldn’t -- be controlled. Really, it’s a compliment that Chicagoans move up north because there’s something they can’t get in Illinois. But if you want to do something, buy a condo in Door County, don't just complain about how Egg Harbor is owned by Chicago.
After all, tourist dollars are important to Wisconsin’s economy. People from Illinois help keep Wisconsin Dells and Door County in business. These dollars also are imporatant to Milwaukee's economy with Chicago residents shopping in Downtown neighborhoods and attending our cultural and sports events.
Instead of focusing on the negatives, tell people about Milwaukee and all it has to offer (or just send them to OnMilwaukee.com).
Says Neilson, “We should be shouting how great Milwaukee is, telling people how great it is here.”
Originally from Des Plaines, Ill., Heather moved to Milwaukee to earn a B.A. in journalism from Marquette University. With a tongue-twisting last name like Leszczewicz, it's best to go into a career where people don't need to say your name often.
However, she's still sticking to some of her Illinoisan ways (she won't reform when it comes to things like pop, water fountain or ATM), though she's grown to enjoy her time in the Brew City.
Although her journalism career is still budding, Heather has had the chance for some once-in-a-lifetime interviews with celebrities like actor Vince Vaughn and actress Charlize Theron, director Cameron Crowe and singers Ben Kweller and Isaac Hanson of '90s brother boy band Hanson.
Heather's a self-proclaimed workaholic but loves her entertainment. She's a real television and movie fanatic, book nerd, music junkie, coffee addict and pop culture aficionado.