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Both Sides of the Fence

A Tosa resident since 1991, Christine walks the dog, cooks but avoids housework, writes and reads, and enjoys the company of friends and strangers. Her job takes her around the state, learning about people's health. A Quaker (no, they don't wear blue hats or sell oatmeal or motor oil), she has been known to stand on both sides of the political and philosophic fence at the same time, which is very uncomfortable when you think about it. She writes about pretty much whatever stops in to visit her busy mind at the moment. One reader described her as "incredibly opinionated but not judgmental." That sounds like a good thing to strive for!

Earth Mamas vs. the Patriarchs

County Grounds, economic development, Wauwatosa

The love of people for the land isn't just an economic proposition. It goes much deeper. Maybe you believe that God shaped a little figurine from clay and blew the breath of life into him. Or that our fishy ancestors crawled from the sea to find home on the muddy shore. In either case, our connection with the dirt on which we live is the stuff of mythology.

 

At tonight's Milwaukee County Board Committee on Economic and Community Development meeting, everyone except the county supervisors showed how much they cared about the disposition of part of the County Grounds near the heart of Wauwatosa.The supervisors probably felt they had to remain blank-faced and neutral during the public hearing about the sale of the land to a UWM-subsidiary limited liability corporation.

 

It's always a bad idea to ascribe interpretations to the expressions (or lack thereof) of officials. But I'm full of bad ideas, and I couldn't help wondering whether all these supervisors who looked like city folks had any context for the passionate butterfly-and-nature people pouring out their souls in two-minute segments. Committee Chair Toni Clark worked hard to run the meeting fairly, a courtesy that was not always returned by the audience. If I had to guess, she'd be the one I'd pick to hold some sympathy with the tree-hugger monarch-lover snake-saver conservancy-wanters who formed the non-silent majority of attenders. The others, who knows?

 

The meeting began with a brief presentation by representatives from UWM. Along with vice-chancellor Tom Luljak stood engineering dean Mike Lovell, UWM Foundation president Dave Gilbert, and Jim Reinartz, plant ecologist and field station director. I thought they showed understanding of the desire to preserve the Monarch Trail, a crucial bit of land in the long migration of these magical creatures from Mexico, and the Eschweiler buildings. And they seemed eager to cooperate.

 

Unfortunately, they built their argument on academic authority. Which is what university people do, after all. But the assurance that not only would the esteemed ecologist help to improve the monarch food flora of the area, but they'd brought on-board Milwaukee Public Museum butterfly authority Susan Borkin -- well, it rankled the audience a little.

 

After all, here, along with the tiny and fiercely beautiful Barb Agnew, butterfly lady and local goddess, were scores of acolytes who have studied and loved the butterflies, nursed them from egg through pupa, spread milkweed seeds over acres of county land, and more.  And now, they were being replaced by impartial "experts."

 

I don't think that was UWM's intention. But that is what people felt. Those of us who love the land feel ownership and stewardship responsibility for it. It's part of us, and we are part of it. But because of the rigid format of these meetings, there was no chance for discussion or clarification of possible misunderstandings. And when groups of people come with such different worldviews--nature is the greatest good/human progress is the greatest good--misunderstandings are bound to be legion.

 

The ratio of those speaking against or for limiting development ran about four heart-felt testimonies by nature lovers, children, and poets to one logical economic development statement by men in suits.

 

Oh: I forgot the (unpaid) political statements by Mayor Didier and state Senator Sullivan, each taking the opportunity to claim credit for the deal, weakening their own otherwise sincere statements in so doing.

 

The meeting ended badly. Time ran out with nearly 30 people waiting to be heard. Those who protested were told they could attend the next board meeting the morning of April 12 at the courthouse downtown, which did not appease anyone. 

 

I'm hoping that UWM will help to heal some of the bad feelings by holding a listening session some evening soon.  Who knows: there might even be an opportunity to have discussions and come to common ground. Stranger things have happened.

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