The Mandel Group, one of Milwaukee’s most prominent development corporations, has taken Orwellian doublespeak to new level.
Mandel spokesman, Bob Monnat, characterized the Milwaukee Common Council’s decision to protect 800 acres of pristine riverbanks north of the Milwaukee River as elitist.
The resolution creating a special zoning district that restricts development on both sides of the River for two years while more detailed protection plans are hashed out is the antithesis of elitism.
Preserving the riverway is an attempt to humanize the man-made environment. Promoting public access democratizes its use by providing recreational opportunities for all of Milwaukee’s citizens. This is why it was justified to use public dollars to clean the river that manufacturers and others had polluted! Now that the river is healthy, financial elites, i.e. real estate developers like Mandel, want to privatize the return on the publics' investment.
They would return us to the early Nineteenth Century when the city was seen primarily as an agency of capitalist expansion, a place where men could make money by doing as they pleased with their property. This perspective was challenged in the middle of the Nineteenth Century by, among others, the poet and newspaper editor, William Cullen Bryant, who argued in 1844 that “commerce is devouring inch by inch” the space of the city and “if we would rescue any part of it for health or recreation it must be done now.” In response New York City commissioned Frederick Law Olmsted to develop one of the world’s great parks, Manhattan’s Central Park.
Olmsted’s vision, which Milwaukee’s river preservationists are applying to create a linear riverway version of Central Park, was to develop the city in harmony with its natural environment. It consciously rejected Europe’s stylized and aristocratic park model by preserving the area’s natural features and topography. “By making nature urbane,” commented Lewis Mumford,” he naturalized the city.”
Olmsted's vision was democratic. He believed parks promoted a sense of community in urban areas. Where else could so many people be found together,”...with an evident glee in the prospect of coming together, all classes represented…each individual adding by his mere presence to the pleasure of others….” asked Olmsted?
The Common Council’s decision to place a two year moratorium on riverway development while preservationist plans are developed is based on this democratic vision. It protects the interest of the public that owns 70% of the land and ensures a fully transparent and public debate on how this pristine riverway should be utilized.
It is the Mandel Group’s vision that is elitist.
What, after all, could be more elitist than auctioning Milwaukee’s riverway to the highest bidder? But that is exactly what will happen if we allow the price mechanism to determine the riverway’s use. This wonderful natural resource will be purchased by powerful and connected developers who will pocket millions constructing high end condos and commercial space on the river’s edge while undermining public access and use.
Nothing could be more elitist than that!