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!
Is something new and wonderful happening? Plans coming out of the closet and into the light of day? People meeting, sharing ideas, and considering each other's positions? Improbable, but maybe true.
It's been hard to get--and process--all the information on the UWM Foundation's purchase proposal for an engineering campus and office park development on the Milwaukee County Grounds. I won't go into questions about potential commercial development on the site. But there's pretty credible information that more than one plan map is floating around, and few people have seen the one being shown to the business community. Questions about why the campus can't be built splendidly and innovatively using a smaller footprint (taller buildings covering less ground surface) have not been answered satisfactorily. And the disputed area of wild space preservation for migratory creatures has not been mapped with firm boundaries that work for buildings and butterflies alike.
There's some good news, however. Last Friday, April 3, representatives from some of the involved environmental groups met with UWM vice chancellor Tom Luljak and foundation president Dave Gilbert and Milwaukee County legislative/development researcher Glenn Bultman and real estate manager Craig Gilbert.
Apparently (I wasn't there), the discussion was frank and productive. It began with the claim that the development area needed to be free of restrictions. Then the environmental group produced a map outlining the area they want preserved as a conservation easement. According to Barb Agnew, aka The Butterfly Lady, "When it was clear that they could build plenty and leave plenty too I stopped (talking). And there was a silence around the conference table that surprised me. Yes, the spirit of compromise was getting through."
That spirit will have a little more chance to get through.
The County Economic and Community Development Committee meeting originally scheduled for the morning of April 13 has been postponed to May 11. The UWM proposal is not on the agenda for the April 13 Economic and Community Development Committee meeting. It may be on the agenda for May 11 (9 am at the Milwaukee County Courthouse), but that's not certain yet. That gives people time to ask questions, gather information, lobby elected representatives, influence who you can influence, and schedule a vacation day from work if you'd like to speak before the committee that morning.
It will give people time to get behind the conservancy easement idea (I'm already there!) and insist that it be determined in advance and designated in perpetuity. It will also give people time to consider the environmental group's other proposal: that the UWM Foundation be sold only the land needed for the engineering school, and the rest of the development be controlled by the county through individual sales. I'm ambivalent about that part of the proposal. While it might benefit taxpayers, I'm inclined to trust the Foundation to be judicious in developing its "neighborhood" -- maybe more judicious than the county would be.
Keeping the spirits of compromise alive could lead to great things. Imagine a set of buildings that are truly cutting edge, not borrowing from the last decade's old patterns of sprawling low-density buildings. And imagine those buildings clustered together, full of creative energy and synergy, nestled into a nature conservancy. Pulling that off would make UWM look like a hero and a trendsetter.
The usual "innovative research building" design looks like this 52,000 square foot building on 42 acres in Menomonee Falls:
Compare that with the 347,000 square foot Parker H. Petit Science Teaching and Research Building in Atlanta:
I don't know about you, but the Petit building looks a lot more sexy, dynamic, and innovative to me.
The argument that every partner needs to control its own separate building is a pretty weak one. New ideas come when people with different disciplines and knowledge bump into each other. Really innovative organizations put biological scientists and engineers in the same office, not just the same building.
No reason engineers and butterlies (and owls, foxes, garter snakes, and deer) can't benefit from proximity too.