Thursday, April 14, 2016

In Honor Of #MKEDay Make Milwaukee Your Way

In our fine city, today - 4/14 - is celebrated as Milwaukee Day. Started recently to celebrate and promote the city since the date corresponds to the phone area code of most: 414, it is meant to be a day to "celebrate, interact and create a better city at a grassroots level." Of course all events related to the celebration encompass all things Milwaukee from locations to people and products, you can see a list of official organized events here. If you want to join in you can attend the events, or simply go out and support something local: shop at a small local store, eat at a locally owned restaurant, or simply take in the sights of the city on a (finally) sunny Spring day. But we can do that any day, and I'm a little more interested in the last part of the mission: to "create a better city at a grassroots level." Think today on what you want Milwaukee to be, how we can all make it better, and how you can be part of that movement.

You may think that it's too hard, takes too much effort, or is even impossible for anyone, let alone you, to make what you want happen, but I'm here to tell you, from personal experience, that you can. YOU can make Milwaukee Great (ugh, I'm not too happy that a phrase like that has taken on a different tone in the past year, but I'm still going to use it), if there's an amenity missing, a service people need, whatever idea you have to make the city better, you can start - and finish - the effort to make it happen.

At an event organized by a friend, he remarked about one that I have had a hand in that "What's great about Milwaukee is that if you want something here you can make it happen." For the most part, he is right. Of course there are big things that the city needs that big people with big resources need to do, but there are many, many things that us everyday people can accomplish. Milwaukee is often called something like a "big small city" or a "small big city" depending how you look at it - and what is meant is usually that though not the biggest of the big cities, we have many of the amenities of one from entertainment to sports to our growing food scene, but without some of their headaches, like traffic. Of course we have our problems including poverty, crime, and being labeled as one of the most if not the most segregated city, but then that is partly what this is about, fixing those things.

The event my friend was referring to was the Brewtown Rumble, a motorcycle street festival and fundraiser I started last year, and one of two things I am proud to have been a part of adding to Milwaukee, the other being starting ROMP (Residents for Off-leash Milwaukee Parks), the friends group for dog parks in Milwaukee that since its inception has increased dog parks from one to seven in its first ten years when I was a member. Both show that you can indeed start something that makes at least a minor impact, if I could do it you surely can. In both cases there was something missing in Milwaukee, and I realized the only way to get it was to do it myself, well - to be one of the people making it happen.

Dog Parks provide benefits to the dogs and their companions
In 2001 my wife and I had a deaf dog, a border collie who required a lot of exercise, but being deaf we needed a fenced in area to let her run without worry of her running away. I grew up in Cedarburg and knew that neighbor Grafton had a fenced in dog park for dogs to run off-leash. For a while we would drive from Bay View out to Grafton, over 30 minutes, to take her there, then we thought to ourselves: "Why do we have to do this? Why doesn't Milwaukee have one?" Well, the truth was Milwaukee did have one, but only one and it wasn't fenced in. So we reached out to the animal welfare community and people in various neighborhoods to rally the troops to make this happen. Long story short, we formed a non-profit organization (ROMP), worked with Milwaukee County Parks on a proposal to implement a permit-based dog park system, and soon had a new park - fully fenced in, and then each year one or more opened til we got to where we are now with 7 total. This may not seem like a big deal but dog parks have lots of benefits: making dogs better behaved by socializing and exercise, giving a proper place for dog activity so it can be enforced to keep them out of other places like picnic areas, trickle down registration and vaccination of dogs since it is required for a permit, and even making people healthier by adding another reason/way for them to be outdoors socializing with others.

A shot of the 1st Rumble,
photo credit Alex Hawn Photography
In the case of the Brewtown Rumble, I had gone to another local event called Rockerbox, a motorcycle festival in Riverwest, but 2 years ago it move out of the city. I, and others, were going to miss having a Milwaukee, urbane street festival that celebrated all brands, not just the one that happens to call Milwaukee home. I also was looking for a way to support the BUILD Moto Mentor Program, a non-profit educational organization dedicated to pairing teams of high school students with bike-building mentors in a collective effort to learn valuable life and interpersonal skills while restoring vintage motorcycles. I threw it out there on social media channels that I would be willing to reboot a similar event, and with the help of many others I led the way last year to hold the first Rumble from which we were able to raise $7,000 for BUILD. This year it is officially an annual event with the 2nd one on May 15.

I am not bringing these up to toot my own horn, but rather to show that anyone can have an idea and make it happen, ideas that can and will make Milwaukee not only what it is, but what we want it to become. If our city is missing something, you can be part of bringing it here. From stories I have heard, Milwaukee is relatively simple, efficient, and inexpensive to gold a festival for example, likewise navigating our government can be easier than other cities as well (though it may not always seem like it.)

But how? Well, first of all, don't go at it alone. You have friends, they have other friends, at least a few of whom will share the same needs and desires as you, and also will have skills, experiences, and connections that can help. Another name for our city, Smallwaukee, again can have a dual meaning of whether its good or bad to have a few degrees of separation between most circles, but in this case it is a good thing because within a few connections you can probably find someone that can help you with each thing on your to-do-list. Second, go beyond your circles. When you can't find what you need among those you directly know, don't be afraid to reach out. One of the few things we Milwaukeeans like to pride ourselves on is our approachability, our gregariousness i.e. that we are mostly nice, friendly, good people. There is likely someone out there who will be happy to mentor you, to pass along their knowledge whether it be a public official, the leader of a  non-profit, or just another concerned citizen that got results on something, somehow. Third, there's the Interwebs. So much has been done before, and these days someone has published something onlien that can help you: a list of resources, templates for documentation, etc. and most of it free (just look at what I am doing here). Finally, with all those helping, in the end if its your idea you will need to be the one to make it happen. If you start it, it will ultimately be you making is succeed or fail, and don't be afraid to speak up when things get out of control. Someone has to be the leader, you know the saying about "too many cooks", so when needed, be the chef, the one voice above the others.

The point is, if you want Milwaukee to have or be a certain thing, there is no one better than you to take the steps to make it happen. I'm proud of what I have done, of the little things that I have given the Milwaukee community, but it pales in comparison to what all, what you, can do.